Eight Reasons Why Stories are a Part of the Solution

Storytelling is the unifying tool that ignites movements across the world and throughout history

By Linda Samarah and Heather Fipps, The Redford Center

Whether you’re an environmental activist, organizer, investor,  artist, educator, student, or an interested or concerned individual looking to inspire change, we invite you to consider the mobilizing power and impact of intersectional climate storytelling and its potential to be a leading tool in the movement for environmental justice and equitable solutions. 

8 Reasons Why Stories are the Solution We Need:

1. Stories develop critical skills and qualities of human inner growth and development that help us to live purposeful, sustainable, and productive lives

Stories are a tool to help us think expansively, developing our cognitive skills by examining different perspectives, evaluating information, and making sense of the world as an interconnected whole — a key framework set forth by the Inner Development Goals. Stories help us develop:

  • Critical Thinking – Skills in critically reviewing the validity of views, evidence, and plans.
  • Complexity Awareness – Understanding of and skills in working with complex and systemic conditions and causalities.
  • Perspective Skills – Skills in seeking, understanding and actively making use of insights from contrasting perspectives.
  • Sense-making – Skills in seeing patterns, structuring the unknown and being able to consciously create stories.
  • Long-term Orientation and Visioning – Long-term orientation and ability to formulate and sustain a commitment to visions relating to the larger context.

2. Stories help us change the dominant conversation

“We need more parables of what’s possible. Because tragedy isn’t the only plot available to us.”

For far too long our future on this planet has been presented to us as a predetermined fate we have little control over. Despite this news cycle of climate doomism, we have the power to change the dominant narrative and rewrite our future. You don’t have to be a scientist or climate expert. We all have an essential role to play in protecting the future of our planet. So, what can we do about it? Solitaire Townsend breaks this down in Change The Story, Save The World? Let’s Flip The Script On Climate

  • Storytellers — scriptwriters, storytellers, novelists, poets and creatives. Your influence shouldn’t be taken lightly, you are the dreamers of our future. Your characters, plotlines, scenes and settings are watched enthusiastically and at scale. Imagine you called your audiences to pay as much attention to the climate as you do to cats? Of course, just mentioning isn’t enough.
  • Businesses – The end of greenwashing is long overdue, and solutions stories are needed. Stop asking your ad agencies to ‘sell your green credentials’ and start serving the solutions and uplifting those stories.
  • Everyone – Just like the renowned climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe says, “The most important thing you can do to fight climate change, is talk about it.” Stories of endeavor, of people making a difference, stories of your own life, of how you feel and what you’ve done. We all need to tell stories of people, not just stories of the planet.

    “This is the best and most natural home we are ever going to have. And we need to become a new people to deserve it. We are going to have to be new artists to redream it. This is why I propose existential creativity, to serve the unavoidable truth of our times, and a visionary existentialism, to serve the future that we must bring about from the brink of our environmental catastrophe.”  Ben Okri, Artists must confront the climate crisis – we must write as if these are the last days, The Guardian”

3. Centering and prioritizing inclusion of BIPOC and frontline storytellers can shift the narrative and counter damaging portrayals of people and ideas

Despite the progress that has been made, BIPOC communities continue to be severely underrepresented and misrepresented in television, film, and media and continue to be affected by the real world consequences that legacies of harmful stereotypes have initiated.

Narrative films aren’t the only mediums responsible for this. Nonfiction works and documentaries have also been plagued with themes of saviorism, extractive practices, and exploitative storytelling. 

BIPOC and frontline communities and storytellers must be prioritized in our efforts to amplify environmental stories and solutions. When we defer to BIPOC leadership and amplify the most impacted voices, we disrupt damaging and counterproductive narratives and gain critical insight into the full picture of the issues we are facing and in turn are able to forge holistic, equitable, and intersectional solutions.  

