Why the stories we tell are as important as the targets we set.

Amy Cameron
Dec 4, 2020 · 4 min read

November and December are proving to be bumper months for climate nerds (of which I am one). Boris Johnson revealed his 10point climate plan (the equivalent of a One Direction reunion tour if you swap Directioners for people who take pictures of wind turbines from train windows). This was swiftly followed by Rishi Sunak’s spending review. Today the government announced their carbon targets for 2030 ahead of next years climate talks in Glasgow.

My various climate Whatsapp groups have been abuzz as we celebrate the wins (petrol and diesel car ban — YAY) and commiserate the losses (£10billion of new climate funding immediately dwarfed by £65billion on defence just days later — not so yay…). Like every climate speech ever, the takeaways tend to be “good, but far from good enough”, and I’ve joined various peers in delivering those predictable reviews in the resulting sprinkle of media attention that we grant to the greatest threat facing humanity.

But outside of the specific lane of climate policy fans, there have been two things that have consistently struck me, both an absence and a parallel excess of response.

Time and time again, polls find that the great British public do, overwhelmingly, support a green recovery from Covid 19. From Devon to Dundee, across the political spectrum, we worry about what the climate crisis means for ourselves, our families and our futures.

YouGov recently found 2/3rds of us support moving the economy towards greener alternatives.

The government’s latest public attitudes tracker found that even in the depth of a global pandemic, more than four-fifths of us are either very or fairly concerned about climate change. The decisions politicians make, or do not make, right now, have huge implications for the extent to which these concerns will be realised. And yet, there has been notable tumbleweed across my non climate-y communication channels in the wake of these big and impactful announcements.

Well, except Twitter. Twitter is where I try to get out of my bubble. It’s where I follow Brexiteers, right wing pundits and relatives gone rogue. And I noticed that here, there was noise. While those of us campaigning for bold action on climate decried a response that was miles off meeting the scale of the challenge, here there was alarm.

This “Green New Deal” wasn’t something “we” voted for, this was fanciful nonsense to appease “the woke warriors” etc etc etc… And something struck me.

While we might be making incremental wins on policies, are we leaving ourselves wide open to attack on the battlefront of stories?

Because time and time again, we’ve seen that those who seek to oppose or reverse hard won progress — on everything from migrants rights, to trans rights to climate change — speak not in poll percentages or GDP boosts, but in stories, nostalgia, and emotions, appealing to our human instincts, and not always our best ones. They tie seemingly disparate issues, from lockdowns to fishing quotas, together into a story of who we are, or who we want to be. And they are moving to bring opposition to climate action into that same culture war. They talk in stories, in identities, in communities. We talk in carbon pricing and the falling cost of solar panels.

Our Imagine Ashfield project invited residents to tell the story of their areas past, present and future.

Climate change will touch everything we love. It will threaten our livelihoods, and disrupt our hobbies. It will eat into our pensions, and suffocate the futures of our children. It is as much about Tik Tok as it is trees. When Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak make lacklustre decisions on budgets and infrastructure, it should feel close and personal. For those of us working on climate action, that’s as important as calculating carbon cuts from electric vehicles.

The job of telling new stories, of shifting our culture is difficult. It requires talking and testing, dreaming, creating and learning. It requires foregrounding new and diverse voices. It requires investment and time.

It’s the work we’re committed to doing better at Glimpse, where projects like “Imagine Ashfield” have started some of the conversations we need to have. Not about 10point plans or spending reviews, but about hopes and fears. It’s work we’re going to keep doing, alongside our amazing colleagues crunching the numbers and crafting the policies. “Hearts and minds” is a well worn phrase, but one we need to be ever mindful of.

We’ve been creating gifs to help tell the story of a green recovery — play parks over parking spaces anyone?

Tackling the climate crisis is as much a challenge for the artists and the storytellers and the community leaders, as it is for the policymakers and the economists. We would do well to remember that. Next time a government makes a mediocre announcement on climate change, I want to get my hot takes from Tik Tok and my “Friday fun” Whatsapp group, not the Guardian environment section.

Here’s to telling stories.

Glimpse works with a creative collective of over 3,000 people who use their skills for good. If you’d like to get involved, you can join us at www.weglimpse.co or on Instagram @weglimpse.