Climate Stories is an interactive mobile community hub for climate change engagement, planning & action.
Climate Stories is a mobile, interactive community hub that cultivates grassroots support for climate adaptation planning. A multi-sensory exploration of what the world could be like in 200 years, the project serves as a collective space for processing concerns about our changing climate & creating more grassroots engagement in how we plan & prepare for our future.
The format is a trailer retrofitted as a living room from the year 2200. By walking inside, visitors land 200 years in the future, when sea levels have risen roughly 25 ft & the world is a warmer place. They land in the living room of an urban designer who is renting them the use of her apartment, which comes with objects useful for navigating the future, including canoes & inflatable water wings for coastal areas, dry shampoo & air filtration masks for inland regions. All objects come with interactive audio instructions.
Walls are decorated with screens showing images & maps of how the region in which Climate Stories is installed has changed from centuries past to the “present” (the year 2200). Books & pamphlets detailing changes on the site are provided. Images, maps, books & pamphlets of changing conditions are researched & designed for each site, so that depicted scenarios are connected to individual communities.
Before leaving, visitors are asked to share reflections on climate change & listen to those left by others. They’re also invited to answer questions on their feelings about shifting climates and visions of the ideal city. People can record responses via audio, paper or drawings. Answers feed into Climate Stories' database on public perceptions of climate change across different communities.
All are invited to take immediate climate actions, like donating to mitigation movements, shifting savings to more responsible banking systems & connecting to local planning organizations. Everyone is connected to the Climate Stories network to receive updates on climate adaptation news & opportunities.
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Addressing climate change is hard to do. With such wide-ranging impacts, it’s nearly impossible to visualize, encouraging many to view the issue through pre-existing beliefs & prejudices. Even now, with increasing consensus from the scientific community that climate change is happening, studies show that public attitudes are shaped far more by political ideology than they are by the science itself.
As researchers increasingly agree, deeper understanding of climate impacts provides the motivation we need to tackle these obstacles head on. Studies have shown that when climate science is presented in more experiential ways, it resonates across more diverse groups. It’s not enough to share more data. (Vaidyanathan, 2015; Keen, 2006) To cultivate more inclusive, action-oriented dialogues, we have to engage the emotional roots that frame our feelings about the issue. Doing so allows us to find the common ground from which we can work together.
An immersive vision of our potential future, Climate Stories is a mobile community hub that gives people a chance to proactively engage with future conditions that are often hard to visualize and understand. By inviting people to inhabit a speculative future, Climate Stories engages them in the potential ramifications of climate change on a highly personal level, and connects them with tools and techniques for mitigation and adaption.
Installation of the interactive, mobile planning hubs occurs at existing community events and gathering spaces, ensuring a welcoming entry point to the arguably uncomfortable process of stepping into a speculative future. By engaging the senses and the imagination, the project helps communities engage with the often hard-to-grapple effects of climate change.
Design and fabricate Climate Stories mobile module
Research is conducted to develop designs for a typical urban apartment living room in the year 2200. Futurists and academics alike are consulted to verify the utility and veracity of the designs. The Climate Stories module is then fabricated from a retrofitted trailer. The living room serves as a mobile community planning center, with couches acting as seating, coffee tables as work surfaces, and interactive touch screens serving as displayed art and “windows” to the world outside.
A smaller space is designed as a makeshift audio recording booth, where visitors are invited to share their reflections on climate issues, share their stories and listen to responses from previous visitors.
Collect Preliminary Data
Once a new deployment location for Climate Stories has been identified, the data collection process begins. Climate Stories sources relevant data to represent how each chosen installation site has changed over time and how it is predicted to change in the future. Data is gathered via literature review, GIS analysis and partnerships with local entities. In areas, regions and cities with up-to-date research on climate impacts and resulting vulnerability, Climate Stories will partner with local governments to collect relevant data and information. In areas with little to no available information, Climate Stories will partner with more independent organizations that have researched the sites in question, such as academic institutions, intergovernmental panels, non-governmental organizations, and/or private firms.
Make images and illustrative materials and source appropriate objects
Collected data is then translated into site-specific renderings, maps and images depicting how that place has changed over time to the “present” (the year 2200).
