Climate Stories Project by CSP
Showcase motivating personal and community climate change stories and shape stories into artistic pieces to change public attitudes.
A Forum for Climate Stories
Photo credit: Creative Commons
We are accustomed to thinking about climate change as future sea level rise, future melting glaciers, and future extreme weather. However, more and more of us are realizing that climate change is having real and significant effects on ourselves, our families, and our communities in the present day. Within the span of a few years, people have begun to shift from seeing climate change as an abstract possibility to seeing it as the present reality. Some of us already think about climate change daily. Some of us are experiencing the effects of climate change but don’t understand yet how they fit into the stories of our own lives. Some of us have never thought of climate change before, or have experienced climate change effects but for various personal, political, or ideological reasons resist connecting the dots. Unfortunately, our culture and institutions largely lack the language and conversational space to connect the dots between our industrial civilization, rapid environmental change, and the growing impacts of climate change on our lives. What we need is a forum to speak openly and honestly about our experience with, and reactions to climate change.
Climate Stories Project creates such a forum. This project is an educational and artistic forum where individuals, students, and communities can share stories of their personal experience with climate change and the emotional impact these changes are having.
In order to foster collective action on climate change, CSP solicits and shares stories about positive changes that people and communities are making in order to combat climate change, such as reducing personal carbon footprints, installing renewable energy and creating community climate action plans. CSP also integrates recorded climate narratives into artistic formats, leveraging the power of art to reach diverse audiences and change attitudes about climate change.
What actions do you propose?
Storytelling is how we develop individual and collective identities that define the ends we seek... Storytelling is how we access the emotional, or moral, resources for the motivation to act on those ends.
- Marshall Ganz, The Power of Story in Social Movements
Climate change is a story, or rather billions of interlinked personal stories. For the most part, however, we distance ourselves from climate change through the buffers of scientific data or political battles. As a result, many people relate to climate change only in the abstract, if at all. In order to change public attitudes, we need to tell the stories of people around the world for whom climate change is a present-day reality.
Climate Stories Project has several components:
1) Collecting and Showcasing Diverse Climate Change Stories
Photo credit: Will Steger Foundation
As part of Climate Stories Project, contributors from around the world share their spoken, visual, and written stories about the effects of climate change on themselves, their families, their communities, and their environment. Participants also share stories about how they are reducing their carbon footprint, installing renewable energy, and engaging community members to respond proactively to climate change. By creating a conversational space to share personal, honest, and proactive responses to climate change, CSP reinforces social norms to engage with climate change directly and openly.
In addition to direct participant uploads to climatestoriesproject.org, I and other trained interviewers are recording interviews with people about their climate change experiences and then uploading these interviews to the website. These interviews will be organized both thematically and geographically. Visitors to the site will thus be able to connect stories based on common experiences, such as drought, extreme weather, community adaptation, and emotional reactions to climate change. Or they will be able to connect through common places, as the website also includes an interactive world map, where visitors can click on stories from around the world and listen to a "human geography" of climate change. Users will be able to visualize the connection between, say, a story from Santa Barbara, California, and a story from the city of Male in the Maldives.
Photo credit: CGIAR
The content of the climate stories and interviews is wide-ranging. CSP encourages visitors to speak of their observations of climatic and environmental changes in their community and environment, their emotional reactions to climate change, ways that their family or community is adapting to climate change, and actions they are taking in their communities to combat climate change. Furthermore, the website includes various interactive steps to guide visitors through the process of conceptualizing, telling, and recording their own climate change stories. These steps includes prompts and instructions that are similar to the questions that are asked during a live or telephone climate stories interview, such as the following:
1) Who are you and where do you live?
2) What specific changes have you seen or experienced in the places you care about? For example, you could consider changes such as shifting seasons, disappearing—or newly appearing—plants and animal species, or rising water levels. Or you could consider transformations in your community such as new groups or businesses, new events or rituals, or new opportunities for social change.
