Hope, Alarm and Climate Change
Spotlighting narratives that can create empathy, influence thinking and change behavior
Today I am hosting an inaugural event that will highlight talented writing and writers who have published compelling work addressing the climate crisis. The goal of the first Climate Narratives Prize is to increase attention on critical issues facing the planet and global society. It’s also meant to celebrate and honor people who have taken this responsibility seriously—and I hope inspire others to do the same.
The three top awardees ask important questions: Given the state of the planet, is it OK to have a child? With so much grim climate news, can we allow ourselves to feel optimistic? If we talk with people from around the world, can we gain new insights on how climate change is affecting their lives?
It’s questions like these that connected with readers when originally published—and resonated with the class of graduate students I co-taught and who both studied the nominated narratives and voted for the most compelling ones in the final session.
I want to share a couple of paragraphs of what I intend to say today as a table-setting for the live event. In general, I have not focused a great deal on climate issues in my dispatches here, but it’s worth noting how important this existential threat is for my ongoing work these days. Suffice to say, I hope more people recognize the importance of trying to finding answers for the dangers that beset our planet and people.
Were there not a climate crisis. Were there not urgency to respond. Were there not a question about the existential fate of the human species in the decades ahead…we would not be gathered here today. But here we are, challenged to contemplate the health of our shared planet and what it will take to respond to the consequences of rising CO2 levels, the decisions put in place centuries ago to seek dominion over nature, and the fact of rising temperatures, rising sea levels, increasingly frequent and increasingly extreme weather events, and growing conflict and fear among people and between nations.
In my view, this is the issue of our time, a time that has been called the “decisive decade” that will determine the trajectory of life for everyone in this room and everyone around the world. As a storyteller and a hopeful person by nature, I believe in the power of narratives and the potential of storytelling in multiple modes to capture the attention of our fellow humans. To tell stories that resonate, that create empathy, that can build global consciousness about a challenge that is global in nature—and not just in the moment of reading, watching or listening, but over time, to influence thinking, to change behavior—and ultimately, to create impact that gives us the chance for better futures.
The event today is titled “Hope, Alarm and Climate Change.” I’m glad that the stories selected as the inaugural winners offer diverse perspectives and both ask tough questions and seek hopeful responses. If you can take the time, I urge you to read each of the three top winners.
They include Meehan Crist’s “Is It OK to Have a Child?” published in the London Review of Books, David Montgomery’s “The Search for Environmental Hope,” published in The Washington Post Magazine, and Emily Raboteau’s “This Is How We Live Now: A year’s diary of reckoning with climate anxiety, conversation by conversation,” published in The Cut.
And if you can take the time to watch the live event from 11:30 to 1:30PM PT today, you’ll find me there hosting—with appearances from the winners and high-profile environmental advocates such as Bill McKibben and Katharine Hayhoe. The topics are challenging, but the mood should be celebratory. Because while it’s possible to envision the future with dire expectations, the room will be filled with smart people who believe it’s still in our power to drive change and create a better world.
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