Why We Need to Tell Stories About Climate Change
Much of the public dialogue around climate change centers around facts and figures. Global mean temperatures are expected to rise by this many degrees Celsisus. Climate change will cost this much money in damages. We need to lower our emissions by this amount. While facts and figures (and pie charts) have their place, what the climate movement may need is more stories. Stories can evoke emotion, and consequently, changes in viewpoints and behavior.
In this recent op ed, New York Times contributor Heidi Cullen makes the case for stories about climate change that can help people to make sense of the tangle of morality, economics, and science that constitute the massive issue we call climate change. As Cullen explains, stories have helped America make breakthroughs on other thorny social issues, like slavery and poverty. For more tips on how to change hearts and minds on climate, check out America’s 6-page guide: Communicating on Climate: 13 Steps and Guiding Principles.
Heidi Cullen, Contributor to The New York Times and Chief Scientist for Climate Central
As a climate scientist, I’m acutely aware that facts are not enough to reach most people when it comes to global warming. The so-called deficit model of science communication — “If you only understood the facts, you’d understand that climate change is an urgent threat” — doesn’t work to make people act. For many, climate change simply feels too distant, both in time and space.
That’s where storytelling comes in.
In his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman outlines two parallel but interacting modes of information processing: an emotional system (thinking fast) and a rational system (thinking slow). His research suggests that emotionally derived knowledge is more effective than rational knowledge in influencing behavior. In other words, personal growth and understanding require the heat of emotion.
Image credit: Showtime/Years of Living Dangerously