Image by Rastislav Durica via Pexels.com
“When it comes to climate change, we’re asked to panic. But fear will never drive long-term sustainable change, so it’s time we tell a new story.” Anne Therese Founder, The Climate Optimist.
Heatwaves, wildfires, floods, climate meltdown… Our devices, screens and audioscapes are filled with environmental doomism. But what is the impact of a continuous negative narrative on society, the economy and the planet at large?. How are the stories we choose to tell affecting our lives? And by changing the dominant plotline, by telling different stories, could we in fact reverse environmental catastrophe? What impact would a healthy dose of climate optimism have?
I wonder, could positive green storytelling deliver the change that’s needed?
95% of stories published or broadcast are negative. The justification for this is chalked up to what’s known as ‘negativity bias’, a psychological phenomenon where we pay more attention to the unfortunate stuff happening around us than the beneficial. Negativity bias is believed to be an evolutionary trait that can protect us from danger. But despite its survivalist origins, this bias can lead to a warped perception of reality.
Enter Climate Optimism – a movement that is gaining traction amongst both the younger Gen Z and the science community.
Gen Z embrace climate optimism, they say, because it empowers - it’s an antidote to the climate anxiety that has been paralysing some young activists. Optimism about the future of the planet they believe, is much more likely to motivate positive action -- countering the feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness that deliver inertia. The thinking is that if we believe it is too late to act – it will be. Conversely, if we believe it is possible to reverse the impacts of climate change (and there’s a body of scientific evidence to show this is true) then we can.
Climate optimism is winning support not only amongst climate activists but in the scientific, political and business arena. As Christina Figueres from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says: “Every action matters… Every choice matters.” She says we need to be “stubbornly optimistic…Either we can sit back and say ‘okay, well...you know we’re too late.’ Or we can say ‘oh my gosh, we’re totally running out of time and we have to stand up!’ “And in my book, we don’t have any other option.”
The Britain Talks COP26 report supports this view. The majority of the population are concerned about climate change regardless of their demographics. They feel climate action could not only help to slow or reverse climate change but could help unite communities.
Indeed, it seems, there is much to be optimistic about. Every one of us could rapidly reduce the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions by 5%, through lifestyle changes – from reducing our meat consumption, to using less energy. The latest study says human activity can make a difference – and quickly. Storytellers and the media industry at large have the power to deliver widescale impact, changing the course of history. The IPCC study says, “Narratives enable people to imagine and make sense of the future through processes of interpretation, understanding, communication and social interaction.” In other words, the stories we choose to tell, the content we select, the campaigns we run, the productions we commission can reverse catastrophic climate change.
This call for conscious content has been formally adopted. At Cop26 British broadcasters united with Albert to deliver the Content Climate Pledge, taking the discussion to audiences and committing to produce material that that not only informs and inspires climate action, but showcases impactful initiatives, solutions that are already positively impacting the planet.
Albert’s Why Planet Placement initiative demonstrates that there are two ways the film and TV industry can embed sustainability into content – either by raising issues in a way that inspires audiences to take action or by normalising sustainable behaviours on screen.
Yes, images, words and sounds are powerful and they impact the world. Research shows that exposure to negative events, violence and aggression via a screen or direct experience is more likely to result in negative actions towards the planet and others.
According to leading environmentalist, economist and activist Paul Hawken, the reality is that we are already successfully solving climate problems but we don’t share these stories. Paul is the brainchild behind Project Drawdown, a comprehensive plan to reverse global warming, showcasing the 100 best climate solutions that are already out there. “We have the means at hand to achieve the goal within a reasonable amount of time, he says. “We didn’t make this plan. It’s a map of what’s happening. It’s here and it’s scaling. We are used to hearing that we are failing and falling short. The reality is that underneath all that, humanity is mobilizing to seriously address climate change and global warming. We caused global warming and we can undo it. And when we undo it, we will create a world that is so much more interesting and kinder to each other and to all living things than the world we live in right now. If you think that global warming is happening to you, to your family and your country, then you become a victim and you are disempowered. If you think it’s happening for you, you take 100 percent responsibility. You are not blaming anyone. You are devoting yourself to solving the problem.”