Maps and diagrams are distilled into our existing templates for coffee table books and pamphlets for visitors to peruse and learn from while “renting” the Climate Stories living room space. Images, drawn as street-level views so that visitors can more easily place themselves within the future scenario scene, are rendered and loaded onto Climate Stories touch screens.
Objects appropriate for each site are identified, fabricated and/or sourced. In coastal areas, objects will include wearable floatation devices and canoe paddles. In dryer inland areas, objects will include air filtration makes and dry shampoo bottles. These objects are provided to give visitors a more immersive, experiential view of how navigating future conditions will be different than those they know today and more proactively engage their imaginations in conceptualizing future change. All objects are connected to our interactive touch programming system to play audio instructions when handled, giving visitors more information about what their lives in the future could look like.
Install Climate Stories module in new site
Working with community partnerships identified and developed ahead of time, Climate Stories is deployed in a new site. Where appropriate, its presence is integrated into existing community programs, such as classes in local schools and farmers markets. On-site work involves engaging with visitors about local and regional adaptation planning efforts, and recording visitor responses, in order to grow the Climate Stories database on public perceptions of climate change to better inform climate outreach and engagement efforts across the country.
Answers to these questions feed into Climate Stories’ growing database on public perceptions of climate change and adaptation priorities across different communities.
Before leaving, participants are invited to take immediate climate actions, from donating to existing adaptation and mitigation movements, tips and instructions on shifting savings to more responsible banking and investments systems, and/or connecting to local planning organizations and individuals to continue the Climate Stories experience after they leave. Everyone is connected to the Climate Stories network, where they can receive updates on climate adaptation news and initiatives, and receive weekly newsletters on actions they can take in their own communities.
Provide Immersive, Experiential Learning and Engagement in Climate Change issues
As studies have shown, more engaging learning experiences create more inclusive conversations with greater potential for actionable results. (Kahneman, 2011) An immersive vision of our potential future, Climate Stories is a mobile community hub that gives people a chance to proactively engage with future conditions that are often hard to visualize and understand. By contextualizing climate change as an ongoing fact of life, the project presents an opportunity to cultivate a different kind of dialogue about climate change, one that’s more about embracing change than fearing the unknown. Presenting the process of climatic shifts and rising tides at a range of scales -- from street-level images to regional maps and more -- is a way to help people relate to this large-scale phenomena on a more personal level. Allowing people to share their impressions after seeing these visualizations provides a place for meditation on the issue and generates a valuable wealth of data on public perception of sea level rise. Both are vitally important.
Climate Stories will help catalyze more national action and collaboration on climate change issues by providing a platform for people of diverse backgrounds to communicate about their fears, hopes and dreams for their communities. Though climate change affects the entire country (as well as the entire planet), many areas remain silo-ed and unmotivated to collaborate with neighboring states, regions and cities, even when those neighbors are slated to experience similar adverse effects. By sharing the reflections of people from states across the U.S., Climate Stories presents a valuable opportunity to increase national understanding and cooperation on this issue that affects us all.
Increase Grassroots Engagement and Cultivate Social Ties in Resilience Planning
Climate Stories serves as an important grassroots engagement tool. When using the storytelling interface, visitors are invited to describe and/or draw what they would like to see in their cities in the years to come. We then connect them with local development organizations and interested community members with whom they can share & expand upon their ideas. We also invite users to sign up to our network, where they can get updates on climate news, stay involved with ongoing projects, learn about organizations in their areas, & engage with adaptation efforts locally, regionally and across the nation.
Throughout the process, participants engage in conversations and storytelling activities on climate change issues that will spread insights and concerns that are often largely overlooked by many mainstream media outlets and climate change dialogues. Visitors will have the chance to digest more contextualized information about climate change in intimate and casual settings. They will also be able to share their own stories and directly learn about the concerns of fellow community members.
This kind of decentralized, direct education and action-oriented engagement is critical in fostering greater involvement in climate adaptation action and developing more community resilience. (Berkes, Colding & Folke, 2008) (Klinenberg, 2013) One of the most important things we can do to increase our collective resilience to climate change is to enhance both social ties and basic understanding of climate change issues (Fussel, 2007). The community that is informed & able to self-organize is better prepared to bounce back from hazardous change.
