These lessons from 350.org share four different organising responses from different countries to climate impacts. These are:
- The US response to Hurricane Matthew
- The UK’s response to flooding from Storm Desmond
- The Pacific’s response to Cyclone Pam (Vanuatu)
- Australia’s response to reef bleaching
They are shared as part of the Organising Story-telling Lab, a collection of different case studies and stories of organising and movements from across the globe collated and presented by 350.org.
The story telling lab weaves lessons from a range of stories and perspectives, including people close to the ground and nationally.
Each case draws out lessons from the people involved and concludes with broader generalisations. Whilst these case studies are focused on 350 and the climate movement the lessons learned and reflections are applicable to any campaign.
See the original stories available as slides on the 350.org Organising Story-telling lab. The Commons has made minor formatting edits to the original such as adding headings and quotes.
Climate Impact Stories
1. US responds to Hurricane Matthew
US responds to Hurricane Matthew as told through the eyes of Sabelo Narasimhan, US Digital Campaigns Manager
The US teams spent time thinking how to integrate climate impact response work. We created a flow chart to help us decide priorities:
We saw Hurricane Matthew coming and tried to assess: Is it connected to our campaigns? (Not exactly.) Is it big? (We don’t know yet.) Can we politicize it? (Maybe there was a Presidential debate around the day it would land.)
We made a plan
A week before the storm, when we didn’t know how big it was going to be. We created a team to keep track of the storm (including Aaron and Thelma so it was watched through 24-hours a day).
Masada checked the four states that would be hit. We didn’t have groups in those states.
We reviewed electoral issues, seeing different ways this could make a political impact.
As Matthew got closer, we watched as it was causing massive casualties in Haiti and Cuba where over 1,000 people died! (Aaron also sent messages to folks in Haiti, Jamaica, Bahamas.)
Several states announced evacuations for millions of people. We took this as a sign that this was a big deal. So we prepared to send stuff out.
We picked two kinds of message
1. The rest of the country
We decided to influence the Presidential debate, held just days before Hurricane Matthew landed. The request was simple: “Vote on a debate question.”
The Presidential Debates commission is allowing the public to vote on what questions should be asked for the second debate. Only the top thirty questions with the most votes will be considered for the debate on Sunday, and there are 3 good climate questions in the running that could be asked – if they make the cut.
Can you push to have the next debate address this crisis?
- How will you keep fossil fuels in the ground to mitigate climate change?
- Will you stand with Native Americans and oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline?
- What is your plan to combat climate change and build a green economy?
2. Messaging to those in impacted areas
After the hurricane struck, we targeted four impacted states (part of the letter):
Climate change is real, and so many people are feeling the effects of it – but a large number of people in power (including one running for President) think that it isn’t happening, or isn’t a problem.
If you’ve been affected by Hurricane Matthew, and are now in a safe place, can you send a message about the reality of climate change and the need to address it now?
It doesn’t have to be complicated: just shoot a quick video or write a message and take a photograph with it letting the world know what it’s like to wait in the path of a superstorm or deal with its devastating aftermath – and then email it to us at [email protected]
Here are some things you could talk about in your message:
- The moment you knew you had to evacuate because of the storm, and what you were feeling as you left.
- What you are expecting to see when you come home; or if you are home, what you’re seeing now. What will cleanup and the path to recovery look like for you?
- What you would say to the Presidential candidates if you were talking to them right now.
Impacted by hurricane
The ask for story-shares was an experiment. We didn’t get that much of a response. Less than a dozen stories were submitted, even though nearly the mailing to 20,000 people had a nearly 21% open rate.
Duncan took those stories and put them in a blog after the fact-plus a related meme:
HOW CLIMATE CHANGE MAKES HURRICANE MATTHEW WORSE:
- Warmer oceans = stronger storms
Matthew has the highest cyclone energy of any storm in the East Caribbean ever.
- Warmer oceans = heavier rains.
Heavy rains caused mudslides, flooding and more across Haiti when Matthew hit.
