Should the arts, creativity and stories be at the heart of climate communications and campaigning?

This is one of a series of posts entitled Principles and Advice for Grassroots Climate Communicators, in which I share and reflect on a range of different ideas within the field, with a view to helping grassroots activists and groups communicate effectively. For an overview of approaches and challenges in the field, please see my post Climate Communications – An Overview. A summary of the key points made in this post can be found at the bottom.

Rather than blaming people for their apathy, isn’t up to us, as climate communicators, to be skilful in generating their interest?[1] In 2017, I went to a conference called ‘Avoiding Myth, Mayhem and Myopia: the challenge of climate science communication’ organised by the Royal Meteorological Society and the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London. The debate was about how to get over the scientific facts of climate change to the general public. It was felt that in the early days of climate change communications, most presentations were too scientific, too technical, with lots of off-putting graphs and technical terms, not to mention difficult concepts and philosophical frames.

In aiming to help the public to understand what is going on, we shouldn’t forget that the climate is an enormously complex phenomenon.[2] In Global Warming, A Very Short Introduction, Mark Maslin did a great job of making at least some of the science comprehensible to me (an artist through and through) but I remember finally throwing my hands in the air when he started talking about how much salt there was in the deep ocean currents. The oceans, the clouds, the vegetation, the animals all interact in complex ways – and that’s without the intrusion of us humans.

At the end of the conference, one of the leading science educators said she thought the solution lay in the arts. And I heard a politician saying the same thing at another conference. Obviously one thing that climate scientists can do is to learn how to put over the information in more accessible and interesting ways. But maybe we can be more creative than that. Maybe we can draw on the power of visuals, of music, of stories, of drama, etc. to reach into people’s emotions, engage their imaginations and, through the power of empathy, engage them with the ethical dilemmas that global heating throws up. In this blog, I offer a few examples from the literature that I hope will help you to think about these possibilities.

If the arts aren’t your thing, you should bear in mind our recurrent dilemma as climate communicators, that we are still not succeeding in getting the general public to fully understand the seriousness of what is happening. Is it an impossible task? As a former teacher, I say not. But we are going to have to draw on the very best skills in teaching and communication.

Using the arts to engage and communicate

Creative activities are often appealing to the general public – especially those with younger children – and powerful works of art can engage people of all ages and classes, stimulating thought, emotion and imagination. For these reasons, there has been a long association between the arts and social change. In the 1930s, the US government set up an extensive arts programme to help the country recover from the Depression. The Theatre in Education movement developed in the UK in the 1960s and has inspired creative approaches to education across the world. In my own experience, the Creative Partnerships programme in the early 2000s brought thousands of artists into schools to work alongside teachers and pupils on projects that aimed to combine the stimulation of creativity with the deepening of learning.[3]

Arts practitioners are increasingly getting involved in climate communications, often working in partnership with climate scientists to break through the veils of disavowal.[1] One high-profile example was 2071, a “dramatised lecture” written by Chris Rapley, a climate scientist, and playwright Duncan MacMillan, first performed in 2014 at the Royal Court Theatre in London. When I took two friends to see it, they were knocked out. It was basically just a fancy lecture with projections and a soundscape, but the combination of theatrical imagery and hearing what was happening from the horse’s mouth – from somebody who had actually been in the Arctic – had changed their perspective. They had known about climate change before but the show had aroused powerful feelings in them about the crisis we were facing. I suspect that most people in that theatre felt the same, and being there together was part of the impact.

Looking to the grass roots, there is a lot of experience to draw on, here in Sheffield and all across the world. Reference has already been made to ‘Paradise is Here’, a practical guide to using creativity for community development, written by Ruth Nutter, based on her experiences working for the Guild of St George and in other settings.[4] Within South Yorkshire there are a large number of community arts practitioners, skilled in engaging both the general public and specific social groups, within a wide range of settings.[5] When I ran the Creative Partnerships programme here, we had hundreds of artists working in schools across the county.[2]

(This is not the place to go into detail about best practice, and the importance of training, both in terms of meeting the core communication challenge of combining entertainment with information, but also because we live in a time when concerns about safeguarding, health and safety and inclusivity are rightly high. But skilled creative practitioners do understand these concerns, whilst also bringing the stimulation of the unusual, the irreverent and the entertaining. I know – because I’ve seen them do it in schools. Unfortunately, that way of working has not established itself firmly in the educational mainstream, mostly because some politicians persist in seeing the arts as flaky.)