Utilize Collected Data to Inform Planning Processes and Improve Climate Communication Tools:
Climate Stories gathers valuable information on public reflections on climate change, providing important insight on the words and phrases that different communities use to talk about change. Their answers, comments and questions are critical for cultivating more approachable dialogues about our collective urban futures.
As participants use the Climate Stories tool, answering questions and sharing their reflections, they help to grow our database on public perceptions and concerns on climate change issues. This database helps inform local and regional adaptation and mitigation planning efforts. Responses and answered questions collected from Climate Stories is made available to regional planning agencies, providing a wealth of valuable information on citizen views on climate change and adaptive strategies. Planned interventions benefit from regular public feedback, ensuring that funding is wisely spent on projects that will benefit those they’re intended to serve. Collected data likewise helps planners, designers and climate communicators understand more about local communities’ attitudes, preferences, fears and language used to talk about change. This information provides critical tools to refine communication methods for spreading adaptation information, setting the scene for greater mobilization and broad based public support for adaptation efforts.
By locating these learning-based, data-collection experiences within existing community events, Climate Stories becomes an engaging, publicly accessible way to inform people about climate change impacts, as well as a tool through which users can express their concerns and ideas, and develop actionable strategies for adaptation.
Spread the Tool
To encourage greater use of the Climate Stories tool across more geographies, we will develop a Climate Stories toolkit. Once initial targets with the United States (our starting focus country) have been addressed, we will create open source resources where communities from different locations can download the tools to create their own Climate Stories center, to engage their own neighbors and constituents in proactive, multi-sensory climate action.
Who will take these actions?
Climate Stories is designed to be deployed and installed in conjunction with community sponsored partnerships and local government support. Our organization, Urban Fabrick, develops the Climate Stories platform in conjunction with Shiftworks, an organization dedicated to building climate action through storytelling and design.
Both Urban Fabrick and Shiftworks are run and staffed by design professionals, with years of experience developing and building dynamic projects, from high-rise buildings to interactive furniture. We additionally provide research and visualization services to illustrate effects of climate change in each site where Climate Stories is installed. We collaborate with local communities and municipal organizations in installation sites to develop greater understanding of research previously conducted and any relevant community planning precedents to take into consideration.
Other essential actors are Climate Stories users – the diverse peoples who comprise the communities of the cities and regions where Climate Stories is deployed and who will use the storytelling interface, join the Climate Stories network and engage in climate action.
As data collection of public perception on climate issues is an important part of the Climate Stories process, following up on that data is an integral part of the program. Findings can help refine both local outreach and communication efforts, as well as make infrastructure support systems more responsive to user queries, qualms and ideas. To do so, research organizations will be involved, either as full partners or as dedicated subcontractors, to analyze the data on a continual basis. Results will be made available to both government-based planning agencies and private development companies alike.
Climate Stories is currently collaborating with representatives from Stanford’s Woods Institute to develop questions to feed into existing and future studies on climate change perceptions and communication tools.
Where will these actions be taken?
Climate Stories is designed to cultivate more inclusive climate dialogues and adaptive planning across the United States. The US is the 2nd biggest emitter of greenhouse gas yet remains resistant to coordinated, federally supported climate change action. The country’s recent pull out from the Paris Climate Agreement is proof that we need to push for greater grassroots action on the issue.
Unfortunately, complex cultural, economic and political issues prevent greater degrees of national and regional understanding and collaboration. While much of the country’s population currently accepts climate change as real, there are still many states, communities and individuals who do not agree or feel excluded from many of the adaptive planning processes beginning to take place. As such, fostering more cohesive climate action across the country is vitally important. This means reaching out to and involving communities where there is greater degrees of climate doubt and disbelief.
Climate Stories is designed to bridge those divides. Doing so sets the stage for more community-based, empowered & collaborative adaptation planning efforts, at both the local & regional levels. Engaged communities will be primarily those of color & lower socio-economic status.
We will work with state and national-reaching networks for design & policy professionals & volunteers. Outreach for each installation will be conducted through environmental advocacy groups, local schools, religious organizations & social media, with calendar ads and listings through local publications & radio stations.
A mobile Climate Stories is a tool to ameliorate these impediments and connect people across diverse communities to greater grassroots climate change conversations. Doing so sets the stage for more community-based, collaborative adaptation planning and design efforts across one of the most powerful, emissions-heavy countries on the planet.
