Why Scientists need to tell more stories
The evolution of storytelling
Storytelling is an intrinsic human characteristic. It has evolved from cave drawings and oral traditions to TikToks, IG Reels, cinematic productions and tweets. Stories have been passed down from generation to generation. Our perspectives and lives are shaped by the stories we tell, and the stories that we have been told. Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools that we can use to drive change by tapping into our most fundamental human quality - emotion.

In a digitally cluttered world, brands are constantly jostling to grab our attention, and stories can give us a voice to be heard above the rest. Forbes describes storytelling as "the future of marketing" because it can give you a voice in a dense digital world, build up your community instead of only focusing on customers, and allows you to be profitable while making an impact. Storytelling is a force that comes both from the brand itself, and the demands that consumers are making. More educated consumers are demanding to know how brands are going beyond a profit - to make an impact. Consumers want to know the story behind their purchase. Indeed, brands have even started to tell stories to amplify issues in society. For example, Adidas told a story by tackling the lack of visibility of women's sport in the media showcasing how only four per cent of sports media coverage in the U.S is dedicated to women. Another example by Levi's involved telling the story of how their new heritage jeans brand is committing itself to sustainably sourced cotton and having 100% renewable energy in Levi's owned facilities by 2025. The bottom line is that consumers care about these stories, and are more "woke" than ever before.

Photograph: Reuters
There has never been a greater opportunity to tell meaningful stories, as we face the impending threat of climate change during a global pandemic. Currently, there are so many stories that need to be told - climate change, Black Lives Matter, the Pansexual Revolution, and the list goes on. Many opportunistic brands are jumping onto these trends and advocating for these contemporary issues, however, this opens the door to a lack of authenticity and purpose within their stories. With the evolution of greenwashing and the rapid spread of fake news, it's hard to know who to listen to.
Photo by Ece AK from Pexels
This is why it is important that we carefully choose who and what we give power to.
One of the most pressing subjects of our time is climate change. As a looming issue, it has the ability to threaten the livelihood of billions of people. Natural disasters and environmental degradation is leading to extreme weather patterns disrupting harvests, depletion of fisheries, eroding livelihoods and spurring on infectious diseases. We have already seen the impacts of climate changes such as the bushfire crisis in Australia - which was exacerbated by record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought. And we can look closer to home where Cape Town was predicted to be the first city in the world to run out of water.
"Never have human societies known so much about mitigating the dangers they faced but agreed so little about what they collectively know," shares Yale law professor Dan Kahan, a leading researcher in the science of communication. And it may be through telling stories in better ways that real change can start to take place.
What's wrong with our current communication around climate change?
More than a decade's worth of research suggests that fear-based approaches to climate change inspire denial, fatalism and polarization. These tactics often release stress-inducing hormones such as adrenaline or cortisol, which can send us into a fight or flight response. However, when communicated in such a way that we could potentially do something about it, with a focus on the good that has gone on, along with the resulting positive impacts of such actions, there could be a more beneficial outcome overall.
Why scientists should be telling more stories...
Not only does storytelling have an intuitive appeal, but it also elicits hormones that make us feel emotions.

Hormones such as dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins generate feelings of empathy, trust, creativity, and increased focus. Climate change communication, therefore, needs to create a chemical concoction of empowering hormones resulting in a captivated audience that feels inspired to act in more positive ways! Recently there has been a push for scientists to focus on framing their facts so that they tell a more compelling story. Instead of bombarding people with evidence, scientists need to focus on how they present them. Done very effectively in examples like Braiding Sweetgrass by scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer, the blend of storytelling and science has resulted in complex ecosystems becoming understandable by more and more people. After several studies, Boris et al. realised that narratives structured as stories resulted in experiential processing, heightened engagement and emotional arousal - which catalyzes action. Their studies showed that when information is embedded in the structure of a story, cardiac activity was influenced, and subsequently, pro-environmental behaviour. Furthermore, when biologist Andrew Thaler talks about climate change, he doesn't talk about science. Rather, he tells stories that are important to his audiences - such as those involving fishing, farming, faith, and the future. In a nonsensical world with so many polarising opinions and a general lack of cohesiveness, storytelling makes sense of the world but more importantly, it makes connections and makes us feel human.
It's time to start telling more meaningful stories!
With such a powerful tool at our disposal, we also have an immense responsibility to use it for powerful change to combat one of the most pressing issues of our generation - climate change. Going forward, we all need to look into making use of storytelling to create an emotional connection that drives collective change. This can be said of brands, businesses, scientists, and even your little sister on her TikTok account.We have everything that we need to be able to create a better future, with a more positive story that will benefit everyone. With climate issues that threaten our very existence, we need to open our ears to one of the most powerful tools that we possess to make a collective difference and inspire action - storytelling.

Watch our webinar with Eleven Radius for more insight into how you can tell stories more effectively.