A note on street drama and performance

As I said, various forms of theatre have been effective in engaging members of the public of all classes with social issues. Story-based plays and films draw on the power of empathy and emotion; in contrast, street performance may be more visual, perhaps comic, intended to grab people’s attention as they pass. There is a wealth of experience and literature about all this but I want to drop in here a reminder, and a warning, to remember the importance of building rapport (see Practical Guidance For Climate Communicators for explanation). That’s not only something you have to do at the beginning of any type of performance but it’s also about you as a person or group appearing to be in tune with your audience’s values, priorities and style. George Marshall has been direct in warning environmental activists that some parts of the general population detest us! So you do need to give some attention to thinking about who you are and how you come over. If it happens to be that you are white, middle-class, middle-aged person with an RP accent, you need to be aware of that. If I asked you, would you be able to describe how you come over?

There is nothing wrong with being any of those things, but they/you/we do constitute a recognisable social sub-group and if they/you/we are speaking to people from a very different background or life experience, they will be aware of that difference. One solution, ironically, is simply to be yourself, not to pretend. Another is simply to be a warm, open person, because those qualities cross all boundaries.

Yet another solution is to produce skilful performances that appeal to the audience. If your aim is to engage a working class audience, you might want to bear in mind the checklist offered by the playwright/director John McGrath. He suggested that working class audiences tended to prefer shows that displayed directness, comedy, music, emotion, variety, moment-by-moment effect, immediacy and localism. I would add to that list – high production values. Even if you’re doing something very simple in the street you can have good costumes and props, for example. And you can get a good mic so you can be heard.

Alternatively, how much better would it be it if the performers looked and sounded like the people whose interest they were trying to attract – because they were those people! If people from a particular community have actually devised and created the performance themselves (‘co-production’), not only will the performers learn a lot in the process, the show is likely to be more relevant and appealing to the community, and the performers to come over as more passionate.

Just something to bear in mind.

Doing politics differently in an age of fantasy

A fundamental challenge to conventional ways of doing politics in general is offered by Stephen Duncombe in his 2007 book Dream – Re-Imagining Progressive Politics In An Age Of Fantasy.[6] Here I offer a brief synopsis to inspire discussion about the implications for climate communications.

Duncombe points to the prevalence of games, movies, social media memes, etc. in contemporary society, especially in the lives of people under 50 in developed countries. He questions the emphasis laid on rational argument by many on the left, dating back to the Enlightenment. We now live he says in a “society of the spectacle.” People prefer simple stories to complicated truths. Spectacle is our way of making sense of the world and those who capture the public attention will be those who tell the best stories and articulate an enticing dream of the future.

The big risk for progressives is that the far right will prove to be better at engaging the general public emotionally, in captivating them with their myths. Duncan asserts that progressive campaigners need to find their own ways to appeal to emotion, spectacle and myth. Progressives have a lot to learn from Las Vegas, he says.[7] The ideals of campaigners are often divorced from the dreams of the rest of the population. We need to understand their dreams – and then work collaboratively with them to explore different ways to achieve them.

The environmental movement has come to seem like an “advocacy firm” and can be intensely dull. Progressives who want to engage contemporary audiences, especially younger ones, need to think in terms of a video-game in which the player is a genuine participant. This is “transformative play” in which the players can determine the course of the action; such games turn spectators into producers.

Moreover, we now live in a culture where everybody is or wants to be a producer. It simply won’t work talking down to people. People want to be individually recognised. They want to make their own You-Tube channels, zines, blogs, websites, TV programmes, podcasts, etc.

