The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combating climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series, we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. Today, Megha Agrawal Sood, Director and Head of the Climate Story Unit at the Doc Society.
When I was in my 20s, I was living in California. I had good friends who took me on backpacking trips, skiing and trailrunning – and I really fell in love with the majestic outdoors. I also saw how these places were affected by droughts and wildfires. I wanted to get involved, but I didn’t know where to start. When I looked around at different opportunities, I felt excluded, like I didn’t belong in conversations about conservation. I felt like I wasn’t wearing the right clothes, I wasn’t the right skin colour. As I started to dig a bit deeper, I saw that climate change is an intersectional issue. You can’t talk about it without talking about racial justice, forced migration and a whole host of issues.
So, I looked at my own life. I was born to immigrant parents in Houston, Texas, which is the oil and gas capital of the world. I have very clear memories of disastrous hurricanes and extreme winter storms. Climate change had always been the backdrop of my personal story. So why was it that I had this model in my mind that I didn’t have a relationship to it?
Beautiful diversity of storytelling
I’m intrigued by the power of stories to help reframe these mental models and engage more communities in the conversation around climate. A recent study published by the Reuters Institute discovered that when it comes to climate change “more people say they pay attention to documentaries than to major news organizations.” Stories are how we understand the world. They’re how we make meaning out of what’s going on and how we understand what the solutions could be.
A couple of years ago, the Doc Society started a conversation about changing climate narratives. The premise is that we need to see fewer older white men from the Global North talking about glaciers melting. Instead, we need more stories that centre the perspectives of those who are on the frontlines. The Climate Story Unit is dedicated to supporting a wave of storytellers from around the globe who are doing just that.
In our new cohort of grantees, there are stories exploring the complexity. There’s an enthralling and heartfelt musical drama, Can I Live?, by British actor Fehinti Balogun. There’s Damages, a courtroom drama style podcast by renowned journalist Amy Westervelt on different court cases happening around the globe looking at nature-based rights. And there’s El Tema, a YouTube documentary series filmed in Mexico, fronted by actor Gael García Bernal. We’re seeing this beautiful diversity of creative storytelling that resonates with so many types of communities.
Building impact with local climate leaders
It’s important that we don’t just support amazing stories but everything around them, too. We need to think about the appropriate distribution channel, so stories meet their intended audience, and look at how the story aligns with the local climate movement to help advance their goals.
One of the grantees we work with is Radio Savia, a podcast and community radio show in Columbia. The podcast, and the campaign around it, spotlighted incredible women climate leaders in different regions and has helped them form a community. It’s available on Spotify and a live distribution through WhatsApp, which is where a lot of the community building happens. It’s an example of an amazing story that has impact built in from the beginning, and which thinks about how we can strengthen relationships between existing climate leaders.
Challenging media narratives
When you see what’s happening in climate action at the community level, there are incredible collaborative movements. Policies are being passed at the city, state and country level. And there are hard but important conversations about climate justice happening.
I think what’s challenging is that sometimes the dominant narratives we hear in the media make us think otherwise. I have to remind myself that the work, that action, is happening, and the creative challenge is how we amplify it.
We need to tune out the naysayers, the pessimists, and really show that everyone has a role. No matter what your context, your background, where you live, what your skillset is – everyone has both an opportunity and a responsibility.
Hopes for the future
If I had the opportunity to speak at COP27, I would say: “Now is the time to invest deeply in the role of culture to lead us towards a more climate-just and biodiverse future. Culture is so powerful because it’s how we can rewrite strongly held narratives, shape opinions and beliefs, and build political will for legislative outcomes. Culture is the dimension where the relative importance of climate change, compared to all other priorities, must be fought and won.”
But if I’m being honest, as someone coming from a community of creatives, I must admit that we’ve struggled to keep climate change at the forefront. And we have failed to reach communities that need to be engaged. As acclaimed author Amitav Ghosh wrote in The Great Derangement: “When future generations look back, they will certainly blame the leaders and the politicians of this time for their failure to address the climate crisis. But they may well hold artists and writers to be equally culpable – for the imagining of possibilities is not, after all, the job of politicians and bureaucrats.”
I have one-year-old daughter. And I live in Boulder, Colorado, which is a beautiful town, but it’s also been marked by crazy winter wildfires and a series of other climate-related challenges. I don’t know what the world is going to physically look like for my daughter when she grows up. But what I hope for is that she always feels that she has the possibility to do whatever she wants. I want to promise her a future of possibilities.
Megha Agrawal Sood is the Director and Head of the Climate Story Unit at Doc Society. Megha believes in the power of sharing stories and building unexpected collaborations to inspire action. Megha’s previous work experience includes leading impact programming at the film company, Exposure Labs, and helping purpose-driven organizations grow at the innovation firm, IDEO.
The Doc Society’s Climate Story Fund tells climate stories from the perspectives of people and communities who are underrepresented in current narratives. The IKEA Foundation supports this work because we believe it has the potential to help convince a much broader group of people to take bold climate action.