Oh, the weather outside is frightful; why atomic stories can help save the planet
Life-long conservationist and Head of Strategy at WaterBear, Sam Sutaria explains why the stories we tell need to change if we are to have a positive impact on the future of our planet.
The International Panel on Climate Change; the IPCC. Ask your neighbour, your milkman (do they exist anymore?), or even your best friend: have they heard of it?
The answer will most likely be no. But, they should have. Recently, the IPCC released the most damning report of our time, stating that without drastic, systemic change to our global systems, human society on this planet is on a collision course with a brutal dead end.
This is not a happy story, and the first draft of the final chapter is currently sitting in the publishing house.
This report is a story about what humanity has inflicted on this planet and its inhabitants, written, edited and re-edited by over 800 scientists - from almost every country in the world - who unanimously agree that the story is coming to an end. This is not a happy story, and the first draft of the final chapter is currently sitting in the publishing house.
Above: According to the recent IPCC report, the fate of planet Earth is in the balance.
It simply could not be clearer. Look outside your window right now; it’s odds on that the weather you can see would not be described as typical. The late, great Dean Martin nailed it in the 50s: “Oh, the weather outside is frightful.” Frightful meaning ‘scary AF’ to most of us. The ‘King of Cool' was clearly (and ironically, given a nickname like that) ahead of his time as, just last month, the island of Sicily broke the European record for the hottest temperature on record, ever: just shy of 50°C.
Atomic stories are small, focussed stories but also stories which shift perspectives, drive action and allow us to imagine and build a new reality.
With temperatures rapidly becoming too hot - and certainly too brutal - for stable, biodiverse life on this planet, climate anxiety, eco-depression and total disillusionment with the future is ripping through younger generations, causing unrest and upset.
But it is also creating a fiery (sorry) motivation to not accept a generationally pre-determined fate. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a growing collective will on this planet to turn things around. There is also no question that the science and solutions are there. The real dilemma is; how do we turn that unequivocal science into accessible, remarkable and measurable information that anyone can relate to and work with? The answer; atomic storytelling.
We really need people to engage in communication and focus with great attention on what they say, but more specifically how they say it.
Atomic stories are small, focussed stories but also stories which shift perspectives, drive action and allow us to imagine and build a new reality. Without visualising the future we want to see, without creating visual moments of empathy, compassion and care, we will not turn facts into feelings and inspire society to take up action. We really need people - across both the public and private sectors - to engage in communication and focus with great attention on what they say, but more specifically how they say it.
Above: The trailer for the multi-award-winning documentary, My Octopus Teacher, a great example of an atomic story.
Historically, this kind of story was not deemed a good strategy to reach new and bigger audiences. It was not grand enough, bold enough or scary enough to grab headlines. However, times are changing. Films like My Octopus Teacher, a story about one man, an octopus and reconnecting with nature, and which picked up 16 international film awards, including the Academy Award for Best Documentary, are turning the tide.
Like almost every other industry, filmmaking needs to innovate and improve its sustainability credentials.
Yet, like almost every other industry, filmmaking needs to innovate and improve its sustainability credentials. Traditional practices are no longer good enough. The days of crews zipping all over the world, shooting films with kit rivalling NASA’s in price and complexity, and ultimately transporting stories and culture to audiences back home, are numbered. I am not disparaging the major players, the big budgets and the frankly inspiring community that grows and exists currently, but am, instead, suggesting within this community a bigger and more supported niche must be nurtured. It is time to embrace producing content differently, in a way that looks forward not back.
We need to decentralise and decarbonise production. This holds the key to massive impact, as it questions and pokes a finger at some of the major media roadblocks most of us regularly experience: expense, access and sustainability. That’s not to mention diversity. As an industry, we must now champion cost-effectiveness, minimal travel, archive content, local talent deployment and, as already discussed, a focus on unearthing untold atomic stories.
Atoms may be small, but boy do they pack a punch.
Storytellers in 2021 must strive to break the echo chambers that exist, and inspire the masses. We need a range of viewpoints, we need talent from every continent and the buy-in of major platforms on which to showcase a patchwork of ideas. This is a new way of telling stories that is empowering and accessible, focussing not on big names and bright lights, but diversity and the next generation.
It is action we need, so here is your challenge: humanity’s final chapter is written and, in the IPCC report, it is black and white. Read it, find the thing that shocks you the most and figure out how to bring it to life in a new way. Find your character(s), work with an amazing team from the country you are operating in, keep travel to the bare minimum, and create your first atomic story.
Atoms may be small, but boy do they pack a punch.