- Storytelling about the climate crisis–called climate fiction or ‘cli-fi’–has generally focused on end-of-the-world stories that serve as a warning. But are they able to inspire change?
- Research has shown that cli-fi is often associated with negative emotions, which can lead to apathy. This is the enemy of action. But stories can get through to us in ways that facts aren’t able to.
- This could mean that different types of clifi stories are needed to inspire change. A new opinion piece suggests that we may need to add more stories to this potentially transformative genre.
- This post is a comment. The views expressed in this post are those of the author and not necessarily Mongabay.
Many people might not be able to recall the 23rdrecognize its significance. Many people may not have been alive back then. But that was the day Dr. James Hansen gave his Statement from the US SenateHe stated that global climate change was happening right now due to human activities. It is widely believed to be the moment the whole world became aware of it. Climate Change. The intervening 33 years have seen the following: scienceThe evidence has been clear that humanity is changing our climate. It is now in a dangerous new condition.
Despite the clarity of the picture that has emerged from climate scientists, we’ve failed to address the crisis with the urgency it deserves. This is due to many factors. We could mention the impact of fossil fuel lobbyists who’ve muddied the public’s understanding of the science. We could mention the media who’ve failed to communicate the crisis effectively. We could mention politicians who’ve downplayed or denied that we’re in a climate emergency. These are just a few examples of the issues which have led us to where today.
But I’d like to explore a tool at our disposal that can help cut through the noise and disinformation. It could also help to educate a wider audience about climate crisis. It’s something that’s shaped the attitudes, actions and advances of society for thousands of years; the universal language of storytelling.
Cli-fi is coming of age
Cli-fi, a term Dan Bloom coined to describe climate fiction’s literary sub-genre, is a term he uses to describe it. Cli-fi attempts to reach out to people in a way that traditional non-fiction and scientific reports simply can’t.
Cli-fi has typically been made up of “Dystopian and pre-/post-apocalyptic worlds of the past, present, or future stricken by a myriad of climate change calamities,” according to Kübra Baysal in Apocalyptic Visions of the Anthropocene, and the Rise of Climate Fiction. These stories about the end of the world could be used to warn us about the urgency of addressing climate change. But do they inspire change? Investigations into this question are ongoing, but here’s what we know so far.
ResearchMatthew Schneider Mayerson published his findings in 2018 in the journal Environmental Humanities. He found that readers of clifi were more concerned by the climate crisis then non-readers. Cli-fi encouraged readers think about how climate change will impact their lives and the general public. However, Schneider-Mayerson found that the majority of cli-fi was associated with “intensely negative emotions.”
Action is more important than action. A cli-fi which makes readers feel depressed might discourage them form engaging with the issue further. This could mean that different stories are needed to inspire change. This could be one solution. While we cannot dismiss the existing clifi genre, which has raised awareness and spawned numerous conversations, it may be time for new stories to be added to this potentially world-changing category.
But why does storytelling have such an effect on people? How can stories help us address the most pressing human problem?
Stories are the power of stories
Stories have a tremendous influence on us. They wrap us in a story cocoon and transports us into a new world. We empathize more with characters and have our beliefs and attitudes shaped unknowingly.
Stories can also transform the world. Many important historical moments have been triggered by stories. For example, Uncle Tom’s CabinHarriet Beecher Stewe played a part in the American Civil War. It was an attempt to end slavery. According to Will Storr, dictators such as Augusto Pinochet and Hitler were so afraid of the power and potential of books that they were able to collect and burn many. The Science of Storytelling. “Transportation changes people,” writes Storr, “and then it changes the world.”
Fiction on TV can also be a force of change. The American sitcom “All in the Family” produced an episode which showed chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in a negative light in October 1974. CFCs were the culprit for the hole in ozone layer. The pressure was growing for global action. According to an article published in PBS, the aerosol industry attributed the episode of “All in the Family” as that which sparked their decline.
Stories can also warn us of an approaching danger. Brave New WorldAldous Huxley WeYevgeny Zmyatin, 1984 George Orwell warned us of the rise to totalitarianism by warning us. These books are now part of our cultural fabric. Is there any evidence that stories can influence and shape our beliefs or actions?
Jonathan Gottschall writes in The Storytelling Animal that, “Research results have been consistent and robust: fiction does mold our minds. Story – whether delivered through films, books, or video games – teaches us facts about the world; influences our moral logic; and marks us with fears, hopes, and anxieties that alter our behavior, perhaps even our personalities.” So how do stories hold us in their magical sway?
Walter Fisher believes we are creatures of story, or “Homo narrans.” Jonathan Gottschall prefers fiction man, or “Homo fictus.” EvidenceResearch shows that people tend to think in narrative structures, which can be defined in a research paper. Brandi S. Morris, and coworkers as, “The degree to which a narrative tells a story and contains essential features including an identifiable character, plot (temporal dimension, goal), and setting.”
