I’m going to tell better stories for the earth in 2014

Annie Leonard speaking

This year, I’m going to take inspiration from master storytellers like Annie Leonard to fight climate change with better stories. Photo: AspirationTech.

The big issue for me in 2014 is climate change.

It’s scary to hear that it’s getting worse faster than anybody had predicted. It’s frustrating that plenty of people still don’t care. And it’s confusing that even those who do care disagree on how bad it will get and what, if anything, we can do about it at this late date.

It could be that humanity is doomed. Melting ice caps and glaciers, rising sea levels, storms and floods in some places and droughts and wildfires in others, along with spreading tropical diseases everywhere could doom people to near-term extinction or something very close to it. And not in centuries but within decades.

Wait and pray?

It’s a bleak picture. But even if tomorrow we die, I’m just not the type to eat, drink and be merry.

So, in 2014, I’m going to plant even more in our community garden, ferment more food at home and try to make my family and community more resilient. I just can’t believe it won’t make any difference. It’ll certainly make a difference for me. And if a lot of people do enough things locally, it might be just what we all need.

Plenty of smart people are saying that we may still have a chance — if we act against climate change now.

I’m with them. So, while building resilience at home, I’m also not willing to give up on the larger world. And that means politics and activism. As a writer and website editor, I’m going to commit myself to joining those who are ringing the bell on climate change. Could this be the year that enough people hear that bell?

Stories to save us

Annie Leonard knows how to ring the bell so that people hear. The Story of Stuff, which came out in 2011, changed the way millions of people think about their stuff, happiness and the earth.

Leonard knows that you can change people’s minds by telling a good story and telling it well. Consumer marketers have mastered the art. They call it advertising.

“Advertising is basically the relentless, constant indoctrination into this consumer society,” Leonard recently told Rob Hopkins. “If you think about it, as I said in The Story of Stuff, is that what’s the point of an advert but to make us feel insecure with the stuff that we have. And so the way that we have set up our advertising culture, in the U.S. it’s 3,000 advertisements a day targeted at each one of us.”

Smart people claim that ads don’t work on them, that they’re too smart to fall for the pitch and buy stuff they don’t need.

I have to admit that ads, marketing and PR do work on me. I looked through the J Peterman and LL Bean catalogs this fall. After Christmas, I clicked on banner ads for sales from Brooks Brothers or Lehman’s. And all year I click on products that Amazon recommends for me.

And then I bought stuff I otherwise would not have: black leather wingtip shoes, dress shirts and, of course, books.

Since ads and commercial storytelling work so well, Leonard suggests that we turn ads against themselves. Leonard thinks we can use storytelling for the earth to counter storytelling that destroys the earth:

Sometimes I imagine how different things would be if we were targeted with 3000 advertisements per day telling us about the state of our planet, or telling us that we are good people the way that we are, or encouraging different cultural values about empathy and solidarity and civic participation. We would have a fundamentally different cultural undertone if those advertisements contained different messages. The folks who think advertising is not playing a crucial role in our unsustainable and not fun trajectory, I think, are a little naïve.

But it won’t be easy, as the deck is stacked against the truth. “We’re going out there trying to promote values of sustainability and collaboration and empathy and participation but the other side is just bombarding folks with incredibly well-designed, psychologically sophisticated messages telling them to just keep on that consumer treadmill. Until we can roll that back, it’s really an unfair battle.”

So, my resolution for 2014 is to join Leonard in trying to make the battle more fair. I’m going to try to share and tell better stories for the earth, for people and for the future. Stories like Leonard’s latest video The Story of Solutions or the antics of Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping.

That’ll mean sharing fewer stories that don’t matter and that distract from climate change and living well for the future, such as the opinions of reality TV show actors about gay marriage.

— Erik Curren, Transition Voice

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