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Storying Climate Change: Narrative, Imagination, Justice, Resilience

Stories are crucial elements of our responses to climate change. On one hand, our collective understandings and imaginations are shaped by dominant, inherited narrative conventions; as so many public climate stories rely on strongly apocalyptic tropes, many people are uncertain how to respond to them in their everyday lives. On the other hand, stories help us make shared emotional and relational sense of the complexity of large-scale ecological and social transformation. Recent works of climate-related fiction, poetry, and memoir that reflect a range of literary possibilities thus present a powerful, alternative cultural repertoire. Indigenous and other communities in which stories are integral to ecological understanding lead the way.

Storying Climate Change aims to extend this vital eco-cultural activity by bringing together diverse experts, activists, and creative writers for a lively, interdisciplinary conversation about climate change as a process in need of public story, especially as that story unfolds in the midst of issues of social justice and decolonization. Storying Climate Change, then, involves a unique undertaking in three respects:

1) it brought together (March, 2018) in an intensive, place-based workshop format, scholars, writers, analysts and activists working on climate change and in cognate fields, in order to promote an interdisciplinary conversation about the kinds of stories we need to tell about climate change at the current conjuncture, specifically including Indigenous experts as part of the conversation about stories and politics;

2) it involved a longer-term collaboration of workshop participants in order to create the Rising Tides (September, 2019) collection of stories, poems and essays that actively connect current research in climate change science and policy with literary approaches to understanding, narrating, reflecting on and responding to a climate-altering and -altered present and future (Order The Collection Here); and

3) Soon, it will take elements of Rising Tides to local communities (2019-2020), where it will serve as the basis of wider public conversations about people’s responses to the stories and essays in the collection, and as a model for the generation of new stories to ground and orient meaningful personal understandings and actions. The upcoming series of local “book group” discussions of the collection, will complement the Storying Climate Change’s participatory site (on which selections from the collection will soon be posted as readings recorded by the authors, in addition to videos of the discussions themselves). The Storying Climate Change site includes space for users to add their own stories, comments and reflections, links to other humanities-based, literary and storytelling sites concerned with climate change, information about the specific communities and grassroots initiatives highlighted in the collection, and other resources for information and action.

Although the project has national and international implications, it is also strongly located in place, specifically, Galiano Island, BC, which is a powerful microcosm of larger climate justice concerns. At the same time as issues of drought, fire, species change, extreme weather, sea level rise, food security, and economic and social sustainability are part of larger climate change politics, they are also deeply local: specifically, they are intertwined with particular relations of colonialism, dispossession, settlement, and property; legacies of resource extraction and continued economic, social, and ecological precarity; and diverse, often conflicting interests in attempts to enact environmental and social justice agendas at the community level. The stories that emerged from both Rising Tides and the workshop are dense, rooted, and complicated; their subsequent presentation and discussion in other local forums is intended to elicit other, equally complicated public responses.

Cate Sandilands