How Storytelling Can Enhance Climate Health

By path2positive
Robert Redford, one of the quintessential filmmakers and storytellers of our time, has committed years of work to help protect nature. He recently wrote a blog where he drives home the powerful role that storytelling can have to help inspire others to action. “Now is the time to reframe the conversation with inspiring stories... Not only must media, big business and governments pay more attention to these stories -- we all need to if we are to truly change course” – Robert Redford The work of advancing climate and health solutions has much to gain in shifting to an approach that includes storytelling as a key communications tool. Discussing climate change can often be challenging, sparking ongoing debates instead of helpful conversations. Evocative stories can help shape meaning out of cold hard facts, providing a more intimate, personal approach to engaging on climate and health. Compelling stories can serve as a powerful invitation to staff, community members and others.  They can elevate your resonance and inspire others.  And, through storytelling, we all can find more relatable ways to communicate the climate health message. The National Medical Association, one of the founding Climate for Health organizations, recently conducted a survey of physician’s across the country and found that nearly nine out of ten (88%) of the physicians surveyed said that climate change was relevant to patient care, and nearly two-thirds (61%) indicated they believed that some of their own patients were already being harmed moderately or a great deal. The most common health effects of climate change that survey respondents observed in their patients were injuries from extreme weather events, such as floods, fires, and major snow storms (88%), and increases in the severity of chronic illnesses due to air pollution (87%). This data is compelling, to say the least and certainly must be told, but how effective is it to inspire others to drive action? Would watching a video about a survivor story be more compelling? It’s stories that drive home the reality of climate change and help us see ourselves and our loved ones in the studies that often lose their power to connect everyday Americans around the climate change issue. Just as listening to a patient’s story is vital to facilitating better care, developing a rich understanding of your audience’s needs, motivations and mindset is the best way of engaging others. Health care professionals need to share how their own patients and communities are being impacted and promoting positive change by integrating practices that promote good health and climate solutions. Facts and figures need to be used extremely sparingly, as they don’t inspire change alone. Stories not only help bring to life the relevant impacts of climate change but can also help people see and feel inspired and hopeful on climate change solutions.   Most importantly, great stories depend on the richness of people’s experiences.  They connect ideas and people and hold them together. The most effective storytelling centers on a journey, which we are allowed to witness. There are a plethora of stories to be told. Here are a couple to get you started: Patients: There are no better stories than those of your patients. Working together, document their health impacts, their journeys to health, and your work together. Have them keep a written/video diary or a blog of their experience. There will be many patients who might not be interested in participating, but other patients will see the value of inspiring others with their story.
  • Staff: The people who work in your office are the heart and blood of your operation. They are also what humanizes your brand and inspire others to follow. Dr. Preston Maring is a Kaiser Permanente physician who started one of the first hospital-based farmers markets in 2003 and is personally responsible for opening 35 Farmers’ Markets at Kaiser Permanente facilities in five states. Currently, the markets offer fresh fruits and vegetables to 3-million Kaiser Permanente customers and 65,000 employees, as well as the communities served by each of the medical facilities. Maring is an example of not only an inspirational leader but a great story as well. His project provides an experiential opportunity for patients and staff to eat healthier and be climate friendly by eating locally and organic. 
  • Community events or causes: Another opportunity to cultivate your relationship with your staff, patients, and community is to identify common and shared interests and connect with them through relevant storytelling. Participating in a community event provides you a great opportunity to tell stories and likewise listen to stories from others in the process.
  • Inspiring people you meet: As you continue your work in climate for health, you will most likely meet other people like yourself, leaders or otherwise who share your vision for a healthier world.  Sharing their stories will only serve as a model and inspiration for others to follow suit.
Depending on the audience you are pursuing, great stories can be told in a variety of different formats. A blog is a good start, written and distributed ideally 3-4 times a week. In time, you can evolve into other highly clickable formats like videos and slideshares. The most important thing to remember is to simply tell your stories and tell them often. After all, telling the stories of the people and relationships at play in your organization is one of the most powerful ways you can strengthen the messages behind your facility’s mission. If you would like to read some of our stories of leaders who have achieved extraordinary success in the fields of climate and health, read our own success stories and be inspired to take action!  Also, for guidance on how to build a story, see our resource section on Climate for Health website.  


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