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Good Energy Stories Playbook – Review

Good Energy Stories Playbook
Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

Good Energy Stories Playbook is a very timely and vital addition for the world of climate fiction (cli-fi). The climate crisis was given a global platform in June 1988, with Dr James Hansen’s Senate testimony. But the intervening 34 years haven’t seen as much cultural climate coverage as one might imagine.

In terms of cli-fi books, many novels have been dystopian, and I’ve called for more cli-fi stories which are grounded in the present and feature solutions. Film and TV haven’t been much better, with The Day After Tomorrow, being the main offering for a long stretch of time. However, the Good Energy Stories Playbook hopes to rectify this. Labelled as, “A playbook for screenwriting in the age of climate change,” the playbook has a wealth of information for those seeking to incorporate climate change into their scripts and stories.

What is the Good Energy Playbook?

“We are story consultants for the age of climate change.” – Good Energy Stories Playbook

The Playbook is one of those resources that makes you think, why haven’t we had something like this before? It’s a compilation of a vast array of information on the climate crisis and storytelling. It seeks to help people in the TV and film industry, incorporate climate change into their storylines.

Reading the Playbook ‘cover to cover’ will organically inspire climate related stories, as this is a naturally informative resource, which non-experts can easily get to grips with. Failing that, there are ‘story seeds’ and prompts throughout, which the reader is free to do as they please with. If that isn’t enough, the Playbook includes character profiles to help writers shape their own story characters. The Playbook team have even compiled a list of climate-related mentions in TV, film and books in their case studies section, to give additional inspiration. 

A list of primary sections or chapters in the Playbook include:

  • Foreword
  • The Why
  • Intro to Climate Storytelling
  • Tips and Tricks
  • Characters
  • Story World
  • Climate Stories in Action
  • What’s Next
  • Credits

When did the Good Energy Playbook Launch?

The Good Energy Playbook launched on the 19th April 2022. A video of the launch is available from The Center for Cultural Power.

Why is the Good Energy Playbook important?

To understand why cli-fi is important, we first need to understand the power of stories. Humans are wired for story. Our species has been labelled as “Homo narrans” by Walter Fisher, meanwhile Jonathan Gottschall prefers the term “Homo fictus”. Whichever way you approach it, we are creatures of story. Research from a climate perspective has shown that stories can be more effective than facts, at encouraging climate action. Stories must therefore be a crucial component of climate communication. Learning how to write these stories is where the Playbook comes in.

According to an article in Variety, Good Energy were the first to commission research into film and TV series to investigate climate change mentions over the previous five years. The results were quite astonishing. The research assessed 37,453 films and TV episodes from the US, between 2016 and 2020. The results showed that only 0.56% of films and TV shows mentioned “climate change”. When expanding the terminology a bit further to incorporate any of the 36 related climate keywords, such as “climate crisis”, “sea level rise” and “renewable energy” amongst others, only a measly 2.8% of scripts returned these keywords. The biggest story in the world doesn’t seem to even be a story.

Another problem has been that the fossil fuel industry has been the main storyteller of the climate crisis, which has skewered the narrative in their favour. The Playbook explains how the fossil fuel industry has dominated this area in detail here.

So given the unforgivably low volume of climate stories to date, how can people start incorporating the climate emergency into their plots? There’s now a clear starting point. The Good Energy Playbook. See The Climate Story Spectrum sub-chapter for more information.

Who is the Good Energy Playbook for?

Anyone who seeks to bring about climate action through their stories. Yes, this is billed as, “A playbook for screenwriting…” but it’s a resource which anyone who tells stories can benefit from. So if you’re an author, a scriptwriter or a film maker, then this is for you.

Who has written and contributed to the Good Energy Playbook?

Anna Jane Joyner is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Playbook. The core team also includes Carmiel Banasky, Scott Shigeoka, and Rae Binstock. They were supported by a stellar list of guest writers who include Amy Brady, Mary Annaïse Heglar, Dr. Peter Kalmus, Dr. Kate Marvel, Dr. Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, Amy Westervelt, and Dr. Britt Wray, amongst others. A Variety article mentions that over 100 people were involved in creating the Playbook, including climate psychologists, climate scientists, Hollywood film industry specialists and climate activists.

A list of expert consultants can be found here, for those wishing to incorporate the climate emergency into their stories.

On a side note – As a climate communicator and Author, I’m also available for story consultancy. I hold a First Class Bachelor of Science degree with Honours, from Coventry University. I also have a Distinction in an MA in Creative Writing from Teesside University (via Distance Learning). For more information about my story consultancy services, please contact me.

Who funds the Good Energy Playbook?

Good Energy list the following funders on their website at the time of writing:

  • Bloomberg Philanthropies
  • Walton Family Foundation
  • Sierra Club
  • Docsociety – The Climate Story Unit
  • 1Earth.Fund

Where can you read the Good Energy Playbook?

The Good Energy Playbook can be read on the Good Energy website here. Sub-chapters take the form of individual webpages and you simply click through them, or choose the ones that are most appropriate for your needs.

Sobering facts in the Good Energy Playbook

Some sobering facts stand out in the Playbook and are worth taking a moment to reflect on.

  • As mentioned above, research commissioned by Good Energy showed that the number of climate mentions on TV and in films is very small. For the term “climate change”, only 0.56% of the 37,453 US films and TV episodes analysed (between 2016 and 2020) mentioned the phrase.
  • According to Dr Peter Kalmus’s write-up, global temperatures are rising “By 0.1°C (0.2°F) every five years”. This matters because every fraction of a degree rise in temperatures has profound knock-on implications and pushes us closer towards exceeding the 1.5C target agreed in Paris.
  • The Playbook states that, “Searches for “climate anxiety” soared 565 percent in 2021 (not to mention the eye-watering 4,290 percent increase in use of the word “eco-anxiety” in 2019).”
  • Referencing a 2021 survey in the Lancet, the Playbook says, “That almost 40 percent of people aged 16–25 are hesitant to have kids because of the climate crisis”.

Concluding remarks on The Good Energy Playbook

The world right now is not such a great place. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. The first thing we need to do is imagine a better world. Once we’ve done that, we must use stories to communicate that new vision to a wider audience.

But perhaps the most important words come from Dr Peter Kalmus who’s become a climate activist and is speaking out to raise climate awareness and bring about climate change action. Dr Kalmus writes in the Playbook that, “We scientists are trying. But we need more than science: we need stories. My dear writers, the tales you tell now will impact the collective future of humanity for thousands of years. The fate of our planet is in your hands.”

My new cli-fi children’s picture book is Nanook and the Melting Arctic. Nanook is a caring polar bear who lives in the Arctic. But when his igloo starts melting, Nanook must find a way to save his friends and his home. He knows that the people who can help are also those who’ve caused the problem and he must find a way to convince leaders to act on the climate crisis. You can purchase Nanook from Amazon’s global stores including Amazon UK and Amazon US.

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