Dreams are powerful; they are repositories of our desire. They can blind people to reality and provide cover for political horror. But they also can inspire us to imagine that things could be radically different. Spectacle is already part of our political and economic life; the important question is whose ethics does it embody and whose dreams does it express. The ethical spectacle is a means to imagine and debate new ends, potentially giving direction and motivation.

Progressive dreams, and the spectacles that give them tangible form, will look different from those conjured up by politicians or commercial directors – different not only in content but in form. Given the progressive ideals of egalitarianism and a politics that values the input of everyone, our dreamscapes will not be created by media-savvy experts of the left and then handed down to the rest of us to watch, consume, and believe. Instead, our spectacles will be participatory: dreams the public can mould and shape themselves. They will be open-ended: setting stages to ask questions and leaving silences to formulate answers.

I think there is much in the above for climate communicators, including creative practitioners, to think hard about. In essence, Duncombe is advising us to think holistically about our audiences, to go beyond mere rational argument. As I’ve said elsewhere in these blogs, I think rational arguments – and critical thinking in general – need more prominence in the climate of debate but equally we need to grapple with a deeper sort of communication. The social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, describes the human psyche as being like a huge elephant with a small rider on top of it. The rider is the conscious self; the elephant is the far bigger unconscious.

In Climate Communications – An Overview, I told how the novelist Amitav Ghosh rejected the idea of fiction as an instrument for conveying messages and instead suggested that literature enabled people to engage in a deeper way with the complex, existential nature of the crisis that humanity faces. Whether it is a matter of taking account of the unconscious or facing up to the profound philosophical challenges raised by the climate and nature emergencies, I certainly think we need to draw on every resource available to us, and to keep thinking as we go. We can’t sit around and only philosophise when the situation is so urgent and yet it is imperative that we don’t pounce on simplistic and ultimately problematic solutions. I can’t remember now who it was that said we need to go fast – slowly.

A little note to self to round up this section: I have had so few responses to my own Facebook messages trying to talk about the urgency of the crisis that I have had to face up to the fact that I’m not practising Duncombe’s advice myself. In moments of exasperation, I want to scream, “Does it all have to be fun fun fun?!” Maybe, in a certain fashion, it does.

Telling stories

It isn’t only children who like a good story.

It has become commonplace in the field to assert that stories are the way forward. Stories are what engage people’s imaginations. According to some thinkers, stories are all there is. But personally, I have found it difficult to know what people mean by expressions such as ‘changing the narrative’ or ‘telling a story about climate change’. Do these people literally mean a story with a beginning, middle and an end or do they just mean a more descriptive sort of messaging?[8]

Two examples from the writing in this field follow. Bushell, Workman and Colley propose that a ‘narrative’ approach would enable governments to better put across strategies that might otherwise seem dull and uninteresting. Ganz seems to present stories from a rhetorical point of view, using them to inspire hope.

Perhaps more simple than either of these is the gradualist proposal that climate communicators make the realities of global warming seem more vivid by describing its impacts on ordinary people around the world, both the horror stories and the success stories – ‘stories’ here meaning something more like news reports.

But to encourage and empower people to make changes on the ground, should we be emphasising the success stories? Should we even be making up success stories about the future? Jonathan Porritt’s admirable attempt to present a blueprint for change in the form of a future-based character, Alex McKay, looking back and describing ‘The World We Made”  completely failed to engage this reader.[9] When I said this to philosopher Grace Lockrobin, she suggested the problem might have been that it was ‘bloodless’. Human beings don’t want anodyne morality tales; they want to engage with the darker sides of life. Fairy tales are full of danger and horror. The whole point of an interesting story is that somebody triumphs in the face of adversity.

In support of Grace’s view, my recent experience of reading a novel which made the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change shockingly vivid heightened my own motivation to do something to prevent them.[10] And nothing has had more impact on me than hearing first-hand, at COP21 in 2015, the story of a young African man telling how successive years of drought in his village had led him and his friend to undertake the risky journey to Britain to look for work (yes, they were ‘economic migrants’) and his friend not making it, killed on the way.

