Once Upon a Time

Photo of a typewriter with a sheet of paper with text that reads "Once upon a time."

We are storytellers. Humanity has told stories for as long as we’ve been social creatures. It’s how we make sense of the world. It’s how we share information and knowledge. It’s how we teach children about right and wrong. And it’s how we imagine future possibilities.

Stories have power because they transport us to different worlds, evoke emotions, build empathy, and foster meaningful connections. They can also put complex ideas into relatable terms. A great story can spur us to action and help us realize desirable outcomes.

The importance of stories in addressing climate change is widely recognized. Indeed, capturing popular imagination through stories can be a game changer for climate. Stories can personalize crises and make them tangible through the experiences of ordinary people. This can be done through the use of beloved fictional characters, through compelling non-fiction, or orally, person-to-person and neighbor-to-neighbor.

Maximizing Impact
The impact of climate stories depends on trusted messengers and relatable content. Since we often relate most easily with those who share our personal experiences – those who see the world as we do – climate stories need to be as diverse as the people telling them. A resident of rural America, for example, may be wary of an urban climate activist, but may be swayed by a farmer from their community expressing concern over changes in rainfall, crop loss, or shifting harvests.

Making the impact of climate change more visible can build awareness but, if the story stops there, it can also leave the audience feeling helpless. Solutions-focused narratives and positive messages of hope can counterbalance the alarming realities that are mounting in front of us. Restoring a sense that people can be part of the solution is essential to inspiring action.

How has a farmer responded to new climate pressures
How has restorative agriculture helped the farmer respond to new climate challenges

In terms of content, research by ecoAmerica has shown that “changing seasonal weather patterns” is the top factor that has influenced Americans’ concern about climate. First hand experience of change makes the climate crisis real. But, even as change becomes more dramatic, rapid, and severe, it can often still be hard to perceive. Did the daffodils bloom in the first week of March last year, or was it the third? Was the harvest a month earlier than normal, or are we even aware since grocery store shelves are stocked year-round anyway?

This is where stories can be powerful. They can provide perspective and help us recognize the patterns more easily. When compelling stories are delivered by credible figures and provide hopeful solutions, they are enormously influential.

Take Action
That’s where you come in. By helping your friends and neighbors – especially ones who are skeptical or unconvinced – to see those changing seasonal patterns and understand the positive solutions, you can make a difference that helps tip the scale towards awareness, concern, and action. What change have you witnessed, and what stories can you tell?

About the Author
Brett Matulis, Communities Program Director, ecoAmerica

Additional Resources

Path to Positive Communities Resources

Path to Positive Communities – Ambassador Training

American Climate Leadership Awards 2023: Zoom Registration

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