- Higher sea levels more flooding
Low-lying Fondant more at risk than ever
Stay safe, this is a dangerous storm.
What lessons did you draw from this?
- Shocks get our attention more than slides
Big time-specific impacts like superstorms and fires come up a lot in discussion of climate impacts. We don’t want to reduce it to those. Those are those that grab space on the front pages and people talk about. So they are the easiest things to talk about – but they are not everything.
- The ad hoc team worked
This was a test opportunity to see if the ad hoc process worked. I think it worked. I think we need to keep testing, but we were able to organise an ad hoc team to assess together and make good judgements under time pressure.
- What to ask impacted people to do?
Could we have asked more of people in the midst of the storm? Maybe. But we felt like those who weren’t in impacted areas had more mobility to take action. But asking those who were impacted felt a heavy ask, especially without relationship.
- The work got dropped after the event was over
This kind of impacts work doesn’t live with anyone. So it’s distributed amongst people who are really slammed on capacity and there’s not much broad follow-up work and nobody to call people individually.
- Just telling climate impact shocks carries risk
We need to also tell positive stories. As we tell stories of suffering, people want actions so they don’t feel hopeless. And people want to hear stories of resilience. There’s a balance here.
- “Where do I donate to help out?”
One thing we didn’t do: figure out an answer on where to send donations. We could have used someone to vet different organisations. Almost all our messaging had a link to donating to relief efforts.
2. UK Responds to floods caused by Storm Desmond
UK Responds to floods caused by Storm Desmond as told through the eyes of Louise Hazan 350 Europe Digital Campaigner
At the end of 2015, Storm Desmond hit the UK. There was torrential rain across large parts of the country. Tens of thousands of buildings were flooded. bridges washed away, and major roads and homes flooded. The devastation hit headlines.
Five out of the 6 wettest years since records began have all occurred after the year 2000. But since 2010, the government has been drastically cutting flood defenses right at the time when weather patterns are changing.
I’m part of a network of climate campaigners called the UK Flood Crisis Network – an e-mail list of people working on climate and interested in collectively responding to floods. It includes flood experts and grassroots campaigners.
This was a significant event in our own backyard that we didn’t want to ignore.
The UK Flood Crisis Network provided briefings on the big picture situation – how it connected to climate change. They put together resources on the climate science, quotes from experts, etc.
We convened ad hoc CLIP reponse team: Nicolò, Mel and I discussed:
What can we do that’s not going to appear tokenistic, that’s not a duplication of what others are already doing, and that shows people in our network the issues that we work in day-in and day-out? How do we sensitively draw the connections back to our work?
The initial instinct was “point the finger” and highlight the impact of government cutting funding for climate defenses. We also wanted to put a human angle and highlight the stories of people suffering because of the cuts.
We settled on a couple of actions.
Actions to mobilize the broader public
We chose a petition to help give expression to people’s feelings of dissatisfaction. People wanted to express frustration with government cuts to flooding defences and this was a simple way to do that.
Honestly we didn’t believe it would make a big political difference. We joined ally organisations to deliver people’s messages tied to hundreds of Wellington boots outside parliament.
To David Cameron
The devastating impact of recent UK floods served as a stark reminder that climate change is not a distant threat, it is happening now.
Link to the full petition.
Actions to connect with people directly impacted by the floods
We reached out to a fairly large segment of our list in the UK to ask people for their stories. But we didn’t want to be extractivist about it. We wanted to collect real stories where people were suffering from severe flooding. We struggled to target just those impacted.
I’d normally be writing to wish you a happy new year and tell you about exciting plans to tackle the climate crisis together in 2016. But, on behalf of 350.org, I’m sorry to be writing to send you our wishes for a speedy recovery from the damage caused by recent floods in and around Testville, especially if you were affected personally. Please know that our thoughts are with you and all those affected.
