Welcome back to Envirobytes, the blog that crosses the intersections of climate change, food, technology, and storytelling. Last week, I outlined three key issues with industrial farming: soil degradation, over-fertilization, and wasteful water use. This week, I look at climate storyteller, Per Grankvist’s work and discuss the important care that must be taken in telling humanity’s climate story.
Per Grankvist is a Swedish journalist and author who writes about sustainable living, the impact of media, and human behavior. He is also Chief Storyteller for Viable Cities, a Swedish program that is supporting cities in their transition to carbon neutral living by 2030. In an article written in Bloomberg, Grankvist says that “when scientists come up with conclusions, they are very non personalized,” and it is his job as a storyteller to help people emotionally connect with the issue because “then they engage.” Stories are more relatable than a graph or data set and unfortunately, there are not enough scientists with an interest in communication to make their findings tangible to the average citizen. On the other hand, visions of sustainable cities feature futuristic architecture and technology that does not adequately display what living in that city of the future is like. Grankvist wants to share a story of a future that “isn’t entirely frightening” or different. He thinks life “will be fairly similar, even though we have to make some fundamental changes.”
The everyday adaptations people adopt to live more sustainably also reflect a diversity of living situations and ways of life that must be accommodated in the story of sustainability. “All stories have to be locally anchored,” says Grankvist, otherwise it will not accurately reflect reasonable solutions for a certain community. Grankvist recommends starting by finding the small successes in a community and building a story around that. This could fuel a global movement of local storytelling and decentralized narrative networks that support each other in demonstrating what works. A personal example of what this may look like is Salmon Nation’s Festival of What Works, an event that promotes the possibilities and successes of living better in connection with the environment and uplifts work being done in marginalized communities. Movements like the Festival of What Works can counter eco-anxiety and provide hope in intersectional solutions, focused on certain regions where local action can make a difference. It is going to take more climate stories to change narratives and motivate action to fight climate change.
In Grankvist’s Medium article “Explaining and exploring our common future,” he lays out his playbook for effective storytelling. First, he states that stories are effective at creating an emotional connection if they are relatable and believable. Take the movie Cars for example, Lightning McQueen is an anthropomorphic car yet the message about friendship and community still lands even if the protagonist is a living car and not a human being. Second, Grankvist acknowledges that the current vision of the future is quite frightening however, it is not enough to motivate action on its own. He argues that this resistance stems from aversion to the ways human relationships and experiences may change in a sustainable future. Instead of prescriptive narratives that order an audience to subtract goodness from their life like their hamburgers and sports cars, the story should be reframed to examine what humanity gains in a carbon neutral future. If there were more stories that showed a more connected, healthy, and engaged community, perhaps people would become less resistant to change. Third, populist narratives around the hopelessness of climate change must be met by optimism and scientific fact. Substantiate your claims with credible information and science where possible but keep in mind that Grankvist thinks that “facts are overrated” when it comes to motivating an audience. Addressing fears around climate change and sustainability should be met with compassion and are rarely quelled by statistics. Facts are only one implement in the storytelling toolkit and though they are an important one, they are only as important as their ability to generate emotional connection and response.
In the same Medium article, Grankvist shares that “when you tell stories effectively, you have the power to change people’s lives for the better” by engaging with the heart and the mind to make the, rethink their behavior and encourage them to be proactive in the climate crisis. We need climate storytellers now more than ever. We need to hear what works from local organizers and storytellers. If history is written by the victors, stories are similarly told by those in power but with the power of social media and proliferation of content creation platforms, people around the world are poised to take the narrative back into their hands and destabilize current climate narratives. Next week, I will share a handful of stories about why Indigenous models of stewardship are important in combating climate change. Thanks for reading and stay hungry for more Envirobytes!
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