Telling the Climate Story -- Alternative Narratives

We all understand the world through stories.  When telling the climate story, you can choose from a variety of broad narratives frameworks -- aka narratives, frames, or storylines.    Once you've woven together your themes, you can drive key points home with a pithy anecdotes.

Listeners will likely remember the stories you tell -- hopefully, the overarching narrative, but certainly your pithiest anecdote -- far longer than anything else you say.

There are many different ways to "tell the climate story."  Though they arrive at similar conclusions, alternative climate narratives may have different starting points, as well as different narrators, characters, and plots.  

Which storyline is most effective?   It depends on the audience -- and who is speaking.

We've identified more than twenty-five -- and counting -- different ways to talk about climate change and solutions.   Most are not mutually exclusive; almost all communicators weave together several of these "sub-plots" into their presentation.

The key is understanding the range of possibilities, becoming aware of which storyline(s) you are already using, and making conscious choices about which storylines to weave together for a given audience.

[In progress:   A brief summary of each narrative, with links to full presentations based on it.]


For examples of the public health narrative, see:

Ed Maibach & Michael Nisbet, Melinda Weathers, "Conveying the Human Implications of Climate Change.'

Michael Nisbet, "Reframing Climate Change as a Public Health Problem"

Religious narratives often start with the premise that God created nature and its living things; we are its stewards.    Surely, He didn't intend for us to destroy His Creation.

It's connected with religious values of moral justice, humility, and respect.

One of the best examples is A Climate for Change:  Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions, by Karen Hayhoe, who is both a highly-respected climate scientist and an Evangelical Christian, and Andrew Farley, a minister.   Uniquely, the authors not only explore the faith-based narrative, they offer a remarkably thorough and illuminating explanation of climate change, in clear language and calm respectful tone that makes it a model for communication with any general audience.    The dedication reads, "For anybody who has ever wondered whether climate change is real," and it is, indeed, a must for every communcator's short-list library.

Another resource is Rev. Jim Ball's Global Warming and the Risen LORD: Christian Discipleship and Climate Change, via the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN),

a ministry dedicated to the care of God's creation. EEN seeks to equip, inspire, disciple, and mobilize God's people in their effort to care for God's creation.

Founded in 1993, our ministry is grounded in the Bible's teaching on the responsibility of God's people to "tend the garden" through a faithful walk with our Lord Jesus Christ. Grounded in the scriptures, EEN publishes and develops material for churches, families, and individuals to use as they seek to know the Lord more fully, especially his care for all that he has made.

In 2006, Ball and 84 other evangelical leaders launched the Environmental Climate Initiative, reported in the New York Times and elsewhere.

Bill Moyers' PBS website, "On Faith & Reason," provides a brief history of the debate within the Evangelical community over environmental stewardship vs. dominion  including links to key documents.

Also, see Interfaith Power and Light:  a Religious Response to Global Warming, which has active chapters or affiliates in many states, such as Earth Ministry in Seattle.

Short quotes on religious stewardship from various, mostly Western, traditions, can be found at  


This 5-minute clip begins with these opening credits:

FutureFlix:   The Movies of Tomorrow Today!   You ordered:

Climate:  A Crisis Averted.    A riveting documentary on how human beings overcame the greatest challenge the species ever faced.

The accompanying blurb continues:

"Climate: A Crisis Averted looks back from 2056 and recounts how ordinary citizens in 2006 -- realizing that global warming was a scientific fact and not a climatic theory -- take action to demand clean energy and other planet-friendly options. The movie describes how a movement called RenewUS effected real change with an action plan, or 'call-to-arms' on global warming."

Try to look past the date (it's several years old already) and the organization (which has not made no a big splash) to consider the technique:   visualizing success.

Visualizing success is a well-established, proven method for improving performance in many fields, including sports, performance arts, management, sales, and negotiations.   We all tend to "move toward" whatever we focus our attention on, even when it is something we don't want.  (I saw this most concretely as a youth soccer coach; kids generally shoot at wherever they look directly at, often right into the hands of the goalkeeper.)

Another way of saying it: "We may not always get what we deserve, but we usually get what we expect."

This perspective provides one more reason to never leave an audience stuck in "doom and gloom."   If we can't imagine success, as convincingly as the threat of disasters, can we persuade anybody to follow us there?




See the linked sites, a joint project of Republicans for Environmental Protection and ConvervAmerica.

Lots of ammo on their site for how to speak effectively to conservatives, including articles such as "What Would Reagan Do About Climate?"    Lots of quotes from famous conservtives including Edmund Burke, Teddy Roosevelt, Reagan, Schultz, Goldwater, et al. The article  "How to Be a Climate Conservative" develops in more detail the following principles.

  • Honestly examine the science.
  • Think for yourself.
  • Don't let Al Gore get in the way.
  • Consider all the reasons to act.
  • Support meaningful solutions.
  • Conserve.    "Waste is not a conservative value."

Also, see "Retired Republicans Quietly Try to Shift GOP Climate Change Focus" (National Journal, 9-30-11)