SLU news

Storytelling for the planet

Published: 29 November 2021

The climate crisis is not just a crisis of rising temperature and declining biodiversity, it is also a crisis of imagination, as Amitav Ghosh famously argued. Societies do not implement the radical changes that are needed, because we lack the stories that help us to imagine how we can respond to a crisis on a planetary scale. But, what stories do we then need and how should they be told? These are questions that the project Storytelling for the planet sets out to investigate.

The practice of telling stories is as old as humanity itself. We tell stories to entertain, to soothe, to agitate, to teach, to preach, to remember, and to make sense of things that baffle our minds. Lately, a new theme has emerged – storytelling for sustainability, stories that aim to contribute to sustainability. Such storytelling appear in a wide array of practices, such as activism, science communication, marketing and arts. While some kinds of storytelling might help us envision a sustainable future, other kinds might instead deceive us. What kinds of stories are told? Who is telling the story, and how does that affect how the story is told - who gets to be the hero, who or what play the parts of villains and distressed damsels?

The Mistra Environmental Communication project “Storytelling for the planet – what is it, who does it, where and why?” set out to develop tools for critically assessing storytelling practices. The great diversity of storytelling practices are mapped in order to establish a better understanding of how, why and by whom the stories are told. The project specifically focuses on the ethics of storytelling for sustainability, shedding light on the dangers and possibilities of this emerging practice.

“We crafted this project because we were puzzled and frustrated with some of the ‘business as usual’ storytelling practices. These stories seemed to imply that we merely had to be ´smarter’ as consumers to achieve sustainability. At the same time we also wanted to critically scrutinize the more radical storytelling practices that we felt affiliated with.” says Martin Westin, researcher at SLU. 

The project is a collaboration between SLU, the WET Centre and Greenpeace.

Text: Emily Montgomerie

The project is funded by the Strategic reserve. This is a pot of money that has been set aside to support activities that go over and above the current work of the programme, and that expand and/or enhance the programme in strategic and innovative ways. Read more about the strategic reserve.


Portrait photo of a man, photo.Martin Westin

Researcher at SLU