3) How has climate change affected the places you care about? How has it affected your community? Your family? Your own identity?
4) How do you feel about climate change? Describe your emotional responses to climate change as you think about yourself, your family, and your community.
5) How do you imagine the future? What kind of world would you like to see in terms of the relationship between different groups of humans, between humans and the natural world, between humans and the climate?
6) What changes are you making in your own life and in your community to combat climate change?
By providing such guidance, we are not trying to dictate what stories people tell, but rather to give people various tools for reflecting on their own lives and for “connecting the climate change dots.”
In addition to the stories that visitors to the site upload, Climate Stories Project solicits stories from communities around the world that are most directly facing the impacts and risks of climate change. This fall I will travel to Shishmaref, Alaska in order to conduct interviews with people who are observing direct the dramatic effects of sea level rise, melting permafrost, and ecosystem changes. To record more interviews, I also plan to travel to other areas experiencing rapid climate-driven changes to their local environment, such as the Maldives, Greenland, the Himalayan foothills, and Australia. All interview travel will be made "carbon neutral" by purchasing carbon offsets.
Photo credit: Claire Rowland
An important goal of Climate Stories Project is to capture stories from diverse locales and perspectives. Some participants are active politically; some are farmers; others are teachers; some are scientific researchers. Some are skeptical of the reality of climate change, and some are even benefiting from climate change. For example, farmers in the U.S. Southwest may speak of their challenges growing food with less rainfall and higher temperatures, while farmers in Greenland may speak of their positive experiences with growing crops and herding sheep in a warming climate. The goal of showcasing these climate stories is to give individuals around the world a direct voice to share their climate change experiences. Or in other words, the Climate Change Stories Project will function as an archive of testimonials, a space where individuals can share their own “witness stories.”
As a project to change public attitudes about climate change, Climate Stories Project will also engage audiences who may be antagonistic, apathetic, or unconvinced about the reality of human-caused climate change. The approach of the interviews is to encourage participants to speak of their emotional attachments to their local natural environments and then speak about some of the changes they are observing in weather patterns, temperatures, or wildlife. In this way, Climate Stories Project facilitates speaking directly about the climate-related changes that are happening all around us and bypassing the political and scientific filters that keep us from having an open and healthy conversational space about climate change.
Photo credit: Creative Commons
An important facet of Climate Stories Project is to share stories of personal, community, and emotional adaptation to climate change. People and communities around the world are adapting to the reality of climate change in a wide variety of creative ways, such as changing agricultural practices, developing new forms of housing, and investing in local economic systems. The project will showcase stories about the diverse array of these adaptive strategies. In addition, Climate Stories Project will feature stories about emotional responses and adaptations to climate change, such as a parent’s fear for their child’s future or a long-time resident’s hope for a renewed connection to her local environment and community. Showcasing stories about adaptation and emotional responses is important, as most climate change communication focuses only on impersonal, scientific,or political frameworks.
2) Integrating Climate Stories Into Educational Curriculum
Climate Stories Project is being developed into a dynamic educational curriculum to be used in schools and adult education settings. Rather than only teaching about the scientific and policy aspects of climate change, Climate Stories Project teaches about the diverse ways in which people around the world are responding and adapting to climate change. Students studying, creating, and recording climate interviews benefit by developing a deeper understanding of the human dimension of climate change, and by building empathy and connection with people around the world. The project makes climate change education more engaging and effective by illustrating the direct relationships between climate change, communities, people around the world, and the students themselves.
I have led climate interview workshops with high school students at Chewonki Semester School in Maine and Common Ground School in New Haven, CT. Co-Director Stephen Siperstein has also led CSP workshops at the University of Oregon. In all schools, students honed their interview skills and then interviewed participants in person and over Skype (to Prince Edward Island and Shishmaref, AK) about personal and community responses to climate change. Participating students benefited greatly by developing communication and empathy skills and learning to relate to climate change as a personal and community issue, and there is enormous potential to expand the educational offerings of CSP.
