Empowering Action Through Storytelling and Film


By Matt Goldklang


Paul Lussier, professor of both graduate and undergraduate environmental communications at Yale University, sees limitless possibilities in environmental films. As a producer before coming to Yale, Paul realized the power of storytelling and value-congruent narratives with regards to environmental change. He saw the world falling prey to the categorization of climate change as a “science” problem. As a pioneer of humanistic communications, Paul is changing the way people interact with the broader idea of climate change. It is no longer separate from the intimacies of everyday society.

Environmental problems are commonly told through the paradigm of science and data. Paul sees this as only one paradigm for assessing human relationships with nature. Science is not the sole discourse that enables knowledge. Belief, whether it be in religion, political systems, or cultural values, are all discourses with huge impacts on knowledge and action. Films allow us to marry the language of science to other, more comprehendible human values. Storytelling becomes a narrative vehicle, in which both scientific understanding and human values together influence individual and societal action. A scientific treatise on climate does not nearly have the same power as a story about a boy who carries his dog for miles on his back to escape a flood.

The lack of values in our dominant modes of science communication has created an action gap within environmental action. The Environmental Film Festival at Yale (EFFY), as Paul says with delight, bridges this action gap not only because it increases the viewership of these films, but also, it creates conversation around them. The panels morph into discussions with agency. People are greatly affected by these films, and EFFY captures that moment, allows people to share their concerns, and connects people through shared value. Community building is a complex communications challenge to tackle, and EFFY enables the necessary connections."

The community response to EFFY also exemplifies a larger undertaking that storytelling provides: learning a new language. For those who are concerned about the environment, and can only speak on behalf of their own experiences, through film, learn to speak through the lens of storytelling. Films connect stories. These connections are tangible. Festivals, such as EFFY, are essential in helping advocates connect a variety environmental values and the value-holders into a network. Attendees see how different stories and values can be integrated into a network within the greater Earth system, Paul posits. Nature doesn’t operate outside humanity, and humanity doesn’t operate independent of nature. Films, with their immersive, visual storytelling, deconstruct the human-nature dichotomy.

matt goldklangMatthew Goldklang is a senior at Yale University studying Geology and Geophysics, and Energy Studies. He focuses on climate change and energy communications, and works at the Science Communications Network with Impact (SCWIN) at Yale.