Specific cities are chosen to target areas where there is stated doubt as to the veracity & intensity of climate change. (Popovich et al, 2017) These cities include: Houston, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; Tallahassee Florida; Charlotte, South Carolina; Macon, Georgia; Rolla, Missouri; and Bozeman, Montana.
In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.
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What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?
The need for this kind of climate change outreach cannot be overstated. Spreading climate change awareness remains one of our greatest collective challenges. With such wide-ranging impacts, it’s nearly impossible to visualize, encouraging many to view the issue through pre-existing beliefs & prejudices. Recent polls show that while more than 50% of Americans believe that climate change will “harm people in the United States,” fewer than 40% believe it will “harm me, personally.” That lack of physical connection to the issues encourages many people to respond with pre-existing beliefs & prejudices.
Deeper understanding of climate impacts provides the motivation we need to tackle these obstacles. It’s time to go beyond more traditional forms of communication & outreach. It's not enough to share more data. To cultivate more inclusive climate action, we have to reach people on more emotional levels. We have to broaden the tools we use to talk about change.
In order to create more inclusive, broad-based climate conversations, we need publicly accessible learning opportunities with fun, whimsy & emotion. Climate Stories gives visitors an articulated future scenario into which they can enter. This kind of immersion into what our future could potentially be like helps people relate to the realities of climate change on a more immediate and personal level, which in turn creates greater motivation to act.
Installed in publicly accessible sites across the country, Climate Stories connects people from diverse communities to greater national climate change conversations and direct actions. From learning about ways that they can mitigate emissions in their own lives and communities to connecting with national adaptation movements through donations and membership opportunities, visitors are connected to wider collective initiatives to push for climate change action. By bringing the climate conversation right to people’s communities, Climate Stories makes climate action fun, engaging and accessible. This sets the stage for more community-based, empowered and collaborative adaptation planning efforts, at the local, regional and national levels.
What are other key benefits?
More and more these days, negotiating climate change is a storytelling issue. While scientific research is an essential part of the adaptation and planning process, it’s far from enough. Even for those who accept that the science of climate change is real, how exactly to adapt – what policies to enact, which time frames to focus on – remains a conundrum. Start planning for the future and short-term interests quickly contrast with long-term uncertainties, paving the way to confusion.
This tension between short-term and long-term reasoning is an integral part of human nature. Short-term thought is our instinctual brain in action. This is the part of us that knows to flinch when we get too close to fire, that reminds us how to read subtle social cues during a date. Long-term thinking is more deliberate & conceptual. This is the thought process that helps us plan our yearly spending budgets & conduct cost-benefit analyses. It’s more orderly & takes more effort.
The two often come in conflict but perhaps nowhere more so than with climate change planning. Thanks to short-term thinking, we’re the most motivated to act after we experience an event. For example, people are more likely to buy flood insurance after they’ve gone through a flood.
That approach doesn’t work with climate change. Predicting the precise timing, scale and condition of climate impacts is largely impossible. Trying to plan for events that we’ve never seen before, that will happen at some unknown point in the future, goes against our fundamental nature. And yet if we don’t plan, we’ll find ourselves in increasingly dangerous situations.
In order to harness the long-term thinking needed in climate planning, we have to work with our short-term brain. That’s where storytelling comes in. Studies have shown that when we find ways to connect to events and impacts that we have yet to personally experience, our levels of empathy and engagement grow.4 We start to care more, which helps us think beyond the envelope of our own families, communities and lifespans, and take the long view more intimately into consideration.
That’s what Climate Stories – an interactive, experiential look at what future conditions could be like -- is designed to do. It activates the short-term brain in service of long-term thinking. While emotionally investing in futures that have yet to happen is difficult, it is also the key to navigating our increasingly shifting world. Climate change is arguably both the hardest issue to grasp and the most important one to understand. Strong storytelling, as utilized in the projects like Climate Stories, is our way to get there.
What are the proposal’s projected costs?
Total costs for this project are $68,220.
Costs to bring Climate Stories to all 7 cities mentioned above (Houston, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; Tallahassee Florida; Charlotte, South Carolina; Macon, Georgia; Rolla, Missouri; Bozeman, Montana) are $58,220. Costs for the 1st installation are $21,320. Each subsequent installation is $6,150 (can be less if travel distances are short).