If you think there are ways that 350.org can help, please let me know. One of the things we can definitely do is to share your stories from on the ground with the rest of the world – through our online reach. So if you have photos, visuals, stories or any words you’d like to share of the floods in your area or the recovery process, please do reach out to me. Have recent events changed you views about the climate change crisis or has there been anything particularly surprising about the government or community response in your area you’d like to share?
I totally understand that at this point recovery and practical matters will be your number one priority, but if you have a moment to relay any stories or insights, we’d be most grateful and will help to share them more widely.
Stay strong, warm wishes for 2016,
Louise for the 350.org team.
The petition delivery was visually powerful and got some “flash in the pan” media airplay on the day. But no longer-term, real world impact. I hope it made a personal impact on politicians who walked passed it and read the messages.
One way I satisfied calling out the culprits was doing some fairly cheeky memes in social media.
Impacted by floods
We only got a few dozen responses. Our targeting was too wide and some told us they had no flooding. Quite a few said, “I’m busy volunteering and can’t send photos now…”
In a few cases it led to on-going conversations. with folks I would not normally have been connected to. People appreciated being asked.
We asked people in affected areas in the UK If they’d like to share their experiences and thoughts with you Here are some of the words and photos we’ve received.
Frances McGuire who lives near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire wrote to tell us she had been volunteering to help with the flood recovery since Boxing Day. The Yorkshire town’s centre was completely flooded when the river burst its banks the day after Christmas. She sent in these photos.
What lessons did you draw from this?
- Our action needs to fit into long-term strategy
I think people’s stories got told in the way they wanted. But it didn’t feel connected to a longer-term strategy. It didn’t feel appropriate to pivot from their stories into: “That’s why we should all divest institutions.” It just felt too opportunistic. Not entirely sure how we would do that differently.
- Targeting messages matters
Actionkit is built for US zip codes, so we had to pore over flood maps to pull out places where it happened. Given that it was so imprecise we should have refined the language we used a little bit.
- Make clear, direct asks – even in hard times.
In the letter to people in flooded areas, we should have been clearer about what we wanted people share. The questions were a little too broad and so were the results.
We could have been more direct in linking flooding to our campaigns. Like saying very gently, “Your story is a powerful example of why we need to deepen involvement in the climate/divestment movement. I know now is a very difficult moment but would you be willing to be a spokesperson to wake up PM Cameron and the nation about fossil fuels?”
What lessons did you draw from this?
- Pick multiple communication points – not just e-mail
What we didn’t do in combination with this blast was more on social media outreach. Increasingly people are sharing stuff like live videos or photos or bits of videos or insights from their smart phones. I’m not sure that just relying on e-mail blast was the right way to get the best ‘first-person’ stories of people impacted by flooding.
- People need to take action and vent
Even though we didn’t get loads of signatures or stories (nor did GP or FOE), it was a way for people to do something. And that, at least, helped with people healing.
3. Australia Responds to bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef
Australia Responds to bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef as told through the eyes of Cam Klose Communications and Media Coordinator 350 Australia.
Australia has had increasing numbers of bush fires, droughts, floods and we’ve talked about those in terms of climate. But they are often dismissed as, “We’ve always had bad weather.”
But 93% bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef is striking- the complete death of a reef is an awful thing to see.
In some ways, it was easier for us to tell a coherent storyline because we don’t look like we’re taking advantage of people’s deaths (as we would with floods or fires).
As part of the international strategy on Exxon, Aaron asked us to take pictures of the bleaching of the reef. Aaron’s proposal came through tied well with what we wanted to do.
We had one stellar volunteer in Cairns, the tourist city next to the Great Barrier Reef: Zelda. She started with us through Break-Free.
At first, the idea was we take underwater pictures saying “Exxon destroyed the reef.” It wasn’t only Zelda who didn’t like that framing – I didn’t either.
In Australia Exxon has no reverb. We wanted to connect it to AGL (our major energy provider).
