How To Tell a Climate Story

By Connor Hardy

It can be difficult to talk about the climate crisis. It’s not comfortable to sit with the fact that by 2100, NASA predicts that sea level will rise by anywhere between 1 and 8 feet. It’s not pleasant to read about the growing number of endangered species, or about natural and human-made catastrophes that destroy the natural landscape across the world. The changes to our world aren’t limited to vignettes of starving polar bears, or fires sweeping across plains or rainforests in faraway places (although it’s important to note that the consequences of the climate crisis fall disproportionately on already marginalized populations, near and far).

My Climate Story: Beyond Humans explores the ways that climate change impacts the flora and fauna around us. (Photo: Danny Cooper)

I, as much as anyone else, am guilty of using language to distance myself from the climate crisis. We speak of climate change in big numbers, and while it’s true that it takes many data points to show how the world around us is changing over time, climate scientists aren’t the only ones who have valuable insights on climate change. It’s easy to slip into a cycle of despair and helplessness about the climate crisis, a kind of climate grief that alienates people from the crisis unfolding in front of them.

Climate change is happening now, and stories are a valuable source of data about its impacts. The My Climate Story initiative invites people to reflect on the ways that they are sensing change in their environment and to submit their stories to a growing public databank. Climate stories are personal narratives that illustrate how our changing climate has impacted the lives of everyday people.

Earlier this summer when I asked my aunt how she’s sensing climate change, she told me about how bird migration has changed in New Jersey:

I’ve definitely noticed a difference in timing and numbers of bird migration. Birds are coming back way earlier than they used to, but their food source is coming back earlier than they are. The night hawks usually show up in huge numbers for 2 days around June 20 and scoop up all these insects that come out for 2 weeks, but this year the insects came out in May.

Shannon’s Climate Story, New Jersey

I come from a family of avid birdwatchers. These stories move beyond observation to include emotions, memory, and humanity. People generally want to tell stories about the things they care about. So, what makes a good climate story? Here are some tips that I’ve found useful in climate storytelling.

Don’t overcomplicate your story. I like to follow the S-I-S-R storytelling framework when telling a new climate story. You may choose to brainstorm for a couple minutes, then set a five-minute timer and write following the prompts below.

Know that your story is exciting enough. While the effects of the climate crisis are inarguably catastrophic, they aren’t limited to dramatic weather events like hurricanes, floods or droughts, or only relevant to far away places. There are more subtle ways that we can all sense climate change, even in the seemingly-mundane.

Include photos, videos, drawings, or other media with your story. Stories can include more than words! Add to yours with a photo or opt for a video account of the changes you’re sensing.

If you’re stuck, try “climate interviewing.” Ask a loved one, roommate or acquaintance to tell you their climate story, then submit it together to the Data Refuge storybank. Interviews can be a valuable way to start conversations across generations and languages about our changing world.

We all have climate stories to tell, which when put together can be used to show how the changing climate has impacts on every community. What’s your climate story?

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