How Telling the Right Stories Can Make People Act on Climate Change

From the Conversation, slightly abridged

by Tom van Laer Senior Lecturer in Marketing, City, University of London, and Ross Gordon Associate Professor in Social Marketing, Macquarie University

We can survive climate change. There is something simple and concrete that each of us can do. Telling and sharing stories, from the scientific to the personal, is one of our most important tools. Engineers, geographers, and marketers work together to improve energy efficiency in the homes of low-income, older people in Illawarra, a region in New South Wales, Australia.

First, the energy use and attitudes towards energy efficiency of 830 households in the community were measured. Then, a series of 11 focus groups were carried out to collect their stories relating to energy efficiency. These stories were then used to help develop ten short filmsEach film features real project participants telling their stories and focuses on the energy use of an everyday household appliance… We conducted cognitive neuroscientific research using electroencephalography to identify brain wave activity associated with watching these films…

Brain response was especially strong for the fridge freezer film, which featured a real project participant telling stories about his fridge… This household appliance has been associated with the visceral nervous system and deep inward feelings, because it stores a basic need: food. We already knew that engaging stories can put you in another person’s shoes in a figurative sense. The fridge freezer film suggests that watching an engaging story can also transport you into the “body” of an object.

Instead of presenting a narrative of helpless climate change victims and an inevitable future of defeat, these films tell stories that bust misconceptions and myths… Let’s rewire our brains and act. A better environment starts with us.

16 thoughts on “How Telling the Right Stories Can Make People Act on Climate Change

  1. Say WHAT?

    We can all rewire our brains and create a low carbon economy by listening to the fridge freezer’s story

    If that’s what happens when you get your brain rewired, I’ll pass thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Where was this research done – Room 101?
    “You will love your fridge”.

    People really do this sort of research for a living? And are proud enough of it to broadcast it? Good grief!

    Like

  3. The comments are quite fun. Ming Fangjian picks them up about a claim that Fiji is vanishing under the waves, pointing out that it’s a couple of steep volcanic rocks 1600m high, and Robin Guenier points out that the Chinese are defying rising sea levels by buildiong artificial islands. The response so far is: “talk to my fridge.”

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  4. The Fridge Story Video is at the article. The elderly gentleman is a born raconteur. Here’s his story:

    When a man came to conduct an energy audit, he checked the fridge for the rubber seals and all that, to see if the electricity was escaping. The electricity man told me, by opening the door, we disturb the air in there, and probably cause most of the cold air to come out. I don’t know the answer to how efficiently open the fridge to get the milk out to put in my coffee, and then I put the milk back in. Should I close the door in between, or should I leave the door open?

    My second refrigerator in the garage was the first one we bought when we were married. It is a Kelvinator, and it is still going after 49 years. It is so old that it was before the star system came out. We never used to look, at those stars. We keep our frozen things in it, soft drinks and alcohol, because my fridge in the kitchen isn’t all that big, and I think the older fridge is cooler, and keeps the food fresher. Everything is so chilled and beautiful when you get it out.

    One of my friends told me the Kelvinator uses more power than a new fridge. They went out and bought a new fridge, and it cost them 800 bucks. They said it was the best 800 bucks they ever spent, and were amazed at how much less electricity the new one actually used. They noticed the difference on the bills straight away.

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  5. Of course, the fridge story is really a Tale of Two Scams – ozone-friendly refridgerants that burn down tower blocks clad in ‘climate friendly’ insulating panels and A-rated energy-efficient, planet-saving fridge-freezers whose energy savings are probably annulled by warmer temperatures and the stifling heat inside A-rated hermetically-sealed ‘eco-friendly’ homes whose windows can’t be opened in summer.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “We conducted cognitive neuroscientific research using electroencephalography to identify brain wave activity associated with watching these films…

    Brain response was especially strong for the fridge freezer film, which featured a real project participant telling stories about his fridge… This household appliance has been associated with the visceral nervous system and deep inward feelings

    Thank you for that, my wife and I haven’t laughed as much all year.

