by Annette Wong
As the environmental advisor to the British Government, and a co-organizer of the UN climate change summit, Alex Evans has a unique theory on why the Paris environmental summit far exceeded the success of the Copenhagen summit. Evans suggests that environmentalists and green activists in the Danish summit attempted to present climate change issues with “piecharts, acronyms and statistics”, what he thought was a boring and unengaging approach. When the Paris summit begun, it seemed that environmentalists understood that the most effective way to promote the urgency of climate change was through narrating personal stories in hopes of evoking emotion.
Even politicians seemed to understand that emotion was the most effective method in which to spread the message on climate change. French president Francois Hollande “encouraged a strong spiritual input in the summit”. Personal stories about loss, sacrifice, and pain, created “morally compelling narratives” that provided engagement from the population.
Evans coined his theory, “The Myth Gap”, claiming that all social movements that were successful because both small and large communities could be held together by common stories both from the past and about the future. This includes not only climate change, but also the movements that capsized slavery, and even the political shockwave that was Brexit.
Evans was particularly interested in stories relating to Israeli rituals and religion. Many pieces of Israeli literature are written to inspire people, rousing strong moral values in their readers. Evans believes that to inspire people, stories must encourage “restoration and redemption” rather than solely focus on evils and failures. In terms of climate change issues, this would mean a “greater emphasis on success stories”. He uses the example of China’s Loess Plateau and their miraculously well repaired ecosystem.
Alex Evans’ theory of reaching out to passionately engaged communities with stories, extends to religious communities. However, unique religions have different religious narratives, which may often cause conflict between groups. Evans draws from the example of Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq who still are at war due to their beliefs. This is where Evans believes at least one of the challenges lies. It will be difficult to fashion stories that draw strong conclusions and morals that transcend different large and small communities. It is thus important to encourage tight-knit communities, no matter what size, to listen to each other’s stories without hate.
ERASMUS. “Fighting Climate Change May Need Stories, Not Just Data.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 08 Jan. 2017. Web. 21 Jan. 2017. <http://www.economist.com/blogs/erasmus/2017/01/climate-change-myth-and-religion>.