Are facts more compelling than stories? Regarding climate change, we might know who the villains are, but who are the iconic heroes? And what stories will motivate people to action?
Jonah Sachs, co-founder of Free Range Studios and author of Story Wars, believes that we're driven by myths rather than facts. He tells the story of James Hansen, who in the late 1960s was one of the first individuals to investigate global climate change. "He felt that if he could simply turn the information over, everyone would act. That it would be unseemly to do anything else." The response to his facts was mass denial. Why? It was too difficult to do anything about it. Then came stories from the opposition, primarily the fossil fuel industry, to cast doubt on his findings. More recently, Hansen has stated that facts cannot rule the day and we have to tell a story about what climate change
Jon Else, director of the Documentary Program at UC Berkeley and producer of the film The Island President, among others, agrees that facts alone cannot win the day in a democracy. We need powerful images. In referring to the Civil Rights movement, he said that the facts were known for a long time, but it wasn't until we had the image of Rosa Parks sitting on the bus that we had policy change. "One of the problems with climate change, and especially with Hansen's early work, was that no one ever succeeded in tying that to a dog going after a demonstrator and fire hoses in Birmingham, Alabama." There are few powerful images such as glaciers, melting icebergs. But nothing "hot."
According to Carrie Armel, director of Sensor & Behavior Initiative at Stanford University, people can't visualize what's going to happen well into the future and they're much more affected by immediate experiences and visualizations. She speaks of different levels of knowledge-things that are hardwired, things that are learned through associations, and lastly, the facts behind them. "The more degrees of separation, the less real, the less tapping into the visceral motivational associations there are."
Regarding stories, Sachs pointed to a current theme of environmentalists, that every time we get on a plane or get in our car, we're planet wreckers. "We need a new story that is not ourselves because it is not working."
Else related that to a successful commercial in the 1970s that showed a Native American paddling his canoe and pulling it to a shore littered with waste. The message was that individuals make the pollution and individuals can stop pollution. "That shifted the blame to all of us who throw litter out of our cars, and it ignored the enormous production of carbon in fossil fuel plants just off camera." He called it "a cover for the enemy."
Sachs added that it was a campaign designed by beverage and container makers who didn't want to see deposit laws on bottles. They said, hey, here's a new idea: it's not our problem. "It's the most iconic environmental campaign of all time, incredibly effective because it was an amazing story."
Can regular people be heroes? Armel told of the work she is doing at Stanford, identifying actions individuals can take to reduce energy use. Using behavioral techniques, she is studying ways to empower people through the metaphor of hero. The messages currently out there about climate change are mostly negative. "We realized that this whole movement is unempowering people." When people are unempowered and feel they can't take action. "A common reaction is denial."
According to Sachs, people who are engaged in doing something that matters tend be more joyful in their lives. "I think that a story that needs to come forth is credible and joyful rebellion against this problem."
Dr. Carrie Armel is a research associate at Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy Efficiency (PIEE) where she investigates the diverse ways in which an understanding of human behavior can lead to improvements in energy efficiency. For example, the application of behavioral principles can produce significant energy reductions through interventions implemented at the policy, technology, built environment, media/marketing, and organizational/community levels. Dr. Armel co-chairs the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference; oversees Precourt Institute’s Behavior and Energy Bibliographic Database and Website; and teaches courses on behavior and energy at Stanford.
In addition to these initiatives, Dr. Armel develops specific energy efficiency interventions that apply behavioral and design principles, and develops measures to evaluate the efficacy of such interventions. Her most recent project involves a collaboration between academic and non-academic organizations to design and evaluate a technology that takes advantage of smart meters to provide feedback to residents on home electricity use.
Dr. Armel completed a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of California at San Diego, and postdoctoral work in Neuro-Economics at Stanford. In these programs she employed behavioral, psychophysiological, and neuroscientific methods to investigate how affect and motivation influence behavior. She most recently completed postdoctoral work at Stanford’s School of Medicine, translating intervention techniques used in health promotion work into the domain of energy efficiency.
Jon Else produced and directed the documentaries “The Day After Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb,” “Yosemite: The Fate of Heaven,” “A Job at Ford’s” part of the PBS series “The Great Depression,” “Cadillac Desert: Water and the Transformation of Nature,” “Sing Faster: The Stagehands’ Ring Cycle,” and “Open Outcry.” He was series producer and cinematographer for “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years.” Else served as cinematographer on documentaries for PBS, BBC, ABC, MTV and HBO, including the BBC/PBS “History of Rock and Roll,” the Paramount/MTV feature documentary “Tupac: Resurrection” and “Afghanistan: Hell of a Nation,” and numerous commercials and music videos. His feature documentary, "Wonders Are Many: The Making of Doctor Atomic" premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Else was a MacArthur Fellow and has won four National Emmys, several Alfred I. DuPont and Peabody awards, the Prix Italia, the Sundance Special Jury Prize and Sundance Filmmaker's Trophy, as well as several Academy Award Nominations. Else received his bachelor's degree in English from the University of California at Berkeley and his master's degree in communication from Stanford University.
Jonah is an internationally recognized storyteller, author, designer and entrepreneur. As the co-founder and creative director of Free Range, Jonah has helped hundreds of social brands and causes break through the media din with campaigns built on sound storytelling strategies. His work on legendary viral videos like The Meatrix and The Story of Stuff series has brought key social issues to the attention of more than 60 million viewers and his interactive work has been honored with 'Best Of' awards three times at the standard-setting South By Southwest interactive festival.
Jonah’s passion lies in exploring the crossroads of ancient storytelling techniques, social responsibility and emerging technologies. Due out in June 2012 by Harvard Business Review Press, his book Story Wars calls on case studies from his own body of work and some of the most successful brands of all time to show how values-driven stories will not only revolutionize marketing, but represent humanity’s greatest hope for the future. Jonah and his work have been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, FOX News, Sundance Film Festival, NPR, The Colbert Report, and in FastCompany Magazine, which named him one of the 50 most influential social innovators.