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Talking About Climate Change: The Power of Storytelling


Stories have incredible power. They shape our feelings, our thoughts, how we perceive the world and are perceived in the world. And sometimes they keep us stuck in a rut, blind to new facts and fresh potential. I was struck by the power of stories when I interviewed Hunter Lovins recently. A pioneering environmentalist, green tech investor and advisor to government leaders worldwide, Hunter managed to flip the usual “disaster is coming” climate story on its head, leaving me feeling hopeful and energized about the future.


How on earth did she do that?

She had all the facts at her command, of course, from General Mills’ investments in regenerative agriculture to the looming cost of “stranded” assets. But that wasn’t what made her talk memorable. She was simply a great storyteller.

Some examples of what she — and all the best storytellers — do: 

They meet people where they are:  “I frequently run into people who say ‘I don’t believe in climate change,’” Hunter said.  “My answer is, ‘Okay, let’s assume climate change is a hoax. If all you are is a profit-maximizing capitalist, you’ll do exactly what you would do if you were scared to death of climate change, because we know how to solve this problem at a profit.’” Then she gives chapter and verse on exactly which technologies are winning – reframing the fossil fuel debate away from economic loss to an intriguing opportunity that plays to human motivations. (“No polar bears required,” as she says.)

They use vivid, specific examples. “Everywhere in the world now, it is cheaper to use renewable energy than to use fossil energy,” she said. “When the Kentucky Coal Museum put solar on its roof rather than hooking up to the coal-fired grid at its doorstep, it’s all over.”  (That’s what I call a cocktail-party fact. Easy to remember, utterly compelling. And of course, true!)

They make it personal. “What are you invested in?” she asked. “When you pick a portfolio of companies that are ….fossil fuel free, it’s going to do better. This is pure business.” For small business owners: “ See if you can cut your energy use. That will cut your cash outflow, and you will also be part of the climate solution.” For employees: “Volunteer to create a committee at your company to look at your energy use, where your food comes from.” These are all achievable micro-goals that help individuals feel powerful.

They’re optimistic. Sure, bad (and made-up) news travels alarmingly fast. But hope gives us energy to tackle the big stuff over the long haul. We have the solutions; what we need to do now is roll them out, Lovins explained. ”If we implemented regenerative grazing on all the world’s grasslands and started sequestering carbon, over 30 to 60 years’ time we can…roll climate change backward, make more money, be healthier, and live a better life,” she said.  “And then I’ll go back to rodeo.” Roll climate change backward? I’m down for that!

Peggy Northrop

Peggy Northrop is CEO of Watermark, a nonprofit membership organization focused on redefining leadership. Peggy joined Watermark in February 2020. A media consultant, communications expert, advisor and entrepreneur, Peggy spent the first two decades of her career as an award-winning editor in New York City, where she held senior editorial positions at some of the most iconic names in women’s media, including Vogue, Glamour and Real Simple, before becoming Editor-in-Chief of More and Global Editor-in-Chief of Reader’s Digest. She returned to the Bay Area in 2013 to serve as Editor-in-Chief of Sunset Publishing, and in the same year co-founded Shebooks, an e-book company devoted to publishing stories by and for women. Peggy is an advisor and investor with Portfolia, which creates investment funds designed for women to back the companies they want to see in the world. She is also a mentor with SHE-CAN, the educational organization that trains the next generation of female leaders in post-genocide countries. She currently serves on the board of directors of Washington & Jefferson College.

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