Storytelling for Climate Justice

How can we write narratives of hope in the face of this unfolding disaster? What stories will help prepare us and our children to navigate this crisis?

During the 2021 COP conference, a group of children’s authors and academics began discussing children’s stories that portray the climate crisis. For many years, and currently, these stories have been about heroism: the efficacy of individual actions to prevent disaster. However, individual action has not been an effective way to prevent the climate crisis. Indeed, averting the climate crisis at all may well now be impossible.

This is a bleak outlook – however we know that it is narratives of hope that inspire change. How can we write narratives of hope in the face of this unfolding disaster? What stories will help prepare us and our children to navigate this crisis?

We know that between the global north and the global south existing inequities will be increased due to the crisis. We know that the better off in the global north will be better able to deal with the upcoming changes than people of low incomes. Therefore, writing hope is about writing visions of climate justice, about shifts in our understanding of resources, abundance and scarcity, and about imagining strong communities in which everyone survives the coming challenges.

Engaging young readers in the co-creative activity of fiction/storytelling may provide hopeful and effective new reactions to the climate crisis, creating imaginative and desirable images of change and resilience to counter fear, apathy, and despair.

What did the project involve? 

In this project, the team considered how this engagement might be done and each member wrote their own personal position papers about the work they hoped to undertake in this area. Each position paper was read and then brought to a group workshop, where they, as a group, used their own expertise to examine and discuss the individual position papers in turn. These workshop sessions were further enriched by guest speakers and key texts.

As storytellers, the team worked together to learn more about how best to create strong stories of change and resilience, aiming to work towards a form of group understanding which can be communicated to others with an interest in climate change and story. These were then hosted on a commissioned website as blog posts.

The project later developed to include a world-wide anonymous survey researching the possible censorship experiences of people who write/tell stories about the climate crisis.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Mimi Thebo (English, University of Bristol), Joanna Nadin (English, University of Bristol), Elen Caldecott (University of Lancaster), and Lucy Christopher (University of Tasmania) have all written award-winning children’s fiction about the natural world and social issues. They are expert in creative compelling and immersive reading experiences. Mimi and Joanna also have research interests in the way fiction works in the brain. Mimi, Joanna, Elen, and Lucy have specialist knowledge of story creation.
  • Emma C Geen is a published author of speculative fiction and was a communications officer for Extinction Rebellion. Emma has organised many workshops, collaborations, and group activities in educational, community and charitable settings.
  • Richard Pancost (Earth Sciences, University of Bristol) is an organic geochemist, biogeochemist and palaeoclimatologist. From 2013 to 2018, he was Director of the interdisciplinary University of Bristol Cabot Institute which explores how we depend on and shape our planet. He has an interest in how stories motivate and compel.
  • Richard Pettigrew (Philosophy, University of Bristol) is an academic who’s recent research has been mainly in formal epistemology. In recent papers, he has pursued a research programme that he calls epistemic utility theory. He has recent written an account of rational decision making for agents who recognize that what they value will change over time.

What were the results?

The project team commissioned the website ‘Story Telling for Climate Justice’. They are also currently running a global survey into possible experiences of censorship about the climate crisis in storytelling.