Zelda was not keen on “killed the reef” – because she heard from tourism operators that they don’t want the global message to be that “the reef is dead.” She explained the framing had to be inclusive and not sound blaming towards the many local people who are working for the fossil fuel industry.
So we let Zelda, who was on-the-ground, frame the messaging
How to get the photos by 8 July?
- At first I started talking with tourism operators. I naively thought reef operators would be on our side. But they all refused to take us on their boat.
- Zelda finally got one sailboat to agree to take us out – until they cancelled. Apparently the local industry body was influencing people – and it was run by a staunch climate denier.
- With broken leg, Zelda drove to Port Douglas and finally found someone to take them & photographers!
This was a sign of the challenges we faced.
In the end, we made two separate narratives.
For the global, we used “Exxon killed the reef”
I felt this was going to global audiences and therefore wouldn’t hit Australian audiences. As I guessed, this banner got no local press coverage.
For Australian national we tied it to AGL.
and when it was local we used “bleached the reef”.
Global Press Release
Exxon killed the reef: Coastal communities point to fossil fuel industry for killing the world’s vital coral reefs
Divers from Australia joined with coastal communities around the world to wrap crime-scene tape around dead coral reefs during a series of underwater dives aimed at highlighting the catastrophic damage to this valuable ecosystem and the culpability of the fossil fuel industry for its loss.
A series of underwater photographs collected from the Australian Great Barrier Reef, Samoa, and the Andaman Islands released today – demonstrate the impacts of the worst mass coral bleaching in recorded history and how it is one of the consequences of the reckless behaviour of fossil fuel companies like Exxon who have hindered global climate” action for decades.
National/local press release
Local residents highlight link between coral bleaching and Australia’s biggest carbon emitters
Cairns and Port Douglas residents will today take the plunge into the Coral Sea to highlight the link between Australia’s biggest carbon polluters and damage to the Reef.
Divers will be photographed with a banner saying “Mass Reef Die Off – brought to you by Australia’s no. 1 polluter AGL” above bleached coral near Port Douglas. AGL is Australia’s largest producer of carbon pollution, the main driver of climate change, which has caused the worst coral bleaching event in history.
Reflections from this experience
What would you want others to learn?
- Nuance your messages
You can have two concurrent narratives. This is necessary when we’re dealing with global, national, and local situations.
It is a tension I often feel. And the media doesn’t help us nuance – so we have to pick a fairly broad topline message. But we can choose to send different messages to different communities.
- Make space for local opponents
As tough as it was, we made space so that tourism operators can come on board in the future and that workers in fossil fuels didn’t get blamed. We were careful to frame to not exclude them.
- Don’t burn the local community
We worked hard to keep relationships good with the local community. We could not have pulled this off without Zelda. We needed someone savvy and who knew the community.
It’s important to take the more nuanced messaging and accept the views of the local communities and work with them to create that narrative of climate.
- Build local capacity
After the action was done, the local group should be stronger. The local messaging was important but it was valuable to be part of an international effort and raised Zelda’s profile, too.
- There’s a natural tension between global, national and local – we felt it, but it worked out through humor and flexibility
The local group was very adaptive, finding ways to message and make the whole thing happen. But Aaron was nimble, too. He pushed back the deadline by a week. Good because of the trouble we had. Plus, the final week it was too windy for the photo shoot.
- I have to make the ask: “I need you to do this thing”
This worked because Zelda listened to people on the ground and nuanced our messaging appropriately. But I had to ask – knowing it was more important to build a relationship than just get images
- Global partners should prepare for extra expenses
Having the support of Aaron and global was critical. In the end, we needed extra money. It was more expensive than we thought. But also Zelda made choices we didn’t consider. She made sandwiches for everyone and made sure everyone was taken care of and that had not been factored originally into the budgeting. It’s not taking shots of the reef, it was building a brand new 350 group.
- Zelda was great!
4. The Pacific Responds to Cyclone Pam
The Pacific Responds to Cyclone Pam as told through the eyes of Koreti Tiumalu 350 Pacific Regional Coordinator.
