Climate Narratives of Possibility

Manifesting the future we want, one story at a time

Ashoka
Changemakers
3 min readAug 16, 2023

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Silhouette of a person overlaid by a background of yellow flowers.
Photo courtesy of Gin on Pexels.com

How do we leverage the power of media and stories to unleash environmental agency on an unprecedented scale? Why are we failing to tell the climate story we need to hear? How can we shift the storytelling paradigm to better face one of humanity’s biggest existential challenges?

To begin to answer these questions and more, Alexandra Mitjans — Ashoka’s Planet & Climate lead — held a thought- provoking conversation with three leading entrepreneurs in the environmental space: Luis Alberto Camargo (OpEPA, Colombia), Ella Saltmarshe (Long Time Project, UK), and Solitaire Townsend (Futerra, UK). You can watch the full conversation here. Below are a few of the highlights:

Why stories matter

The current dominant narrative around climate change is one of doom and gloom — and research shows this is paralyzing. A growing movement of social entrepreneurs and allies are calling for (and crafting) new narratives that restore our sense of agency and jolt us into purposeful action. As Ella Saltmarshe put it, “Narratives are the soil from which everything else grows. […] The way we evoke urgency should not deny people agency.”

Building our collective imaginations

Moments of crisis have the potential to unleash our creativity. And yet, when it comes to climate action, we seem to be encountering difficulties being imaginative, in part due to living in a short-term world — a world in which we’re so focused on what’s in front of us that we fail to take the long term consequences of our actions into account.

To rewire short-termist cultures, both Solitaire Townsend and Ella Saltmarshe urged us to cultivate our collective imaginations so we can build better alternative futures.

From stories of resistance to stories of transformation

Luis Alberto Camargo has been an environmental education pioneer for decades in Colombia and around the world. Throughout his life, the environmental movement has been telling stories of resistance. This focus on fighting against something rather than building anew inhibits our capacity to move forward. It’s time to build stories of transformation, he says.

Narratives that help us access our power

Ella Saltmarshe’s Long Time Project is driven by three core principles: 1) Our capacity to care about the future is crucial to our ability to preserve it; 2) Developing longer perspectives on our existence will change the way we behave in the short term; and 3) Art and culture are crucial to cultivating long-term attitudes and behaviours.

Here she describes the types of stories that help us access our power. They are narratives of “a larger us,” “a longer now,” and “a different version of a good life.”

Falling in love with nature

“The most important story that we can tell, is the one we learn to live.” Our relationship to ourselves, to others, and to nature as part of a continuum changes once we recognize our interdependence with all life around us. When we are part of nature — and not separate from, or on top of it — we begin to live in a culture of care that sustains life.

For Luis Alberto Camargo, this means the most urgent and important thing we can do is to “allow ourselves to fall back in love with nature.”

For more, check out Ashoka’s work in Planet & Climate.

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Ashoka
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