  • In an ever more racially diverse world, Hollywood’s ability to include different racial and ethnic groups is pivotal. Industry leaders must take responsibility for diversity problems, and white elites should not hide shortfalls behind a facade of colorblind tolerance. Demographic changes and an ever-expanding international box office will put pressure on Hollywood to diversify, but not necessarily to overhaul long standing racially relevant barriers — unless more concerted efforts are made. As Viola Davis stated in her 2015 Emmy award acceptance speech, “If they exist in life, then we should see it on TV. We should see it on stage or on the screen. As many people are out there are as many stories that should be being told.” – Scholars Strategy Network: “How Racial Stereotypes in Popular Media Affect People—and What Hollywood Can do to Become More Inclusive
  • “The stories we see being told on screen in movie theaters and homes across the country are powerful and have shaped perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors toward Native peoples. Native creatives have been working for decades to overcome and change stereotypes and open more doors for Native creatives to be storytellers. With a growing influx of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) content creators, and authentic and engaging Native stories being told through shows like Rutherford Falls and Reservation Dogs, the time is now to break even more ground in the entertainment industry.” – Illuminative: “The Time is Now: The Power of Native Representation in Entertainment

4. Stories can lead us to radical imagination

Have you ever come across a story that made you laugh, moved you to tears, pushed you to imagine what life would be like if the experiences presented on screen were your own, or simply stayed with you days, weeks, even years after you’ve encountered it?

This point is simple but just as important as the rest. Stories have a great impact on our minds, memories, emotions, and actions. They push against the boundaries of our lived experiences and open up new worlds of solutions for us.

  • “Some of you might be asking: what does radically imagining a better future actually mean? One of the simplest ways to understand radical imagination is thinking to yourself, What would our world look like if we actually got this right? – Intersectional Environmentalist,” The Joy Report Show Notes: “Radically Imagining a Better Future

“Like artistic and literary movements, social movements are driven by imagination… Every important social movement reconfigures the world in the imagination. What was obscure comes forward, lies are revealed, memory shaken, new delineations drawn over the old maps: it is from this new way of seeing the present that hope for the future emerges… Let us begin to imagine the worlds we would like to inhabit, the long lives we will share, and the many futures in our hands.” – Susan Griffin, “To Love the Marigold” 

5. Stories help us relate to one another and bridge moral and political divides

Sharing your story or personal experience with an issue instead of sharing facts or statistics about an issue is effective in bridging moral and political divides and imprints a longer shelf-life in our memory than statistics and figures alone. 

“All Americans are affected by rising political polarization, whether because of a gridlocked Congress or antagonistic holiday dinners. People believe that facts are essential for earning the respect of political adversaries, but our research shows that this belief is wrong. We find that sharing personal experiences about a political issue—especially experiences involving harm— help to foster respect via increased perceptions of rationality…In moral and political disagreements, everyday people treat subjective experiences as truer than objective facts.” – Emily Kubin, “Personal experiences bridge moral and political divides better than facts

6. Stories are an educational tool that works

Stories are perhaps one of the most accessible educational tools we have at our fingertips. Beyond traditional classrooms, stories educate us through books, laptop and phone screens, the radio show on our drive home, stages and theaters, conversations with friends, or even the TV in the waiting room of our doctor’s office. Stories are everywhere and their educational power works. 

7. Independent film and media specifically is a powerful storytelling tool that “promotes voices vital to the health of our democracy”

Independent storytelling disrupts the status quo and the limited pool of perspectives presented by the mainstream film industry and prioritizes the stories of communities everywhere. Consider the supporting insights below by the National Endowment for the Arts 2022 Independent Film and Media Briefing

  • “Independent film often comes from communities that have never told their stories before.”
  • “Independent storytelling is rooted in communities, based on the lived experiences of today’s Americans, and is created outside of commercial and ideological pressures”

“The narrative power of a robust and representative independent media sector goes far beyond entertainment. Both fiction and nonfiction storytelling can profoundly influence how Americans come to understand ourselves and our respective relationships to the larger society. As one independent filmmaker noted, ‘Being able to have that representation on screen is so vital for a healthy community and sense of self.’”

8. Impact storytelling amplifies leaders and solutions

Grassroots and frontline documentary/nonfiction film provide examples that every storyteller can access, learn from, and be inspired by. 

  • “There is an abundance of character-driven climate narrative docs that intersect with nearly every issue: climate solutions, racial justice, health, housing security, financial justice, immigration, gender equity, food sovereignty, accessibility, and more. These stories help us understand, in intimate detail, the climate emergency’s impact on real people, their families and communities, and our beloved natural places. They present real-life conflicts around justice, science, and mental and physical health that can help inspire your climate stories and characters.” – Heather Fipps and Jill Tidman, “Based On A True Story: Documentaries As Story Fodder

All forms of storytelling are vital tools in the environmental movement used to educate, inspire, spark conversations, bridge communities, deepen empathy and understanding, and drive people into action, and documentaries have helped lead the way in presenting the impact potential we can have when we invest in and prioritize independent and intersectional storytelling.