By Shin Furuno
It is no small task to take an issue as complex as climate change and tell it as a personal story. It is even more difficult to tell that story in a way that builds empathy and encourages others to get involved.
On June 12, 350.org Japan invited world renowned spoken word poet, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, and 350.org Pacific campaigner Fenton Lutunatabua to share their experiences through storytelling in a special workshop held in Tokyo, Japan. The event sought to introduce storytelling as an effective organizing tool, ensure the voices of Pacific Islanders — living at the frontlines of climate change — are heard, and to inspire participants to step up their commitment to climate action.
Kathy performed two poems, “Dear Matafele Peinem” and “2 Degrees,” which both connect climate change with Kathy’s experience as a mother. “2 Degrees” employs a powerful allegory to illustrate the significance of a 2-degree change in temperature. It weaves together a story about Kathy’s daughter and the realities that confront the Marshall Islands.
“We wrestled with a thermometer that read 99.8 degrees the doctor says technically 100.4 is a fever…And I think what a difference a few degrees can make…at 2 degrees my islands, the Marshall Islands will already be under water this is why our leaders push for 1.5”
In addition to sharing her stories, Kathy offered advice to workshop participants. The most important thing, according to Kathy, is to be confident in your own stories and ideas and to communicate those stories the best you can. Providing space for personal reflection and sharing among participants, Kathy opened the floor for people to share their own stories of change.
Fenton, who attended the workshop via Skype from Samoa, provided the group with some recommendations about effective storytelling techniques on the digital front, while telling the story of the Pacific Climate Warriors and their struggle to get their voices heard on the global stage. Participants were able to get a deeper look into social media posts beyond memes and graphics which capture and engage the audience in an environment where stories come and go in an instant.
Japan is also vulnerable to sea level rise and other catastrophic impacts of climate change as an island nation in the Pacific. The media only tells a small share of the climate impacts Japan faces, and often not with the depth and rigor those stories demand. As a result, the climate impacts Japan faces does not permeate to a broad audience.
We hope that this workshop sows seeds in the workshop participants to seek out their own truths about climate change and to seek out just solutions to the climate crisis.
We all need to be out there, telling our own climate stories and spreading awareness about the urgency of climate action in Japan and across the globe.