Why storytelling matters for climate leaders

If you live in the U.S., and even if you don’t, you know that in the current political climate, we’re not fighting over facts. We’re doing battle over narrative. Stories activate the core values and emotions that drive our beliefs. They help us make sense of facts, and ultimately guide how we understand and relate to the world around us. As Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman says, “The confidence individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little.”

As our social narratives become more politicized, the work to find common solutions to problems like climate change becomes much harder. This is where narrative approaches such as storytelling can help bridge the divide by tapping the deeper values and motivations that drive sustained action.

Which brings me to my second point. Climate solutions like clean energy are attracting more and more support, across the political spectrum. Public opinion research is clear that overwhelming majorities believe strongly in both renewable policies and technologies. What’s less clear for people is how viable and beneficial clean energy is in the short term. The public is vulnerable to fossil fuel interests that are doubling down efforts to frame clean energy as benefitting elites only.

This is where storytelling has another important role to play. It can show, not just tell, the real opportunities clean energy and other climate solutions offer to communities. This includes things like reducing pollution, creating jobs, addressing affordability and improving quality of life - all things that people care about, regardless of their political beliefs. But these benefits need to be amplified beyond our traditional support bases. The current climate narrative needs expanding to include those most vulnerable to impacts because of social and economic inequalities. Their experiences, their concerns and their ideas are central to the climate conversation. And once again, storytelling is a tool that can support our efforts to raise and center marginalized voices too. 

Sold on stories yet? We've got some tools to help you tell them well. Check out our recent webinar on strategic storytelling for policy advocacy, a tip sheet on the social science behind how effective storytelling, and a case study of the Stories of Solar project that engaged non-traditional audiences around renewables in the southeast.