Another tool for tackling climate change: storytelling


There are many calls about climate change, especially in North America and Europe. This makes it easy for the rest of the world to fall into a kind of silence-Westerners think they have nothing to add and should let the so-called “experts” speak. But we all need to talk about climate change and amplify the voices of those who suffer the most.

Climate science is crucial, but by linking science to stories of people actively experiencing climate change, we can begin to think more creatively about technological solutions.

This needs to be done not only in major international conferences such as COP26, but also in daily life. In any powerful room where decisions are made, there should be someone who can directly talk about the climate crisis. Storytelling is an intervention in climate silence, inviting the use of ancient human techniques that communicate through language and narrative to offset inaction. This is a way to bring the normally powerless sound into a powerful room.

This is what I am trying to do by documenting stories that people have experienced the impact of the climate crisis.

In 2013, I lived in Boston during the marathon explosion. The city was blocked, and when it was lifted, I only thought of going outside: walking and breathing, listening to other people’s voices. I need to contact and remind myself that not everyone is cruel. On a whim, I cut a box of broccoli and wrote an “open call for story” with Sharpie.

I have a cardboard sign hanging around my neck. People are mostly staring. But some people approached me. Once I start listening to strangers, I don’t want to stop.

That summer, I rode my bike down the Mississippi River, with the mission of listening to all the stories shared by people. I carry that brand. There is a story that is so fascinating that I have been thinking about it for months, and it finally made me travel the world.

“We fight to protect our dams. Every time we encounter a hurricane, we fight for our swamp. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

I met 57-year-old Franny Connetti 80 miles south of New Orleans. I stopped in front of her office to check the air in the tires; she invited me in to hide from the afternoon sun. Franny shared her fried shrimp lunch with me. Between the couple, she told me how Hurricane Isaac destroyed her home and her community in 2012.

Despite the tragedy, she and her husband moved back to their land a few months after the storm, in a mobile home.

“We fight to protect our dams. Every time we encounter a hurricane, we fight for our swamp,” she told me. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

Twenty miles ahead, I can see where the sea crosses the road at high tide. “There is water on the road,” an orange sign read. Locals jokingly refer to the end of Louisiana’s Route 23 as “the end of the world.” It is chilling to imagine the road where I ride a bicycle underwater.

The author was at the Monasavu Dam in Fiji in 2014.


This is a front line, a story of climate change. I want to know what it means to have a dialogue with stories from other parts of the world-the local influence from other front lines through the water experience? My goal has become to listen to and amplify these stories.

Water is the way most parts of the world experience climate change. It is not constructed by humans, such as degrees Celsius. This is what we see and feel keenly. When there is not enough water, crops die, fire rages, and people are thirsty. When there is too much water, the water becomes a destructive force, washing away houses, businesses and lives. It is almost always easier to talk about water than climate change. But the two are deeply intertwined.

I also set out to solve another problem: the language we use to discuss climate change is often abstract and difficult to understand. We have heard that the sea level has risen by feet or the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere has reached one millionth, but what does this mean for people’s daily life? I think storytelling may bridge this gap.

The first stop of my journey was Tuvalu, a low-lying coral atoll country in the South Pacific, located 585 miles south of the equator. Tuvalu is home to about 10,000 people and will become uninhabitable in my lifetime.

In 2014, meteorologist Tauala Katea turned on his computer and showed me images of the recent floods that occurred on an island. Sea water bubbled underground near where we were sitting. “This is what climate change looks like,” he said.

“In 2000, Tuvaluans living on the outer islands noticed that their taro and Plaka crops were affected,” he said. “Root crops seem to rot and are getting smaller and smaller.” Taro and Plaka are two starch staples of Tuvalu cuisine, which grow in pits dug underground.

Tauala and his team went to the outer islands to collect soil samples. The culprit is sea water intrusion related to sea level rise. Since the measurement began in the early 1990s, the sea level has risen by 4 millimeters per year. Although this may sound small, this change has had a huge impact on Tuvaluans’ access to drinking water. The highest point is only 13 feet above sea level.

As a result, Tuvalu has undergone many changes.The freshwater lens, the layer of groundwater floating on the denser seawater, has become salty and Pollution. Thatched roofs and freshwater wells are now a thing of the past. Now, every household has a water tank connected to the corrugated iron roof through a gutter. Now all water used for washing, cooking and drinking comes from rainwater. The rainwater is boiled and drunk. It can be used to wash clothes and dishes, and it can also be used for bathing. These wells have been reused as garbage dumps.

Sometimes, families have to make difficult decisions about how to allocate water. Angelina, the mother of three, told me that during the drought a few years ago, her second daughter Siulai was only a few months old. She, her husband and their eldest daughter can swim in the sea, wash themselves and wash clothes. “We only save water for drinking and cooking,” she said. But the skin of her newborn baby is too delicate to bathe in the sea. Salt water will cause her to develop a terrible rash. This means that Angelina must choose between drinking water and bathing her child.


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