Environmental Storytelling Can Help Spread Big Ideas For Saving The Planet

Environmental Storytelling Can Help Spread Big Ideas For Saving The Planet Turning over a new leaf. Juliann/Shutterstock

Tackling climate change will require huge changes in society. Decarbonising energy, restoring habitat and making food supply sustainable are all critical, but methods for motivating these actions have typically taken the wrong approach – by highlighting the urgency of the issues and the disastrous consequences of failing to act.

Research increasingly suggests that trying to promote behavioural change through fear can be counterproductive, leading to anxiety or depression that results in an issue being avoided, denied or met with a sense of helplessness. However, in education, news and fiction, stories with positive role models and which focus on the positive outcomes of solutions are much more likely to inspire action to solve it.

The power of positive stories

I set out to explore the impact of such stories. As part of my research, 91 volunteers were given two stories to read, each concerned with the negative impacts of climate change: one about a woman caught in a flood and the other set at the end of the world.

The same readers were also exposed to two positive stories: one about a terrorist planting a flower bomb, which populates a bare area with flowers, the other about a young boy who, having watched Blue Planet, takes to collecting plastic to stop it entering the oceans – starting with his fish tank. Afterwards the readers were asked how the stories made them feel and to reflect on what kinds of behaviours they inspired.

While the negative stories motivated action for a few, most said they were discouraged. “I’d rather not think about it,” said one. “It made me angry and I switched off,” said another. Many also reported a sense of passive despair. “I felt hopelessness. If indeed, the heavy rain was caused by climate change, what can we do about it?”

However, there were no signs of avoidance among readers of the positive stories.

“It made me want to flower bomb land and do something positive and I felt happier after reading it,” said one reader.

“I felt inspired by the way the characters behaved … [the story] made me think about what I could do.”

Environmental Storytelling Can Help Spread Big Ideas For Saving The Planet Climate change is a hot topic in dystopian fiction, but doom and gloom may be counterproductive. Lassedesignen/Shutterstock

This is concerning because almost all stories set in the future, whether in books, films or TV shows, are dystopian. The popular TV show Black Mirror tells cautionary tales about modern life and technology with often terrifying consequences. These stories elicit anxiety, pessimism and a feeling of passive fatalism.

I realised from my research that we desperately need cultural offerings with positive visions of what a sustainable society might look like, to inspire hope and positive change.

The University of Southampton runs writing competitions that ask people to read about green solutions and integrate them into stories. These ideas include replacing how much people buy, represented as GDP – the current measure of how successful society is – with a measure of well-being. Another looks at the potential of a “sharing economy”, in which more people borrow goods others have without needing to buy more themselves.

It can be hard for politicians to support green policies such as these when green issues evoke catastrophe in the minds of voters they’d rather not think about. Reframing issues in terms of their solutions and highlighting them through engaging characters and stories might be a more effective way to encourage change.

Love, flowers and insect protein bars

One winning short story was Come Help Me by Nancy Lord – a romance about an American fisherman and a Russian marine scientist.

The protagonist is inspirational and proactive: he spots a tension between the scientists concerned with the marine environment and the fisherman who needs to make a living. The writer finds a way to help them work together. We also loved the runner up, The Buildings are Singing, by Adrian Ellis, which made us laugh out loud.

This short story imagines a future world where buildings are alive – covered with photosynthesising plants which create energy, light and shade for the occupants. The flora operates an artificial intelligence system which helps occupants live sustainably. Insects drawn to the foliage become nourishing protein bars and life for the humans is low carbon and almost utopian – unless you do something wrong.

Environmental Storytelling Can Help Spread Big Ideas For Saving The Planet Visions of a sustainable future can excite and inspire readers. Julia Kuznetsova/Shutterstock

Some stories are specifically about sustainable societies, whereas others showcase ideas that would seem radical in otherwise familiar tales, such as Just in Case, which imagines a society where we borrow rather than buy much of our stuff. The woman who runs the “library of things” in the story, plays matchmaker with two customers who she can tell are compatible by their borrowing patterns.

The transition to a sustainable society requires profound changes, but to imagine how all of these aspects can come together is currently the domain of creative fiction. If we want a better world then the first step is to imagine one.The Conversation

About The Author

Denise Baden, Associate Professor in Business Ethics, University of Southampton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming Kindle Edition

by David Wallace-Wells
0525576703It is worse, much worse, than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible. In California, wildfires now rage year-round, destroying thousands of homes. Across the US, “500-year” storms pummel communities month after month, and floods displace tens of millions annually. This is only a preview of the changes to come. And they are coming fast. Without a revolution in how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth could become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century. Available On Amazon

The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption

by Dahr Jamail
1620972344After nearly a decade overseas as a war reporter, the acclaimed journalist Dahr Jamail returned to America to renew his passion for mountaineering, only to find that the slopes he had once climbed have been irrevocably changed by climate disruption. In response, Jamail embarks on a journey to the geographical front lines of this crisis—from Alaska to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, via the Amazon rainforest—in order to discover the consequences to nature and to humans of the loss of ice.  Available On Amazon

Our Earth, Our Species, Our Selves: How to Thrive While Creating a Sustainable World

by Ellen Moyer
1942936559Our scarcest resource is time. With determination and action, we can implement solutions rather than sit on the sidelines suffering harmful impacts. We deserve, and can have, better health and a cleaner environment, a stable climate, healthy ecosystems, sustainable use of resources, and less need for damage control. We have so much to gain. Through science and stories, Our Earth, Our Species, Our Selves makes the case for hope, optimism, and practical solutions we can take individually and collectively to green our technology, green our economy, strengthen our democracy, and create social equality. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