Narrative structure is increasingly being seen as an integral part of narrative structure. Effective methodScience communication. This is because we can become lost in a story through narrative transportation. We reach this state through empathizing with characters and living vicariously, and also by “Being suspended from reality”
Yet there are plenty of other reasons why stories can reach us in ways that non-fiction simply can’t. Morris and his colleaguesStories are a part of our neural maps that ultimately determine how we understand and interpret the world around us. Loick Roche and John SadowskyIt is also possible that stories are universally understood, which makes them accessible to everyone, regardless of their age or cultural background.
Facts versus Fiction
Our brains are wired in a way to process stories. We communicate through them, so we spend some of the time reading, listening, playing, or watching them on audiobooks, videogames, online streaming, and theaters, cinemas, and online streaming sites. Even while we sleep, our brain continues to feed us stories through dreams. It’s like we can’t get enough of them.
That’s not to say that non-fiction isn’t important or effective. It is, and can be. But sometimes stories can get through to us in ways that facts aren’t able to. “Humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers or equations,” says Yuval Noah Harari in 21 Lessons from the 21st Century. George Monbiot also shares this view and wrote in Out of the Wreckage that, “A string of facts, however well-attested, has no power to correct or dislodge a powerful story.”
They are available at www.stackoverflow.com 2019 research paperPublished in Climatic ChangeMorris and his colleagues conducted three studies to determine whether stories or facts encourage people to take action on the climate crisis. They found that narratives presented as stories were more effective in encouraging people to act than narratives of a factual nature.
Do we need to see more stories in science communication about the climate crisis? Yuval Noah Harari believes this idea is valid. In 21 Lessons for 21st Century Living,He says science fiction is one the most important genres in this century. It helps communicate information on topics such as climate change, bioengineering, and AI to a broad audience. He explains that while people may not read the latest research articles, “Movies such as The MatrixAnd HerTelevision series such as WestworldAnd Black Mirror shape how people understand the most important technological, social and economic developments of our time.”
In The Storytelling AnimalGottschall says that fiction can shape or modify our opinions and thinking on topics such as race, gender, ethics, class, and almost any other subject. Gottschall claims that even a single episode or a short story of a TV program can influence our thinking. “If the research is correct,” he writes, “fiction is one of the primary sculpting forces of individuals and societies.”
If stories have changed society’s views on a range of subjects before, then there’s no reason why climate change should be any different. To inspire change, however, we need a new kind cli-fi story.
The new wave of clifi
Margaret Atwood, Kim Stanley Robinson, Barbara Kingslover, Ian McEwan and Jeanette Winterson are just some of the authors who’ve penned cli-fi novels. The cli-fi genre has many published works. hundredsThere is obviously scope for a wider variety of novels.
“The best cli-fi,” writes Ellen Szabo in Writing CliFi is the key to saving the world one word at a while, “Seamlessly intertwines literary fabrication and science; it’s a literary collaboration between the disciplines of science and the humanities.” Cli-fi makes climate change personal by living vicariously, says Szabo. This means that we need strong, realistic characters. Grounding clifi Present with solutions also matters when we’re trying to inspire the world to immediate action.
A new wave of clifi is needed that includes all of these ideas. There is one novel that I believe embodies all that this new wave cli-fi can be. The Last BearHannah Gold
The Last Bear is a middle grade novel with wonderful human and animal characters that are the beating heart of one of the most stunning debuts you’ll come across. This book is a clifi masterpiece. It’s set in the current and incorporates real world science skillfully into the story. To say that it’s iconic within the cli-fi genre would be an understatement. It seems certain that it will become a modern-day favorite. Books like The Last BearCould just change the world. Every author who seeks to bring about climate action can learn from Gold’s masterfully crafted story – this is how we engage, educate and inspire action on the climate crisis.
After the slow progress at COP26Many people are beginning to realize that the time available for meaningful action is decreasing. History books are being written, and all of our names will appear in them against success or failure.
But there is still hope. Perhaps cli-fi can help us reach previously unreachable areas of society. Perhaps now is the time to embrace the fact that we’re storytelling animals and to communicate in this most universal of languages. Maybe storytellers will create stories about saving the planet, which will ultimately do exactly that. We may not be able to get a “happily ever after” at this late stage of the climate crisis, but we owe it to every future generation to at least try.
Ryan MizzenAuthor and freelance writer. His new cli-fi children’s picture book aimed at 5-7 year olds, Nanook and the Melting Polar, is available via Amazon’s global stores, including Amazon USAnd Amazon UK.
Banner image by Pawel Zerwinski via Unsplash
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