Talking About Climate Change: We Want Stories!

Everyone loves a good story. Stories create social meaning and satisfy our imaginations. According to research compiled in George Marshall’s book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, we need to tell more stories to inspire people to climate action. Facts and data influence our analytical minds, but our emotional minds make the decisions. Stories motivate our emotional minds.

In my new book, The Big Swim, climate facts weave through wild adventure of many kinds. Marshall’s book didn’t exist when I wrote it, but my writing group led me to the same place: tell stories full of emotional meaning.

Here are some suggestions based on Marshall’s book and my experience that could help you with your stories. I won’t kid you: the first three are hard. It gets better after that.

If you haven’t yet, bring climate change into your heart. See its impact on species, ecosystems and people of all ages. Feel the magnitude of being alive in a time when we are rapidly destroying the possibilities of life. Grieve.
The age of fossil fuels has been wonderful and needs to end. Come to terms. What comes next could be better.
Avoid high personal emissions such as those caused by air travel. They make it hard to convey the need for action in a clean way. Choose activities that can be powered by renewable energy. Become the change we need.
Feel proud of this informed choice.
Break the socially constructed silence around climate change. Think about how you came to care, how it changed your life. Relate it to your sacred values. Keep these stories in your back pocket, ready to tell.  
Avoid enemy narratives – we are on a quest. But be honest about the dangers. Avoid despair: any action feels better than none. Tell stories about that.
Connect climate action to sources of happiness, how it can restore shared purpose, community, ecosystems and beauty.
Use The Big Swim to start climate conversations with your people. Spread it around. Chat about it. Segue into your story, what you long for, why.  Listen.
 Tell your story to your representatives and candidates. Tell them why you vote for a stable climate, an effective price on carbon, an end to fossil fuel subsidies and Canadian climate leadership in the UN talks.  
People adhere to old social norms until there are enough people adhering to the new one. Then change cascades. Tell stories about the new social norm. Welcome late-comers.
Find beautiful places that remind you of the magnificent, intricate diversity of life. Enjoy belonging to it. Remind people of it.    


– George Marshall, Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change
– Carrie Saxifrage, The Big Swim – Coming Ashore in a World Adrift.

UPDATE: Carrie will read from The Big Swim on April 13th at 5:30 pm at Octopus Books, 116 Third Avenue, Ottawa.