Climate Hub: Changing the stories of climate change

Within the framework of the 25th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, the seventh session of the Climate Hub was carried out on Saturday, March 11th, at Warehouse C. The Festival's new initiative towards the goal of sustainability includes a series of meetings and discussions with the participation of organizations, groups, and experts active in the field of environmental and social sustainability. The keynote speaker at the seventh meeting, titled Changing the stories of climate change, was WWF Hellas' Head of Communication and Citizen Mobilization, Iasonas Kantas. The discussion was moderated by the Festival’s sustainability coordinator, Emma Doxiadi.

Initially, Mr Kantas addressed climate change, focusing on the need to change the way we communicate this important issue. "I am sure that if I asked all of you here if you know anything about climate change, you would tell me about its impact and consequences. We have been talking about the climate crisis for the last 50 years. There are plenty of international scientific organizations that are actively discussing this issue. What they are saying, mostly, is that the end is coming, that the day of disaster is very close, and that we have to change our path. Everyone is talking about climate change. However, we have essentially failed. We have not been able to create a broad consensus on this issue, nor have we been able to achieve the political initiatives we would like, as well as the behavioral and social change we need. And the question that arises is how can we change this narrative and find a way to tell this story differently?” he said.

As he explained, there are specific parameters and obstacles that we need to take into account when trying to communicate issues such as the climate crisis to the general public. "If we consider the way we communicate issues such as the climate crisis, we will realize that there are specific obstacles that we need to keep in mind. One of these is the so-called Climate Fatigue. Everyone says that the end is coming, that we will all die from the climate crisis, that the possibility of changing the impending disaster has passed. And what does the world do when it receives such a message? It changes the subject, and refuses to focus on the issue. And it makes sense when you think about it. People deny what they feel they cannot influence and change. It creates an internal struggle within us. On the one hand, we have our modern way of life, our cars, electricity, our comforts. On the other hand, we have knowledge of the planet's temperature increasing by 1.5 degrees and the declaration of impending doom. The citizen is faced with this conflict and feeling unable to change the course of the disaster, changes the subject of the conversation and distances themselves from the issue. They enter into a process of denial. Of course, when I talk about denial, I am not talking about citizens who deny the existence of the climate crisis itself. As an organization, we are no longer dealing with convincing the public in 2023 that there is a climate crisis. I am talking about people who feel they do not have the motivation and determination to make change, who feel powerless because of the poor way in which the issue is being communicated," he stressed.

As explained by Mr. Kantas, the solution to this arises through the utilization and sharing of personal stories, which help the audience identify with them and mobilize. "We need to focus more on personal stories and narratives. I'll give you an example to help you understand what I mean. Before coming here to speak, I searched for issues and stories about the climate crisis related to Thessaloniki. I found an article from 2022 that talked about the extreme weather events that will hit the city in the coming years as a result of the climate crisis. From the very first paragraph, the article listed scenarios of destruction. I felt like I wanted to put it aside, that I wasn't interested. On the other hand, I recently watched Mighty Afrin: In the Time of Floods and the consequences of the climate crisis through the personal story of a girl from Bangladesh who was forced to confront them in her daily life and leave her home to survive. This was a personal story that spoke to my heart. Humans are and always will be social beings above all else. Sometimes we forget this when trying to communicate environmental issues. It is much easier to take initiative for an issue if we identify with the difficulties that someone facing it is going through. Therefore, there always needs to be the human aspect and personal story."

Wanting to give another example of a personal story concerning the climate crisis, he spoke about the round sardinella, a non-endemic species of fish that has invaded the Mediterranean due to the increase in water temperature caused by the climate crisis. It is a species hostile to native fish populations and local aquatic ecosystems. “There are many ways to talk about this issue. You can simply give the facts of the issue and use strong, threatening words to talk about it. You can talk about invasive fish that threaten us. On the other hand, you can tell personal stories of people who face this issue in their daily lives. For example, we asked the fishermen of Kythnos to tell their stories and speak to the camera about the difficulties they face in relation to this issue, as well as the livelihood issues they may face due to the presence of this species in the waters of the island The film is called Out of the Sea and is available on WWF's YouTube channel. I was personally touched and inspired by the story of Mr. Christos, a fisherman who said that there are, of course, difficulties, but that he will try to adapt and integrate this fish into the local market. Such stories help us connect with the reality of the climate crisis issue," pointed out Mr Kantas.

At this point Mr Kantas concluded his presentation and received questions from the audience. First, the floor was given to Emma Doxiadi who shared a story from her experience in the field of film production. "I have been part of three productions in Greece that tried to implement zero waste practices in film production. The effort was done through a multitude of methods. As part of this, unnecessary travel was reduced through the adoption of carpooling practices, unused food was given to non-governmental organizations that provide food to populations in need, and reusable water bottles were used and filled from the tap. However, the general message conveyed by these productions is that this is an effort, not an obligation. In other words, if someone wanted to order something from outside, there would be no issue. The entire participation was on a voluntary basis and in the end, the staff embraced it. Using that as a basis, I would like to ask you, Iasonas, how we can communicate such issues in the context of producing a film?" asked Doxiadi.

As Mr. Kantas pointed out, stories can be a useful tool in approaching the issue at hand. "The issue of production in Greece is a huge one that is not yet being discussed enough. That is why the Festival's initiative to create the Climate Hub is extremely valuable. Generally, I would say that we need to tell the producers the right stories. The impact would be much greater if we told the right stories. The stories themselves would convince people in the production companies. There are people with specialized technical knowledge right now who can help production companies follow a more sustainable path. Of course, it's not always easy, but it's definitely achievable. We now have the tools and methods. At this point, I would also like to say that WWF is here to support and help anyone who wants to follow this path."

Subsequently, the discussion focused on whether we should change our approach depending on the different age groups we are addressing, given that Europe's population is aging. "I'll tell you another interesting story. I don't know if you're familiar with the KlimaSeniorinnen. They are a group of women over 60 from Switzerland who have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, accusing their government of not doing enough about the issue of the climate crisis. Of course, we must appeal to audiences of all ages. The issue of the climate crisis is urgent, and we need to reach out to anyone who can hear us. And the ideal way is still through personal, human stories. It would also be very important to get official bodies and non-governmental organizations to collaborate, with the aim of creating green funds for the film industry and for people who bring a fresher perspective to environmental awareness issues," Mr Kantas stated.

Finally, when asked whether the solution to the climate crisis can be found through a hierarchically structured approach (top-down) or an approach that emphasizes individual initiative to effect change (bottom-up), Mr. Kantas remarked: "I wish we had time to discuss and compare the benefits of different approaches. Unfortunately, we must act quickly on the issue of the climate crisis. Therefore, we must adopt and utilize every available method. What is worth keeping in mind, however, is that people do not change because they know facts and data, they change because those around them change, because they are inspired by someone, because they identify with the personal stories of people who have experienced specific situations. Therefore, we need to tell more and better human stories about the climate crisis. This would be the ideal first step," he concluded.