One day roughly 7,600 years ago, with glaciers melting and global sea levels rising, the Mediterranean Sea burst over the last rocky precipice separating it from a shallow lake north of what is today Istanbul. Thundering downward with the force of 200 Niagara Falls, this catastrophic deluge destroyed nearly everything in its immediate path and triggered history’s first recorded displacement of climate refugees.
Ask people if they know this ancient calamity and most will say no. But ask if they’ve heard of Noah’s Ark, the biblical rendering of this very flood, and most can recount not just the story but also its moral: the imperative of saving life on Earth from destruction by rescuing two of every animal.
That’s the power of a strong story. It endows events with meaning, motivates people to action, and survives the test of time. Today, as we confront a rapidly warming climate, rising sea levels and an accelerating loss of life among everything from corals to honeybees to elephants, we need more — and more effective — storytellers to help bend the arc of natural and human history.
Our challenge lies in the fact that the strands of these stories are often abstract, distant and complex. Yet nobody is more skilled at distilling complex stories than the entertainment industry.
Hollywood’s best movies (and increasingly, Bollywood’s and Shanghai’s) engage and inspire mass audiences. Among those, the best environmental stories frame tough challenges in ways that not only spark people’s sense of morality, but also empower them with the belief that they can make a difference.