    Now, if it had been about dish-washers…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As a control, they should have wired some pensioners up to an electroencephalograph and sat them down in front of this:

    It’s a much better story so probably would have revealed the sort of heightened brain activity they should be aiming for when telling people stories about fridges.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Paul Matthews has commented, and my good friend Ming Fangjian has replied:

    Here’s my take on the story. The authors want the gentleman in the film to ditch his 49 year old fridge which “keeps the food fresher .. so chilled and beautiful when you get it out” in favour of a new 800 buck fridge which will probably pop its clogs in five years, but which uses less electricity.

    With all due respect, the gentleman in the film is not going to see the amortization of his 800 bucks in his lifetime, and is best off sticking with his 49 year old Kelvinator, which obviously recalls happy memories of a long, successful marriage.

    The authors, on the other hand, are lecturer and professor of marketing, and are therefore professionally involved in teaching their students how to persuade people to buy things.

    They are also proponents of a green, ecological ideology which preaches less consumption. One sympathises with their dilemma.

    But is that a reason to wire the brains of old age pensioners to electroencephalographs?

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  9. Always wondered if I was opening fridges/freezers doors wrong.
    the seal on the top handle side always goes for me (why not make it of more robust rubber/plastic?-quess they want to sell more).
    think i need to undergo cognitive neuroscientific research using electroencephalography (EEG) to identify my brain wave activity to solve this problem.

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  10. My fridge tells me off when I leave it open for more than a minute. I HATE it!!!!
    Clearly I need electroencephalography (EEG) to identify my brain wave activity during these times of crisis and to repress this problem. More than the the seal on the top handle side is at risk here from my uncontrolled hatred. I am in urgent need of cognitive neuroscientific research. Can you get it on the NHS?

    Like

  11. The comment deletion has started at the so-called “Conversation”, making the “conversation” a meaningless nonsense.

    There are two comments by someone called Greg Reid, replying to comments by Robin Guenier and David Walker, both of which were deleted.

    One of my comments was deleted. It said something like
    “What a heartwarming story. If only we could all learn how to open our fridge doors correctly, the planet could be saved from annihilation.”

    If you’ve had a comment deleted there, please post it here if you kept a copy or can recall what it said.

    I have just put a comment up at the Conv, saying
    “It makes a nonsense of the so-called “Conversation” if comments on one side of the conversation are deleted but responding comments are left up.”
    This will, of course, soon be deleted.

    Like

  12. Oh dear. All Ming’s comments dating back over a year have gone, just as he was getting into his stride. He was about to post his sixth or seventh comment of the morning when a message came up that comments were closed. So he posted it at another article by Tom van Laer here
    https://theconversation.com/five-reasons-why-game-of-thrones-satisfies-our-needs-apart-from-all-the-sex-and-violence-80502
    It’s gone now, together with 300 odd other comments. Here it is (or was):

    In your article about energy saving, you invite us to view a short film about a fridge. it’s not as exciting as Game of Thrones, but it raised interesting moral questions nonetheless.
    The elderly gentleman in the film mentions that his second fridge (a Kelvinator) keeps the food fresher. “Everything is so chilled and beautiful when you get it out,” he says with emotion.

    But the Kelvinator is forty nine years old and dates from his marriage. The voice over then suggests, (rather brutally I thought) that he should only use it on special occasions, like Christmas and Easter. Now we all have kit that works less well as we get older, but I thought it was a bit impolite of the expert to suggest he limit its use to three times a year, particularly as his wife was present. Luckily I didn’t have electrodes attached to my brain when I watched it.

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  13. Oh dear. RIP Ming Fangjian. I wonder if he might be reincarnated.

    One of the comments deleted was simply a transcript of what the chap in the film said about his fridge, wasn’t it? I like this bit:

    “When the man to conduct an energy audit, he checked the fridge for the rubber seals and all that, to see if the electricity was escaping”

    I was shocked to learn that he has two fridges – a second one in the garage. Doesn’t he care about saving the planet for his grandchildren?

    Like

  14. Pingback: Saving Fiji – from Abu Dhabi | Climate Scepticism

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