“We’ve got news that this Cyclone Pam is coming our way.”
Koreti, Fenton, and Aaron decided to share updates and meteorological information with people in the region. So we had a link into NIWA so we could get the most up-to-date staff and information.
Our immediate response was to contact Isso. He works in Emergency Response and is our 350 coordinator in Vanuatu. Without him, everything would have been totally different. (Prior relationships matter so much!)
As soon as Pam landed, we were sharing with people in our network and on facebook evacuation points, to get into the main town for safety. Isso, in Vanuatu where Pam hit hardest, shared with us how bad the flood was getting.
Over the next 24-hours
Isso had internet access and was sending pictures and video all through the day and night. The mainstream news services (like BBC) got their info from 350.
Fenton and Koreti stayed online all through the night, since Isso was still sending updates (amazingly their office still had power!).
Because we had “live” information, journalists contacted Fenton for interviews. Families called us and Facebook’d, asking if we had information on different villages. All night we shared information.
The next day we had more private messages. Isso drove around doing damage assessment, which meant more images and connecting people with their families. In that moment, it felt like the most important thing we could do to connect.
The Next Day
Being a resource meant more questions afterwards. We would get random messages from people outside of the Pacific. (“I’m a medical student in my final year, how can I support?”) We leaned on Isso for advice on where to work with people.
Offers of money were common and a point of tension. We didn’t feel suited to create a structure to take money. Groups like AYCC wanted to set something up – and we felt like that isn’t the best use of our time. We wanted to stay focussed supporting the team.
We didn’t want to change our role by telling people you could give us money and pass it on. It didn’t feel right. (It wasn’t something they were structurally prepared to do!) We had to reach out our hands to pull in those who were doing that really well.
Building a community & movement
How does this build our movement?
Choosing care and compassion first made it easy for us to build relationships, including following-up with groups later. We had no trouble collecting stories people wanted to share with us because they knew us and trusted us as a voice.
Isso did interviews we set up with CNN and HuffPost. He spoke organically of climate change. (Though locally we talked more of immediate need and impact.)
What got in our way?
- People from outside the region kept asking, “Where should we give money?” Aaron wanted to harness the energy and create a fund to give money for emergency on-the-ground needs…
- …but Koreti & Fenton did not. We felt it was not our expertise and would be a distraction away from our constant work. In the end, we did not become a conduit.
- We were absolutely exhausted and had gone without sleep. So the pressures of arguing over taking money was very hard under the circumstances.
Reflections from this experience
What would you want others to learn?
- Prior relationships matter so much!
This worked because we had a relationship with Isso, who brought connections with national agencies.. Without him, it would have been a completely different experience.
- Different messages, but still include the human element
When outside journalists contacted us our message was about the impact and why this had happened (climate change). To Pacific media, we talked about our care and concern for those involved. And, we put the human element into all news storiesIt’s becoming evident that people want to be connected to each other and connect our feelings to these terrible things happening.
- Don’t force it if it doesn’t feel right.
This was biggest storm in most of our lives. It felt inappropriate for us to collect those stories in that moment. Instead, we focused on providing immediate need. Only later did we spend the time to collect stories which was made easier because people trusted that our intentions were pure.
- Human connection during the storm
Fenton kept checking in to make sure that Isso was okay doing more interviews. He was, even though he didn’t know about the safety of his immediate family on another island.
Take a moment to let all those cases sink in. Think about these stories. Let’s look at overall lessons. Then: what are outcomes?
Last, we’ll share two ideas.
Before, During, and After the Event
What lessons did we see?
- Create ad hoc team
To monitor news, discuss political impact, etc.
- Discuss how to handle donations ahead of time
Global partners should prepare for extra expenses (if appropriate)
- Prior relationships matter so much!
Don’t just leave it to an e-mail, call directly to see who you have
- Make clear, direct asks – even in hard times
You have to make the ask: “I need you to do this thing” for it to happen.
