After spending three years developing the brand communications of green electricity supplier Good Energy, Kate Monson decided to spread her wings to Sweden where she is now studying a Masters in Human Ecology.
Take a look at the image below.
(Image source: http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence)
This is a story. It might not be told in the way you expect. Or even in a way that you can fully understand. But nevertheless, it is a story. The graph, with time running along the x axis at the bottom and CO2 parts per million running up the side on the y axis, tells the tale of the earth’s climate over the last 400,000 years. Like any good yarn, it has a beginning, a middle and an end, each containing its own narrative peaks and troughs. But of course, the most interesting thing about this story is that we’re in control of what happens next.
I have spent the last three years working as a writer in the sustainability sector and one of my greatest challenges is finding fresh ways to communicate not just the threat of climate change but the opportunities that a new way of operating could offer. In fact, I am so intent on my pursuit it has taken me from south London to southern Sweden to study a Masters in Human Ecology: Culture, Power and Sustainability.
With a Bachelors in English Literature with Creative Writing, this latest academic world is quite a departure from the one I am used to. But I passionately believe it is precisely this unlikely alliance of science and storytelling that is vital to securing a positive future for the planet. As the writer and environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote in his introduction to the fantastic I’m With the Bears: Short stories from a Damaged Planet: “The scientists have done their job – they’ve issued every possible warning…Now it’s time for…the artists, whose role it is to help us understand what things feel like.”
This is by no means a new idea. Fritjof Capra wrote about it in his book Turning Point, which was first published in 1982. He draws critical attention to the Cartesian, mechanistic thinking that has dominated western culture since the Enlightenment and argues it has created a paradigm that considers rational thought and scientific understanding as the only acceptable kind of knowledge.
And not only this, but that it has been championed at the expense of intuitive perception and awareness, which can, he believes, offer an equally valid and reliable way of knowing.
By reducing the earth to a machine, it could be manipulated and exploited. This was successful up to a point, of course. But the stubbornly linear nature of this type of thinking means that collectively we have failed to understand that if you do something ‘good’, doing more will not necessarily be better. And it is this that has brought us to the precarious situation we are in today.
There is evidence all around us that people are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the current system and its mode of operation, as the negative effects – growing inequality, environmental disaster and poverty – become ever more apparent. The time-lapse map pictured below charts 250 million protests worldwide from 1979-2013 and perfectly illustrates the phenomenon I describe. You will see that by June this year practically the whole globe is pulsing with dissent.
So what can be done? How do we achieve a future that is environmentally, morally and financially sustainable? I believe the answer lies in a cultural recalibration. One which allows intuitive, sensory understanding, imbued with wisdom and myth, to stand on equal footing with quantitative, intellectual, rational knowledge. We must step out of our minds and remember how to ‘think with our bodies’.
In short, we need more stories. And not just more stories, better stories. Stories that are told with our mouths, heard with our ears and felt with our whole beings. By recreating the tales we tell to ourselves and about ourselves I believe we can redefine ourselves and ensure that our personal actions are ones that will take our collective narrative towards a happier ending.
And the stories are all around us. They’ve just been hidden. For it’s not about what you see, it’s how you see it. Perhaps your story is best told using a graph or diagram. Or perhaps it requires a song, piece of art or even an interpretive dance. Choosing the correct medium for your message is important. But ensuring your message penetrates both the head and the heart is imperative.
In a world where nourishment, shelter and companionship all seem to be under threat, powerful stories are perhaps the only thing that can save us.