POLITICS

China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
by Kelly Sims Gallagher and Fang Zhang
As the effects of climate change become more widespread and alarming, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has…
We Are Striking to Disrupt the System: An Hour with 16-Year-Old Climate Activist Greta Thunberg
by Democracy Now!
In her first extended broadcast interview in the United States, we spend the hour with Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old…
Why Companies Should Let Their Workers Join The Climate Strike
Why Companies Should Let Their Workers Join The Climate Strike
by Ian McGregor
Multinational ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s will close its Australian stores for this month’s global climate strike…
Investing Billions in New Projects, Fossil Fuel Corporations Are Undermining World's Climate Targets
Investing Billions in New Projects, Fossil Fuel Corporations Are Undermining World's Climate Targets
by Julia Conley
These dirty fossil fuel companies are not getting the message, let alone acting on the urgency of the climate crisis.
Environmental Storytelling Can Help Spread Big Ideas For Saving The Planet
Environmental Storytelling Can Help Spread Big Ideas For Saving The Planet
by Denise Baden
Tackling climate change will require huge changes in society. Decarbonising energy, restoring habitat and making food…
How Many Americans Believe In Climate Change?
How Many Americans Believe In Climate Change?
by Matthew Houser
Indiana certainly doesn’t look like a state that’s ready to confront climate change. Its former governor, Vice…
How Indigenous Peoples' Lives Are Being Destroyed By Global Agribusiness In Brazil
How Indigenous Peoples' Lives Are Being Destroyed By Global Agribusiness In Brazil
by Francesca Fois and Silvio Marcio Montenegro Machado
For more than half a century, the indigenous Kaiowá and Guarani people of Brazil have been deprived of their ancestral…
Canadians In Every Riding Support Climate Action
Canadians In Every Riding Support Climate Action
by Matto Mildenberger and Erick Lachapelle
Canada is gearing up for a big election this fall and climate policy will likely be at the centre of debate.

LATEST VIDEOS

Can We Terraform the Sahara to Stop Climate Change?
by Real Engineering
Is terraforming the Sahara of the solutions to Stop Climate Change? We'll explore this idea in this video.
Allergens Are On The Rise In Canada's Urban Centres
by CBC News: The National
Canadians across the country say their allergies are getting worse.
Bill Nye And The Climate Crisis
by MSNBC
On a special show before a live studio audience, Bill Nye the science guy discusses the climate crisis with Chris Hayes.
How Greenland's Massive Ice Melt Will Totally Transform The World
by Channel 4 News
Remember that heatwave back in August? Well, the Arctic remembers it too. Record rates of ice melt have been recorded…
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
by Kelly Sims Gallagher and Fang Zhang
As the effects of climate change become more widespread and alarming, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has…
What Happens When The Permafrost Thaws?
by Official W5
Almost half of Canada sits on permanently frozen land called permafrost, but climate change is causing it to thaw and…
We Are Striking to Disrupt the System: An Hour with 16-Year-Old Climate Activist Greta Thunberg
by Democracy Now!
In her first extended broadcast interview in the United States, we spend the hour with Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old…
Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds Shocking Loss of Volume
Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds Shocking Loss of Volume
by Mauri Pelto
The summer of 2019 found the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project in the field for the 36th consecutive summer…

LATEST ARTICLES

How To Build A City Fit For 50℃ Heatwaves
How To Build A City Fit For 50℃ Heatwaves
by Adrian Pitts
The Persian Gulf is already one of the hottest parts of the world, but by the end of the century increasing heat…
Can We Terraform the Sahara to Stop Climate Change?
by Real Engineering
Is terraforming the Sahara of the solutions to Stop Climate Change? We'll explore this idea in this video.
Hope And Mourning In The Anthropocene: Understanding Ecological Grief
Hope And Mourning In The Anthropocene: Understanding Ecological Grief
by Neville Ellis and Ashlee Cunsolo
We are living in a time of extraordinary ecological loss. Not only are human actions destabilising the very conditions…
Healthy, Happy And Tropical – World's Fastest-growing Cities Demand Our Attention
Healthy, Happy And Tropical – World's Fastest-growing Cities Demand Our Attention
by Karine Dupré, et al
What does it take to be a happy and healthy city? In any city, myriad factors go into the mix – and of course we are…
The Government Is Right To Fund Energy Storage: A 100% Renewable Grid Is Within Reach
The Government Is Right To Fund Energy Storage: A 100% Renewable Grid Is Within Reach
by Andrew Blakers, et al
In a speech to the National Press Club yesterday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared that the key requirements…
Allergens Are On The Rise In Canada's Urban Centres
by CBC News: The National
Canadians across the country say their allergies are getting worse.
High-tech Weather Forecasting Aims To Bring New Hope To Indian Farmers Facing The Devastation Of Climate Change
High-tech Weather Forecasting Aims To Bring New Hope To Indian Farmers Facing The Devastation Of Climate Change
by Sam Relph
The world’s largest network of automated weather stations, created to predict droughts and floods, is helping tackle…
Regenerative Agriculture Can Make Farmers Stewards Of The Land Again
Regenerative Agriculture Can Make Farmers Stewards Of The Land Again
by Stephanie Anderson
For years, “sustainable” has been the buzzword in conversations about agriculture.