I return to the need for climate communicators to be responsive to their audiences and skilful in judging what types of story to tell when. (See also the appendix to my post about when fear-based appeals work and don’t work: Emergency mobilisation’: the heated debate about the harnessing of uncomfortable feelings – and some possible solutions.)

Creating and promoting ‘strategic narratives’

‘Towards a unifying narrative for climate change’ by Simon Bushell, Mark Workman and Thomas Colley is, I think, is a very useful paper for grassroots practitioners to read, not least because it provides a summary of climate communications up to that date (2016.) (In the notes below, my own comments are in brackets.)[11]

The paper summarises ‘gradualist’ thinking on climate communications[3] and to some extent acknowledges the point about the limits to human rationality made by Duncombe. It focuses on the question of how to address the ‘action gap’, whereby people express concern about the climate emergency but do nothing about it. The writers call for ‘strategic narratives’, especially from government. Firstly, the government has to have a credible strategy; secondly it needs to communicate this through a set of persuasive narratives. (I’m including this idea here because it might help shape your group’s  strategy too.)

The writers assert that it is time for a wide range of stakeholders to come together and begin an iterative process of narrative forming through constructive dialogue. This process should engage as many relevant stakeholders as possible. The outcome should be a short, digestible and persuasive set of narratives that are then propagated by those stakeholders. (I am not able to say whether this proposal has been tested out in practice or not.)

The process of developing strategic narratives would, itself, play an important role in unifying existing approaches, philosophies and attitudes to climate change into a cohesive and effective message, the writers claim.

Whereas Duncombe focuses on spectacle, Bushell et al focus on story. Telling stories is an essential human activity. Each of us constructs and lives a narrative; we need such a narrative to maintain our sense of identity. Narratives are a way of connecting and giving meaning to events and actions which would otherwise not obviously be connected.

Strategic climate narratives should build on classical story structure. They should:

1.   explain the situation

2.   define the problem that is disrupting the order of the initial situation

3.   then provide a resolution to that problem, a re-establishing of order.

In the case of climate change, they say, the ‘new order’ would close the gap between climate policy and action.

Bushell et al think the process of narrative creation needs to be collaborative. Narratives are not messages that get ‘delivered’, they are social products the only exist through a collective and continuous reconstruction and retelling processed by the audience. A narrative can only be promoted; how it will be appropriated and interpreted by the audience is something the narrator can only influence, not control. (This suggests that narrative workshops will be needed, as well as presentations of already developed narratives. Clearly the arts could play a helpful role here.)

A good strategic narrative should convert us from ‘othering’ to ‘owning’ the problem, increasing our feeling of self efficacy. It should link a positive vision of the future with the individual actions of members of its own societies and members of other societies whom it wishes to influence. It should promote new social norms.

‘Towards a unifying narrative for climate change’ is primarily directed at policymakers because Bushell et al assert the centrality of government in bringing about the necessary changes. This means that an important communication ambition for climate campaigners is to influence politicians and civil servants. 

In designing your communications strategy, your group may want to think in terms not only of different audiences within the community, but also local and national political leaders.

Personally, I find much that is interesting in this paper but I remain unclear about what the strategic narratives would actually be like. A core question is who is designing the strategy?  If government is doing that, how collaborative can we really expect them to be? In the end, won’t they be handing it down to the general public? I would love to see a nationwide programme of citizens assemblies, all feeding in to the design of the national strategy. Gordon Brown has called for this several times but it would be a huge change in political practice.