The Climate Stories trailer costs $15,170. This includes the trailer itself, the cost of which covers design & fabrication services, materials (plywood, sheet glass, etc), audio equipment & space rental for fabrication. Interactive objects have already been fabricated & are not included in the cost. Costs for images, pamphlets & books are $1750 for each site. Each one week installation costs $3000 for time, travel, lodging, food & community engagement work for Climate Stories operators. Before installation, each location requires 40 hours of planning, permitting & programming work, totaling $1400 for each site visited. More information on where these numbers come from is included below.
For each site that Climate Stories visits, new street-level images are created to illustrate how that particular city has shifted over time. Images on walls show the site from the end of the last ice age to the "present" (ie the year 2200). "Windows" show what the site looks like outside of the living in the "present." Costs of researching & designing images for each site is $700. Once developed, images are uploaded to the Climate Stories touch screens.
New maps, diagrams and images are uploaded to our existing templates to create books & pamphlets for each site to illustrate how that particular city has shifted over time. Maps, diagrams & images show the site from the end of the last ice age to the "present" (ie the year 2200). Book & pamphlet content change only slightly from one site to the next to reflect local geography & history. Costs for research & printing of pamphlets for each site is $400. Costs for research & printing of the books for each site is $650.
The remaining funds are allocated for time, travel expenses & community outreach. Community outreach has 2 phases: prep work & on-site work. Prep involves identifying sites for installation, reaching out to potential community partners, developing programming strategies (ie partner with social-science classes if Climate Stories is installed at a school), obtaining permits & cultivating community interest. On-site work involves executing programming, trailer maintenance, engaging with visitors, & recording responses to project questions.
Again, to encourage greater use of the Climate Stories tool across more geographies, we will develop a Climate Stories toolkit once initial targets within the US have been addressed. Open source, download-able resources will enable communities from different regions & countries to create their own Climate Stories center. Funds needed to develop the toolkit are $10,000.
Short term (1-2 Years) Secure funding. Proceed with design development, refinement and deployment. Identify governing bodies and communities within target cities to partner for deployment. Deploy in seven initial target cities, inviting all users to take direct climate actions and join the Climate Stories action network, through which they can connect to local adaptation organizations, national action campaigns, planning initiatives and donation opportunities, and learn more about mitigation tools. Facilitate use of collected data in local, regional and national adaptation efforts and campaigns.
Medium term (3-7 years): Deploy Climate Stories over increasingly wide-ranging areas over next five years. Create and disseminate Climate Stories toolkit. Refine design accordingly and incorporate more virtual reality and augmented reality experiences where appropriate. Collaborate with climate change related film projects and festivals to introduce Climate Stories to more communities and increase the impact of media projects looking to introduce effective climate action initiatives to their work. Continue to build Climate Stories action network, through which participants can learn more about refinements in mitigation tools and action initiatives in which they can get involved. Facilitate use of collected data in local, regional and national adaptation efforts and campaigns, particularly in improvements to climate communication methodologies. Explore options for using Climate Stories in international areas by refining the toolkit and partnering with local community groups.
Long term (8-15 years): Decommission Climate Stories but continue using data collected. Conduct in-depth analysis on collected data on public climate change perceptions, assessing cultural differences in attitudes towards risk and perceived vulnerability. Coordinate between participating governing bodies where necessary. Expand planning efforts using gathered data.
Longer term (15-50 years): Continue cultivating decentralized community resilience planning efforts.
About the author(s)
Johanna Hoffman, Resilient Design Associate at Urban Fabrick and founder of partnering organization Shiftworks, is a designer and writer on climate change and its impacts on the build environment. She crafts spaces that spread understanding and collaboration on climate change issues by sparking the imagination. Storytelling is a key factor in all of her work, both as a tool and a subject. She is particularly interested in how our landscapes change over time, in physical form as well as in our collective imaginations.
Johanna's projects range from podcasts to furniture to interactive installations & more. She has created audio experiences for the California Historical Society exploring long-term impacts of development along the San Francisco Bay. As a fellow at Louisiana State University, she created installations illustrating climate change impacts on the Mississippi Delta. She has designed award winning community engagement strategies on sea level rise issues in Rhode Island, and created interactive educational installation for the city of San Francisco. She is currently a Fellow at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Climate Stories Project
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