This post is by Climate Stories Project Program Manager Kelly Hydrick.
Climate change today is often considered from the point of view of the physical sciences and numerical data, but this data can often be difficult to connect to our daily lives. Unless we or people we know have experienced adverse climate change events then reports of shrinking sea ice, rising air pollution levels, or habitat loss might be easily dismissed. In my work for Climate Stories Project I have conducted numerous oral history interviews about people’s experiences and reflections on the Earth’s changing climate. I’ve asked my narrators to really think about climate change and how it connects to their daily lives, something that many of them had never done before.
Although climate change can be difficult to think about, let alone discuss, storytelling can help bridge the disconnect between abstract scientific concepts and our lived experiences. With this in mind, I created the digital story, Climate Change Interviews: 2020. By combining excerpts from three interviews with music and imagery I created a story which reflects on the process of conducting climate change oral history. Storytelling is an important communication tool, especially when it comes to addressing difficult topics like climate change.
From our earliest oral traditions, filled with tales of epic journeys, love, and loss, as a species we have developed an affinity for narrative. People love to listen to and tell stories in order to imagine, explain, and share. We use stories to connect with each other and the wider world and this is no less true today than it was millennia ago.
Stories about the natural world have featured prominently in various storytelling traditions because for so much of our history humanity has lived in close proximity to nature. Examples can be found in tales of a great deluge in Gilgamesh and the Old Testament, in the weather in Shakespeare’s writings, and in poetry about the seasons from across the globe. Although it might not be as readily apparent as in the past, our modern lives and the natural world are still interconnected. In the twenty-first century, given our rapidly changing global climate, we have important new stories to tell about nature and the environment: about devastating droughts and wildfires, record-breaking floods that occur with startling regularity, or quieter changes like the disappearance of wildlife.
From the beginning, the art of storytelling has continually changed along with our tastes and technologies. Today, in addition to oral, written, and visual storytelling, digital storytelling has become a popular narrative technique. Similar to filmmaking, digital stories combine a variety of media elements such as audio, video, text, and still images, in addition to social media and other interactive features. The near ubiquity of mobile phone cameras, free audio and video editing apps, and open source media files, along with online video-sharing platforms have given more people than ever the chance to tell their stories.
To find the narrators for my digital story, I contacted friends and acquaintances via social media and explained the interview process and how it fit into the larger Climate Stories Project to change the ways we communicate about our changing climate. Before I ever sat down to talk with my narrators I did a lot of preplanning to make sure I was up-to-date on climate issues as well as best practices for conducting oral history interviews. I also created a list of about ten questions to ask but made sure to leave room for improvisation as well.
After editing the interviews, I began planning the digital story itself. Visually, I wanted to reflect what my narrators discussed as well as remind viewers of the beauty and diversity of life on Earth and why we should all care about climate issues. The majority of images I used are from my own personal collection and I supplemented these with photos provided by my narrators, imagery from global news agencies, and from the Creative Commons. The music tracks and an excerpt from Carl Sagan’s “The Pale Blue Dot” completed the story.
For me, creating this digital story was an emotionally powerful process and a distillation of months worth of work. Stories we tell about the Earth’s changing climate affect how we think about and ultimately respond to the myriad challenges we face. The scientific data about climate change have been well-known for decades - what’s needed now are ways to highlight the connections between the science and our day-to-day experiences. I hope Climate Change Interviews: 2020 helps make this connection more apparent so that, in the words of Carl Sagan, we might learn “to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”