At the local level, however, we could combine this suggestion with Duncombe’s, recognising that what they have in common is the idea of engaging members of the public in envisaging future scenarios, drawing on a range of creative resources. At the time of writing, I have been very taken by the novel, The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. It is the first book which has drawn me imaginatively into the kinds of problems and the potential solutions that people might be exploring in 30 years time, i.e. within the lifetimes of many alive now. Going back to the classical story structure described above, I think it would be important in any narrative development workshop to not only explore stories of climate impact that are already happening, but also to explore stories of what might be happening in 10, 20 or 30 years time, before beginning to grapple with ideas for solutions.[12]

The question of Utopias hovers over all social change campaigns. Emily Lewis of South Yorkshire Climate Alliance has pointed me to a text by Chris Carlsson and Francesca Manning called ‘Nowtopia: Strategic Exodus?’ which envisages collaborative ‘nowtopian’ communities ‘withdrawing from capitalist culture’ in a sustainable future. In contrast, Jenny Odell, in a recent book, questions the feasibility and the desirability of withdrawing from mainstream society, even though she accepts that the current culture in the developed world is unsustainable and arguably inhumane in its monetisation of our attention.[13]

Odell wonders how ‘third spaces’ can be found or carved out even in the midst of capitalist society – spaces or ways of being in which we can reconnect with and replenish our essential value, rather than our value for the profit making system. Emily Lewis points to some practical versions of this ideal already in place in South Yorkshire: “Organisations such as Regather, ShefFood and Food Works are building sustainable and resilient food systems. So, essentially, part of the storytelling process is showing that these visions can be achieved now, and that the barriers are more structural e.g. lack of funding. But that doesn’t mean people can’t get involved now, so that is the message we want to put out through the Can Do South Yorkshire website, giving people very clear and tangible actions they can take through different settings.”

Many community-based environmental organisations are already modelling practical ways forward; we saw in earlier blogs that it is very important for climate communicators to counteract the problem of remoteness by emphasising local relevance and local agency, in the here and now.

But climate awareness programmes can also can be framed as an exercise in futurology, asking citizens what they want for the future, not only in terms of their material surroundings but also the quality of their lives, what gives their existences meaning. This is why Grace Lockrobin and her fellow community philosophers are developing events and programmes to support citizens to reflect on the multi-layered implications of the climate and ecological emergencies and their possible solutions. Once again, we see that the frames overlap.[4]

Marshall Ganz on why stories matter in the art and craft of social change[14]

Marshall Ganz is a lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. The notes below are edited from a talk he gave to the Global Catholic Movement on December 18th, 2017.  I am just sharing them as they are, rather than analysing them. I would welcome comments. I’m aware that the question of hope is a central one, not only in terms of handling the climate and nature emergencies, but at the heart of all human endeavours. It is no coincidence that hope was a key word in President Obama’s first campaign – Ganz was one of his advisors. Rebecca Solnit has written about hope in relationship to the environment and Jane Goodall has also just produced a book about it.  We certainly need it – but as Greta Thunberg has warned, just hoping isn’t enough. We need an underlying stratum of hope on which to build determination and anticipation –  anticipation that the problems will be addressed,  that humanity will succeed.

To get there, however, I note that Ganz says we will need to develop and use certain skills: relationship-building, motivation, strategizing, and action.

Ganz says:

First figure out how to break through the inertia of habit to get people to pay attention. That may happen by urgency of need or it may happen by outrage i.e. the contradiction between the world as it is and the world as it ought to be.

The way to master urgency is to mobilize hope. Hope is what allows us to deal with problems creatively. But don’t just talk about hope and other values in abstractions. Talk about them in the language of stories because stories are what enable us to communicate these values to one another.

All stories have three parts: a plot, a protagonist, and a moral. What makes a plot a plot and  gets you interested? Tension. An anomaly. The unexpected. The uncertain and the unknown. A plot begins when the unknown intervenes. We all lean forward because we are familiar with the experience of having to confront the unknown and to make choices. Those moments are the moments in which we are most fully human, because those are the moments in which we have the most choice. While they are exhilarating moments, they are also scary moments because we might make the wrong choice. We are all infinitely curious in learning how to be agents of change, how to be people who make good choices under circumstances that are unexpected and unknown to us.

In a story, a challenge presents itself to the protagonist who then has a choice, and an outcome occurs. The outcome teaches a moral, but because the protagonist is a humanlike character, we are able to identify empathetically, and therefore we are able to feel, not just understand, what is going on.

