Like many children, I spent a great amount of time playing outside, getting my hands and feet dirty, and exploring nature outdoors every chance I could get. I grew up surrounded by an environment that was, in my eyes, safe, pristine and resilient. Natural disasters were unheard of, unless they were in the movies, and drinking tap water or swimming in a river never raised any questions. I was lucky.
It wasn’t until my sophomore year in high school when I walked the trash-filled beaches of Cape Coast, Ghana, that I realized human consumption is affecting the planet in ways that are harming other ecosystems. It wasn’t until high school that I heard the words “global warming,” and not until college when I truly understood what that means for all species living on Earth. A big part of me felt powerless, yet I couldn’t help but ask myself “how can I make a difference and get people to care?”
As my interest for environmental advocacy and storytelling grew, I began exploring ways to raise awareness of climate change and inspire people to action in new ways. And that’s what led me to EMDD.
The last year and a half, I’ve dedicated most of my time to learning about transmedia storytelling, the process of telling a single story across multiple platforms using digital technologies and physical spaces. As I dug deeper, I discovered Lina Srivastava’s Transmedia Activism framework, which guides the development of media, art, and technology projects from story to social action (she’s my hero). Srivastava’s framework inspired me and helped shape my creative project.
I was eager to get started and developed an exciting project partnership with Earth Charter Indiana (ECI), an Indianapolis-based nonprofit grassroots organization dedicated to spreading information and organizing efforts to fight climate change. ECI expressed the need to expand their mission to Muncie in an effort to educate young people about the direct effects climate change has on their lives and how to take positive action on a local level. Light bulbs went off as I thought about applying my skills in design thinking and transmedia storytelling to help ECI meet their goals.
During the research phase of my project, I explored similar transmedia storytelling projects that aimed to address climate and social issues, but still had many unanswered questions about climate science and how to get people to care about the facts of climate change, a phenomenon that is so important yet virtually invisible for many people living in western society. To find those answers, I attended the 2016 North American Association for Environmental Education conference in Madison, Wisconsin.
At the conference, I met people from all over the world who are environmental educators, humanitarian leaders, students and activists passionate about making the world a better place to live for all. I participated in workshops that focused on helping educators understand how to effectively teach young people climate science in school, and panels that discussed topics such as using storytelling to advance climate change education and action.
David Suzuki, keynote speaker of the NAAEE conference, shared his life-long efforts in broadcast journalism and environmental activism. Suzuki also highlighted his concern for people’s growing lack of empathy to fight for social rights and the environment even though we’re all facing the same battle together, a battle that is virtually real whether we choose to deny it.
After some reflection on the conference, I realized the answer to my big question that I’ve been asking myself all along: how can I get people to care?
The answer is empathy.
Change starts with heartstrings, not information, and storytelling is one of the most effective methods for getting people to empathize and care about big issues like climate change. When people make personal connections to factors of climate change, it makes the issue seem more real and relatable to them, especially if they don’t virtually experience the effects of climate change in their community.
At this critical moment in time, we can overcome the despair and doom-and-gloom of issues in the world by sharing positive and empowering stories that fuel empathy for people who are experiencing the effects the most. I certainly think transmedia storytelling is an effective way to communicate those important stories.