How Telling The Right Stories Can Make People Act On Climate Change

How Telling The Right Stories Can Make People Act On Climate Change

The latest UN Climate Change Conference since the 2015 Paris Agreement is taking place in Bonn between November 6-17 – and the world will be watching. The conference will be presided over by the government of Fiji, a country that is no stranger to the devastation that climate change brings.

At first glance, modern Fiji’s narrative follows a recognisable storyline: vanishing islands, a culture slipping away, and a people unsure of what their future holds. It tells a familiar tale of vulnerable villages in fear of rising tides and residents as victims on the frontline of climate change.

Stories help us to share facts, knowledge and experiences about the causes and effects of a changing world. Yet they are more than just educational tools, they also shape our lives and help define us. From the news to Game of Thrones, stories hold the immense ability to alter what we do and do not see. They do this by activating and exciting the neural pathways in our brains that form the basis for our actions.

According to doomsday narratives about climate change, such as the one about Fiji, communities are neither empowered nor resilient, nor do they hold much agency over their future. When we constantly see stories about communities in crisis as sea levels rise and extreme weather events become more frequent, we come away with notions that there is no hope – the future is presented as an ominously uncertain but seemingly inevitable defeat.

Yet, such doomsday narratives are counterproductive, dangerous … and wrong.

We can survive climate change. There is something simple and concrete that each of us can do. Telling and sharing stories, from the scientific to the personal, is one of our most important tools. However, they are different stories than the Fijian one.

A new hope

Energy+Illawarra is a community-oriented, interdisciplinary, strategic social intervention programme. Engineers, geographers, and marketers work together to improve energy efficiency in the homes of low-income, older people in Illawarra, a region in New South Wales, Australia.

Ultimately, humankind must rapidly decarbonise the environment to avoid dangerous climate change. Being more efficient with energy is an effective way to do that. This project has that message at its heart.

First, the energy use and attitudes towards energy efficiency of 830 households in the community were measured. Then, a series of 11 focus groups with 59 participants from the community were carried out to collect their stories relating to energy efficiency. These stories were then used to help develop ten short films that bust participants’ misconceptions and myths about everyday energy use and provide strategies on how to use energy more efficiently.

Each film features audiovisual footage of real project participants telling their stories and focuses on the energy use of an everyday household appliance, from fridge freezers and lighting to the washer dryer.

Following the development of these films, we assessed their efficacy. We conducted cognitive neuroscientific research using electroencephalography (EEG) to identify brain wave activity associated with watching these films. The experiment involved people watching the films while they were attached to the EEG equipment that measured their neural response to the stories. Sixteen people from the community participated in the experiment. All the study participants watched the same films in random order, while undergoing the EEG scans.

What we found

The results showed heightened activity in areas of the brain associated with empathising with the story characters as well as imagination of, attention for, and memorising of the story plot. These mental processes are involved in spurring our brains into action.

Brain response was especially strong for the fridge freezer film, which featured a real project participant telling stories about his fridge, followed by animations providing technical advice and guidance on energy efficiency.

This household appliance has been associated with the visceral nervous system and deep inward feelings, because it stores a basic need: food. We already knew that engaging stories can put you in another person’s shoes in a figurative sense. The fridge freezer film suggests that watching an engaging story can also transport you into the “body” of an object.

The films have been extensively distributed through the project website, social media, and special LCD brochures that were sent to households as well as community and health centres across regional New South Wales, Australia. Afterwards, the energy use and attitudes towards energy efficiency of the same community households as before were measured again. The findings showed that the films have begun to reduce energy use in the community and change the climate change narrative, with meter reading data revealing that energy use dropped by between 0.45% to 22.5%, depending on the type of household.

The ConversationInstead of presenting a narrative of helpless climate change victims and an inevitable future of defeat, these films tell stories that bust misconceptions and myths about everyday energy use and provide strategies and support for using energy efficiently. Take a look to see just how easy it is to make a difference. Let’s rewire our brains and act. A better environment starts with us.

About The Authors

Tom van Laer, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, City, University of London and Ross Gordon, Associate Professor in Social Marketing, Macquarie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Related Books:

InnerSelf Market

Amazon

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
by Josie Garthwaite
Global emissions of methane have reached the highest levels on record, research shows.
kelp forrest 7 12
How The Forests Of The World’s Oceans Contribute To Alleviating The Climate Crisis
by Emma Bryce
Researchers are looking to kelp for help storing carbon dioxide far beneath the surface of the sea.
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
by Ken Buesseler
The ocean plays a major role in the global carbon cycle. The driving force comes from tiny plankton that produce…
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
by Gabriel Filippelli and Joseph D. Ortiz
“Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil” is not what anyone wants to hear about their city’s tap water. But the combined effects of…
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
by Gregg Howe and Nathan Havko
For millennia, insects and the plants they feed on have been engaged in a co-evolutionary battle: to eat or not be…
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.

LATEST ARTICLES

Two-thirds Of Glacier Ice In The Himalayas Could Be Lost By 2100
Two-thirds Of Glacier Ice In The Himalayas Could Be Lost By 2100
by Ann Rowan
In the world of glaciology, the year 2007 would go down in history. It was the year a seemingly small error in a major…
Rising Temps Could Kill Millions A Year By Century’s End
Rising Temps Could Kill Millions A Year By Century’s End
by Edward Lempinen
By the end of this century, tens of millions of people could die each year worldwide as a result of temperatures rising…
New Zealand Wants To Build A 100% Renewable Electricity Grid, But Massive Infrastructure Is Not The Best Option
New Zealand Wants To Build A 100% Renewable Electricity Grid, But Massive Infrastructure Is Not The Best Option
by Janet Stephenson
A proposed multibillion-dollar project to build a pumped hydro storage plant could make New Zealand’s electricity grid…
Wind Farms Built On Carbon-rich Peat Bogs Lose Their Ability To Fight Climate Change
Wind Farms Built On Carbon-rich Peat Bogs Lose Their Ability To Fight Climate Change
by Guaduneth Chico et al
Wind power in the UK now accounts for nearly 30% of all electricity production. Land-based wind turbines now produce…
Climate Denial Hasn't Gone Away – Here's How To Spot Arguments For Delaying Climate Action
Climate Denial Hasn't Gone Away – Here's How To Spot Arguments For Delaying Climate Action
by Stuart Capstick
In new research, we have identified what we call 12 “discourses of delay”. These are ways of speaking and writing about…
Routine Gas Flaring Is Wasteful, Polluting And Undermeasured
Routine Gas Flaring Is Wasteful, Polluting And Undermeasured
by Gunnar W. Schade
If you’ve driven through an area where companies extract oil and gas from shale formations, you’ve probably seen flames…
Flight Shaming: How To Spread The Campaign That Made Swedes Give Up Flying For Good
Flight Shaming: How To Spread The Campaign That Made Swedes Give Up Flying For Good
by Avit K Bhowmik
Europe’s major airlines are likely to see their turnover drop by 50% in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,…
Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
by Steven Sherwood et al
We know the climate changes as greenhouse gas concentrations rise, but the exact amount of expected warming remains…