A story communicates fear, hope, and anxiety, and because we can feel it, we get the moral not just as a concept, but as a teaching of our hearts.

We all have a story of self. What’s unique about each of us is not the categories we belong to; what’s unique to us is our own journey of learning to be a full human being, a faithful person. Those journeys have their challenges, their obstacles, their crises. We learn to overcome them, and because of that we have lessons to teach.

The second story is the story of us. That’s an answer to the question, Why are we called? What experiences and values do we share as a community that call us to what we are called to? What is it about our experience of faith, public life, the pain of the world, and the hopefulness of the world? It’s putting what we share into words, to create a story of us.

Finally, there’s the story of now. The story of now is realizing, after the sharing of values and aspirations, that the world out there is not as it ought to be. We need to appreciate the challenge and the conflict between the values by which we wish the world lived and the values by which it actually does. The difference between those two forces upon us consideration of a choice. What do we do about that? We’re called to answer that question in a spirit of hope.

Our goal is to seize this hope, and turn it into concrete action. After developing our stories of self, then we work on building relationships, which forms the story of us. From there we turn to strategizing and action, working together to achieve a common purpose, learning to experience hope—that’s the story of now.

Organizing is about mobilizing power. We cannot turn our love into justice without engaging power; all three are needed.

Communities get organized because there are people among them who are skilled organizers and leaders. Leadership is about enabling others to achieve purpose in the face of uncertainty, mobilizing the resources of a constituency and turning them into goals consistent with that constituency’s values.

We start with the skill of relationship-building, the story of self. Then we develop the skill of motivation or the story of us. Third, the skill of strategizing, the story of now. And fourth, the skill of action.

Learning organizing skills is like learning how to ride a bicycle. You can read 10 books about it but how do you really start learning to ride a bicycle? You get on. And you fall. That’s how you learn. That’s how you learn organizing too.

(An interesting contrast to Ganz’s approach is the community organising approach described in my post Politicisation: how can climate communicators help people move into campaigning? in which anger is seen as a crucial motivating force for change.)

Summary of key points

  • Scientific presentations can be dull or off-putting so learn how to generate people’s interest.
  • Draw on the power of visuals, of music, of stories, of drama, etc. to reach into people’s emotions, engage their imaginations and engage them with ethical dilemmas.
  • Consider working with arts practitioners skilled in community and education work.
  • Street theatre can be powerful but remember the importance of building rapport, give attention to thinking about how you come over, be warm and open and produce skilful performances.
  • Working class audiences tend to prefer shows that display directness, comedy, music, emotion, variety, moment-by-moment effect, immediacy and localism.
  • It can be more effective if people from the community create the performance themselves.
  • Understand people’s dreams  and work collaboratively with them to explore ways to achieve them.
  • Find ways to appeal to spectacle and myth.
  • Progressive spectacles should be participatory and open-ended, setting stages to ask questions and leaving silences to formulate answers.
  • Think in terms of co-production or a video-game in which the player is a genuine participant.
  • Literature and other arts can enable people to engage in a deeper way with the complex, existential nature of the climate and nature crises.
  • Stories are what engage people’s imaginations, so use them to put across strategies that might otherwise seem dull and uninteresting, and to inspire hope.
  • Describe the impacts of global heating on ordinary people around the world, both the horror stories and the success stories – be  skilful in judging what type of story to tell when.
  • Consider telling success stories about the future but remember that human beings don’t want anodyne morality tales; they want to see somebody triumph in the face of adversity.
  • Counteract the problem of remoteness by emphasising local relevance and local agency, in the here and now.
  • Think in terms not only of different audiences within the community, but also local and national political leaders.
  • To create a new regional or national ‘strategic’ story of hope, bring a wide range of stakeholders together to begin an iterative process of narrative forming through constructive dialogue.
  • A good strategic narrative should increase our feeling of self efficacy, linking a positive vision of the future with individual actions and promoting new social norms.
  • Develop events and programmes to support citizens to reflect on the multi-layered implications of the climate and nature emergencies.
  • Carve out spaces in which people can reconnect with their essential value, rather than their value for the profit making system.
  • Engage members of the public in envisaging future scenarios, drawing on a range of creative resources.
  • Explore stories of what might be happening in 10, 20 or 30 years time, before beginning to grapple with ideas for solutions.
  • Show that these solutions can be achieved and that the barriers are largely structural e.g. lack of funding.
  • Mobilise hope – use a foundation of hope to build anticipation that the problems will be addressed, that humanity will succeed.
  • Learn how to engage with the story of each individual self, the story of us as a group or community, and the story of now – working together to achieve a common purpose.
  • Communities need skilled organisers and leaders who know how to enable others to achieve purpose in the face of uncertainty.
  • Develop and use the skills of relationship-building, motivation, strategising, and action.
  • Organising is about mobilizing power. We cannot turn our love into justice without engaging power.
  • Learning organising skills is like learning how to ride a bicycle: just get on and try it.