Project Drawdown makes visible stories such as transitioning off fossil fuels quickly, reducing food waste, eating plant based foods, capturing carbon and other greenhouse gasses using new technology. It is now possible, for example to capture volumes of methane with coffee grounds we use every day. Human beings are good at finding solutions and problem solving. This is a view shared by Optimist Daily Editor-in-Chief Jurriaan Kamp. “Beyond the doom and gloom talk of climate change and global warming, humanity is already successfully working on solving the problem. This is not wishful thinking, rather a conservative analysis of what’s already happening…there’s a credible path towards a just and liveable world.”
Arguably, positivity is the ability to see what’s really there, and rather than enabling an ‘negative dynamic to shape the national and global conversation, resulting in hopelessness and inaction, we can counter that, change the story, and empower people to take action for the planet. In David Attenborough’s 2020 witness statement film, A Life on Our Planet, he demonstrates how by making positive ‘everyday choices’, we can impact the planet, our own sustainability – and even change the course of history.
Importantly, viewer interest in content addressing the environmental challenges of our changing world is greater than ever. This isn’t about simply more nature docs highlighting the climate crisis, but inclusion within the dramas, comedy, kids, current affairs and other genres that make up schedules and content libraries – the need for an authentic, informed and brave editorial voice is clear.
The signatories to the Content Climate Pledge understand that their voice – and their budgets – can make a difference, serving audience demand and highlighting how we impact the world around us. Channel 4’s brief to independent production houses calls for high-impact, multi-genre shows engaging viewers to “sit up and think about what they can do to solve the problem.”
5 Reasons to be a Climate Optimist
1. For the first time in history, we have global alignment on the climate challenge. In 2015, 200 countries signed The Paris Agreement to limit global warming to well below 2˚C above pre-industrial times. At COP26, the U.S and China (which together account for around 38% of the world’s annual carbon footprint signed a joint pledge called ‘Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s.
2. We have a scientific roadmap of how to get there. The Stockholm Resilience Centre’s ‘carbon law’ is a model for how we deliver on the Paris Agreement.
3. We know what we need to do. Project Drawdown lists the 100 solutions scientifically calculated to make it happen.
4. Solutions are underway. Many nations are on the way to a renewable future.
5. Despite the doom, hope prevails. 95% of climate experts and 64% of ordinary people believe we can solve the climate challenge.
At Futuretivity, we believe that true sustainability in film and TV comes from integrating sound environmental practice and social value throughout the industry’s culture and operations powering its businesses, productions and supply chain. Only then can we ensure our editorial voice speaks authentically and with impact. With that in mind, as storytellers, content producers, commissioners, broadcasters and responsible human beings, let’s ensure the shift to a responsible, positive, optimistic narrative is central to our work and that sustainability becomes engrained at the core of everything we do and the decisions we make.
As behavioural historian and expert in how daily habits lead to political violence, Christiane-Maria Abu Sarah says, ‘every act has an ecology, a context.’ Polarisation is not impulse, it is learned, by telling a better narrative we can create a better ecology, a better context and a better outcome.
Novelist Chimanda Ngozi in her TED Talk explains the danger of a single story.
As child growing up she learned the story of Africa ‘in negatives… a single story of catastrophe and poverty.’ A single story she says, makes prejudice easy to buy into, creating an ‘us versus them’ society. The African word ‘oncali’ means power – the ability to make the single story the only story. Just consider, she says how different the world could be if we used our ‘oncali’ to create a ‘balance of stories.’
Perhaps then, by taking responsibility for what we produce, commission, read, write and say, by presenting and seeking out more balanced perspectives, positive viewpoints, multiple stories, we can create a better story for the future of people and planet. We have the power, the ‘oncali’ to change the world, if we start by changing the narrative.
Futuretivity delivers climate positivity with vibrant, socially impactful commercial power. We recognise that the how-to of sustainability can be overwhelming, so we empower businesses with actionable roadmaps, skills for the future and meaningful connections to succeed. Being a conscious business needn’t cost the earth nor cost your business.
For more inspiration and insights on sustainability for business go to futuretivity.com/resources If you are a company that needs help with sustainability in your business book a call with Futuretivity now and get sustainability delivered.