3) Creating and Presenting Artistic Works Based on Climate Stories
Climate Stories Project also has a major artistic outreach component. As a musician and composer, I am using parts of recorded climate stories as the basis for composed and improvised music. Taking a cue from composer Steve Reich’s narrative works Different Trains and WTC 9/11, I am developing musical and soundscape pieces that use the power of first-person spoken narrative to create emotional empathy with personal and community responses to climate change. In the upcoming two years, I plan to create CDs and online recorded works based around selected climate stories, and put on a series of public concerts of these pieces. I will also present the recorded climate stories in art galleries or museums as part of an exhibit on the effects of climate change on people and communities.
By placing climate change narratives in a novel artistic format, Climate Stories Project is able to bypass the scientific, political, and environmental filters that keep many people from engaging with the issue of climate change. In other words, this project will engage those who may be unmoved by a PowerPoint presentation, UN report, or policy proposal, but may readily respond to the combined power of music and personal climate change narratives. In this way, I expect Climate Stories Project to to change public attitudes by encouraging improved dialogue and understanding about the effects of climate change on people's lives.
4) Training Community Climate Stories Interviewers
Photo credit: Neighborhood Voices
A primary goal of Climate Stories Project is to empower and encourage community members to initiate conversations about their personal and community responses to climate change. Going forward, the project will become decentralized as community members are trained to carry out and record their own climate story interviews. An especially useful approach will be to train youth leaders to engage with community elders who can reflect on the changes they have seen in the local environment during their lifetimes. This approach to empowering youth to record oral histories of community elders has been used successfully in several projects, such as the Crossing Fences project in which African American male teens in Pittsburgh interviewed and recorded African American male community elders speaking about their life experiences.
Photo credit: Stories from Beyond the Pond
Who will take these actions?
The primary participants in Climate Stories Project are the people contributing their stories about their response to climate change. Following the paradigm of "storyteller directed" narratives, the project gives a voice for people to speak about their personal reaction to important life events (Willox et al. 2013). In addition, many others are able to access climatestoriesproject.org in order to forge a more direct connection with the effects of climate change on people, communities, and the natural world. Listening to and sharing climate stories can be a powerful and life-changing experience for students, activists, politicians, businesspeople, community leaders, families, and global citizens.
High school and college students are also key participants in the project, and a core goal of Climate Stories Project is to strengthen and deepen climate change education. Climate Stories Project has worked with high school students in Connecticut and Maine, as well as college undergraduates at the University of Oregon. The students have learned how to conduct interviews and have carried out climate change interviews with members of their communities as well as frontline climate change communities in Alaska (via Skype). In the process of crafting interview questions, learning interview skills, and carrying out interviews with local and remote community members, the participating students developed empathy skills and gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of climate change as a vital social issue.
I will feature sections of recorded climate stories integrated into composed and improvised music. Through recordings and performances of this climate narrative-based music, I plan to reach a wide and diverse audience including families, children, politicians, journalists, and other artists. The novel artistic approach of Climate Stories Project will allow for widespread participation of new audiences who may be currently unengaged with climate change.
Where will these actions be taken?
My goal is for Climate Stories Project to reach individuals, families, communities, and countries around the world. I began the project as an EE Capacity Community Climate Change Education Fellow, and have conducted climate story interviews with many of the other fellows, most of whom work as environmental educators in large and small communities in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. I have begun the educational component of CSP by working with several high schools in New England, and Steven Siperstein has piloted the project with his college students at the University of Oregon. In addition, I am targeting communities in areas that are dramatically affected by climate change today, such as coastal Alaska and small island nations. Eventually I will develop a worldwide network of stories from a very diverse array of developing and developed countries.
How will these actions have a high impact in addressing climate change?
