Could your story change the world?

Written by Marketa Benisek - March 22, 2024

Climate change is undoubtedly one of the most pressing issues of our time. Yet, talking about this subject can often feel like navigating a minefield of complexity and despair. The media – if they even bother to mention climate change – bombard us with messages of doom and gloom, leaving little room for any actionable solutions or hope. But could there be a more effective approach to communication that inspires people to take action?

The power of humour in climate communication

A few years ago, I dedicated my dissertation to exploring effective strategies for communicating about climate change. One of the key, yet quite surprising, findings was that we can use humour. Humour, in the form of comedy, irony or parody, has emerged as a seriously underutilised tool in addressing climate change. It has the remarkable ability to break through the barrier of doom and gloom that often surrounds the topic, making it more relatable and shareable – all attributes that you wouldn’t necessarily think of when describing climate change. It can connect people and shift the conversation from despair to hope, from apathy to action.

When I was doing my research, the combination of humour and climate change was rarely mentioned, let alone put into practice! However, in the past year or so, we’ve seen several brilliant videos that blend climate science with humour, making it not only informative but also accessible to diverse audiences. For example, the Climate Science Breakthrough released several videos where climate scientists describe the facts while comedians translate them into a more relatable language (this one’s my favourite). Another example is a parody featuring Oscar winner Olivia Coleman (using a nickname “Oblivia Coalmine” in the video) created by Make My Money Matter.

For decades, the oil and gas industry has been using humour in the form of mockery to discredit climate scientists and all the evidence that climate change is real, taking inspiration from the tobacco industry (if you’re interested in learning how they did that, I recommend watching Merchants of Doubt). But it’s about time we change the narrative. 

We can embrace humour in its various forms to amplify the message of climate action, reach wider audiences and engage people in the urgent conversation about our future on this planet.

We need to tell better stories

However, humour isn’t the only answer. Another surprising finding from my research was that when I asked people about effective ways to talk about climate change, storytelling came up a lot. People kept saying that we need to tell better stories. 

But what does that really mean?

Storytelling is a unique communication tool that works across cultures and epochs. In fact, humans are neurologically wired for stories. It is a rare human strategy to influence future generations. By sharing our experiences with others, they can avoid making the same mistakes. Back in the day, it was a matter of survival. And even today, storytelling has a big potential to inspire people to act on climate change.

Storytelling uses a structure of a narrative which makes us more inclined to pay attention, to be curious about what happens next and to learn from the story. It is also much more engaging and understandable than numbers and statistics. Our brains are not well optimised to think about abstract problems, like climate change. But if we learn about other people acting on climate change, we can feel inspired and motivated to act as well. This “If they can do it, so can I” mindset is exactly what we’re aiming for. In the context of climate change, this kind of storytelling — known as action-based storytelling — involves describing your personal experiences and their impact on your life and the environment.

Benefits of action-based storytelling

Action-based storytelling is powerful for three reasons:

  1. If we share our stories of climate action, we show that people are actively trying to do something about it. Action-based stories are different to activism, however. Sharing our positive example can inspire and motivate even those who wouldn’t want to participate in activism
  2. Humans are inherently interested in stories because that’s how we used to survive when we lived in small villages hundreds of years ago. We learned from others. And even today, people can reflect themselves in action-based stories, and feel inspired to act as well. 
  3. And finally, it can help illustrate the scale of the problem. The more we hear about something, the more likely we are to pay attention. When COVID started, it was the main thing we were paying attention to because it was all we could hear about! Similarly with positive action-based stories, if we share them often enough, people may feel more inspired to be part of the solution, rather than continuously discuss the problem. 

The impact of sharing our stories

“You can change the world just by sharing your story” – Barack Obama

It turns out that these famous words by Barack Obama hold more truth than we might realise. They capture the essence of action-based storytelling. Each story we share can contribute to a collective narrative of action, hope and possibility. 

So, whenever you feel disheartened about climate action, remember the impact of sharing your experiences and all the positive climate actions you’re already doing. As Katherine Hayhoe, a renowned climate scientist, emphasises in her TED talk, talking about climate change is one of the most effective actions we can take.

So, what is your story?