Students and Faculty Highlight Climate Change Through Narrative Storytelling

Andre Stephenson

On Thursday, November 11, in the O’Connor Campus Center (COOP), “Narrating Change: The Art and Science of Environmental Storytelling in the Wake of Climate Change” highlighted the importance of storytelling and other arts in helping to spread the realities of climate change. 

The panel of guest speakers included Professor of Biology at Syracuse University Douglas Frank, environmentalist Eve Mosher and Conrad and Claudia Vispo. The Vispos are representatives of the Farmscape ecology program of Columbia County, New York. Jeremy Picard, a founding member of the Superhero Club, was also on the panel. The Superhero Club is a group composed of artists and environmentalists working on the intersection of science and theater.

The event used storytelling to help current students think of climate change as something that can be seen happening in the present day as opposed to an abstract phenomenon that is coming in the future.

“I’m interested in having our students think of climate change as an ongoing issue they own as opposed to an outside issue to be dealt with by someone else,” event organizer and Gretchen Hoadley Burke ‘81 Endowed Chair in Regional Studies Wyatt Galusky said. 

After some brief storytelling, the panel of guests dispersed into smaller groups, leading discussions and telling stories about climate change. Organizers of the event handed out a prompt to every audience member, encouraging members to think about a time when their lives were impacted by extreme weather and allowing them to share these experiences. Galusky believes storytelling is an essential part of helping students realize that climate change is not only jeopardizing the future but also the present and that such changes are visible throughout the country. 

“I liked the format a lot because it was more interactive for the audience members, and that way you could get more out of each panelist or from the people you were most interested in,” first-year Jacob King said.

Picard highlighted the extent of  man-made changes to our environment, noting that it is only now as an adult that he realizes that wilderness is not boundless. He realizes that in reality, the environment is not much of a wilderness, consisting of various power lines and man-made structures running through it. Picard cited this as one of the potential problems influencing climate change, as some of the most natural and secluded wilderness is deeply affected by modern society.

“I remember growing up near Syracuse as a kid there were these woods that felt boundless and I always sort of assumed these boundless, wilderness lands would always be there, but now I have this sort of nostalgia for something I now realize never existed,” Picard said. 

Professor Frank noted that scientists and ecologists face difficulty in trying to raise awareness about these issues.

“A lot of times I feel like I’m preaching to the choir because people are taking my class because they’re already interested in and aware of climate change,” Frank said. 

Professor Frank’s approach to educating people on the issue of climate change is through the classroom, but he also spoke about the need for other methods of outreach, like activism and theater. Frank noted that this more substantive approach to reaching the people who still deny climate change is especially beneficial because it helps to reach the young audience members, who will continue to feel the effects of climate change in the coming decades.

Picard discussed how his goal in theater is to work to energize individual audience members so that they leave the play interested in finding out more about climate change.  

“At first it was a little intimidating to be speaking with these professors and activists that are so knowledgeable on climate change, but it was ultimately a positive thing because as a young person I really don’t have the perspective that they have on climate change and it was really good to hear these stories from older people,”

first-year Olajide Awelewa said.