The novel educational and artistic forum of Climate Stories Project is a vital resource for shifting the polarized dialogue around climate change into more productive and proactive terrain. The positive feedback from the pilot educational workshops and artistic presentations of climate stories has proven that CSP has the potential to help students and project participants to radically deepen their identification with, and understanding of climate change as a pressing human issue. By both speaking about and listening to personal and community responses to climate change, participants become directly engaged with climate change as a present-day reality, rather than as only an abstract scientific concept. This shift in perspective is vital in promoting widespread societal participation in addressing climate change, without which climate change will remain an environmental issue of primary relevance only to activists and climate scientists.
What are other key benefits?
Climate Stories Project solicits and shares stories which highlight proactive behavior being taken in order to mitigate and adapt to climate change, such as reducing personal carbon footprints, creating community climate action plans, and building resilient community infrastructure. A great deal of research has demonstrated the power of fostering positive social norms in motivating social behavior change. There is tremendous potential to harness the power of storytelling and story-sharing to generate proactive responses to climate change. In addition, there is a huge need to give voice to the personal and emotional reactions to climate change, which are often suppressed or seen as of lesser importance than the scientific, political, and economic facets of climate change. Climate Stories Project is facilitating an important shift in our understanding of climate change and is also helping people to psychologically process the change, loss, and opportunities that climate change presents.
What are the proposal’s costs?
Climate Stories Project is a growing project and will need funding in order to make the website climatestoriesproject.org more robust and interactive. I plan on working with web developers and graphic designers in the coming year to further improve the website and add features like an interactive world map and a voice recorder to record directly to the website. One great advantage of the project is that people around the world can record and upload their stories with access to mobile phones or computers, and the recorded stories do not require large funds for editing or post-production. As the project grows, funds will be needed for outreach, educational, marketing, technical, and travel costs. As an educational project, CSP is easily adapted to existing climate change curriculum, and as such does not entail a great deal of additional expenses.
2015-2016: The project is focused on gathering and sharing stories from people and communities responding to climate change around the world. Climate Stories Project is piloted as an educational project at several schools in the US and other countries. The project grows in scope and outreach, including developing an interactive world map of climate stories. Stories are developed into performance pieces and presented online and in live performance in a series of public concerts to change attitudes about climate change.
2015-2020: The goal is to have the project grow into a truly interactive and self-sustaining network of community members, storytellers, educators, and artists sharing their responses to climate change. Community members around the world are trained to conduct and record climate story interviews. Through the sharing of climate stories from around the world, public attitudes shift from understanding climate change as an abstract phenomenon to a present-day reality.
2015-2025: Climate Stories Project is developed into a dynamic educational curriculum for formal and informal settings. Through the project, climate change education becomes focused on adaptation and community response to climate change rather than just the scientific and political dimensions of climate change. CSP becomes a well-regarded component of climate change education in high schools and colleges and contributes to a large-scale societal shift of responding to climate change in a direct and engaged manner.
Yanjun Cai's project Photovoice (previous year Climate CoLab winner) empowers Phillipino youth to document and respond to the effects of climate change through collaborative photojournalism. Yanjun and I have spoken about possibly collaborating on Climate Stories Project.
Other organizations are doing great work in collecting and sharing personal narratives about climate change. Please see a selection of these in the "References" section. However, Climate Stories Project is distinctive and unique in its focus on climate change education and use of music and art to convey climate stories to diverse audiences.
Baldwin, C., & Chandler, L. (2010). "At the water's edge"? community voices on climate change. Local Environment, 15(7), 637-649.
Cunsolo Willox, A., Harper, S., & Edge, V. (2013). Storytelling in a digital age: digital storytelling as an emerging narrative method for preserving and promoting indigenous oral wisdom. Qualitative Research, 13(2), 127-147. doi:10.1177/1468794112446105
Ganz, M (2001) "The Power of Story in Social Movements." Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
Green, D., Billy, J., & Tapim, A. (2010). Indigenous Australians’ knowledge of weather and climate. Climatic Change, 100(2), 337-354. doi:10.1007/s10584-010-9803-z
Merchant, Carolyn. Reinventing Eden: The Fate of Nature in Western Culture. New York: Routledge, 2004.