[1] Comment by Stuart Capstick at webinar Beyond optimism or doom: How can we communicate the need for urgent climate action? XR Scientists webinar April 7th 2021.

[2] Maslin, Mark. (2004)  Global Warming, A Very Short Introduction. OUP, Oxford.

[3] Declaration of interest: I was the Director of Creative Partnerships Sheffield from 2005-2009.

[4] Nutter, Ruth. (2020). Paradise Is Here, Building Community Around Things That Matter. Sheffield. Guild of St. George.

[5] A compendious resource of ideas relating to sustainability is ‘Playing for Time’ by Lucy Neal (Oberon Books, 2015)

[6] Duncombe, Stephen. (2007.) Dream – Re-Imagining Progressive Politics In An Age Of Fantasy. New York. The New Press. See:

[7] George Marshall has made a similar comment about evangelical churches. Rhetoric, song, emotion, community, hugs and hope can meet deep human longings.

[8] On the EdX website, the University of Michigan runs an online course on Storytelling for Social Change:

[9] Porritt, Jonathan. (2013) The World we Made. Phaidon.

[10] Robinson, Kim Stanley. (2020) The Ministry for the Future. London. Orbit.

[11] ‘Towards a unifying narrative for climate change’ by Simon Bushell, Mark Workman and Thomas Colley. Briefing paper No. 18, published in April 2016. The Grantham Institute at Imperial College.

[12] Personal communication.

[13] Odell, Jenny. (2019) How to Do Nothing / Resisting the Attention Economy. London. Melville House.

[14] This is an edited version of an article adapted from Ganz’s presentation at Sojourners’ Training for Change conference in June 2008. The full article can be found here: His podcast, Faces of Change with Marshall Ganz, can be found at:

[1] For an explanation of ‘disavowal’ see the second blog in this series:Practical Guidance For Climate Communicators

[2] The Creative Partnerships programme was funded under the New Labour government to explore creative ways to improve teaching and learning in schools.

[3] “Gradualist’ thinking favours a gently-gently approach to climate communications, trying to draw people in without scaring them.

[4] The third blog in this series describes a range of ‘frames’ or ‘lenses’ through which different practitioners have seen/approached climate communications.

Author: Nick Nuttgens

Nick Nuttgens is a retired facilitator, trainer, teacher and theatre maker, now focusing his attention on climate communications and visual art projects. His eclectic career included periods in the arts as a performer, director and choreographer, in the voluntary sector as a manager and trainer, and in education as a primary teacher. At one point, he was the Director of the Creative Partnerships programme in Sheffield, UK, leading on the development of creative approaches to teaching and learning in 75 schools. He was studying for a PhD in creative methods of communicating about climate change until he got cancer (luckily now in remission.) He is one of the co-convenors of a voluntary group based at the University of Sheffield called the Climate Communications Hub. Recent projects include a study group on critical thinking as applied to the climate emergency and ‘climate conversations’ training courses. More about his background, philosophy and values can be found in the About section of this blog.

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