- Targeting your messages to different groups
Create different messages for folks locally then a general audience. Make space for local opponents)
- Pick multiple communication points – not just e-mail
- Human connection during the storm
- People need to take action
Given that need, find ways to fill it
- Build local capacity
One goal could be the after the impact is of there is more local organising structure/support in place
And remember: Don’t force it if it doesn’t feel right
What are other lessons?
What other tips or lessons should we add to these different categories?
What should be on our checklist?
Idea #1: Shock versus slide
There are different ways of thinking about climate impacts.
Shocks present themselves as sharp, sudden moments of disruption.
Examples of shocks are: Deep Water Horizon oil spills, Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, and all the cases here.
Slides, on the other hand, are incremental by nature. They can be catastrophic, but they are not experienced as acute.
Sea level rise is a slide. Rising unemployment is a slide. The rising costs of food & energy are a slide.
What are the advantages and challenges of organising in response to shocks?
What would be advantages and challenges of organising around slides?
Shock versus slide
Currently vast majority of our internal attention goes to Shocks.
Shocks are good to organise around because they are clear, timely, and tend to attract attention. They also do not require on-going work and relationship-building – which makes them very suitable for short-term social media work.
Of these cases, the closest to a Slide is the Great Barrier Reef. The bleaching was sudden. But it wasn’t a one-day affair, and that made it easier to use it for base-building.
This is important to mark: slides are less “in-your-face” but offer some unique organising opportunities because it’s one our timeline and gives time to build relationships with directly impacted people outside of a major, sudden catastrophic incident.
Idea #2: Engaging general audience & directly impacted people
What were the different methods of engaging people? (What were the different “asks” made of people.)
And the categorise them – which engaged the general audience and which engaged directly impacted people?
The Climate Impact Team has been thinking about some of this …
Different types of engagement
The 350 CLIP team has come up with 5 types of responses.
1. Expression of Empathy & Solidarity
At its simplest, it’s a tweet like this one pictured here, where we acknowledge the event and show our concern for the peoples impacted. It might be other forms of social media too.
2. Citizen Journalism & storytelling
We reach out to local supporters asking for photos, videos and stories of how the community is handling and responding to the impact.
3. Elevate the issue into global spotlight
We focus a global spotlight on an impact. This may include a global email blast, social media frenzy, live blog and press release(s) or op-eds.
4. Mobilise resources to respond
We have done very little of this. This is recruiting donations / resources to help people on-the-ground.
5. Pivot to call for climate action/call out climate criminals
This is where we want to use the moment of crisis brought on to pressure climate criminals or create a context where decision-makers feel pressure to take bold climate action.
Engaging general audience & directly impacted people
- What other methods could we try out that we haven’t?
- Which of these lessons affect how you will do your work?
- Based on these lessons, what can you immediately apply back to your work?
- What are big challenges that got raised on this call – ones that may be too big to implement right away. How will you keep thinking about them?
Write them to a trusted colleague on slack, or on the #innovations channel.
For example, Daniel’s self-reflection:
1) I need to collect stories of slides happening in various regions of the world. It’s a great way to teach and often better than teaching people by talking about the science. So that’s an easy start. I can then share these on the training site to help us grow in this direction;
2) I’m challenged about supporting us to organise more on slides. I think we need more stories of organising on slides AND need to figure out how to help us experiment in this area. I need to set-up a monthly check-in with my supervisor (Will) to make sure I’m pushing this along. I’ll go schedule that now.
Written by Daniel Hunter.
- Organising Stories and Lessons from the 350 Organising Story Telling Lab
- Koreti Tiumalu from 350.org speaks at Progress 2015
- Australian Campaign Case Study: Divestment Campaign 2013 – 2021
- Australian Campaign Case Study: Stop Adani, 2012 – 2022
- Introduction to Campaigning and Social Movements (Online Courses)
- Build People Power and Capacity to Run Effective Campaigns and Movements to Tackle the Climate Crisis
- 350.org (Organisation)
- Lessons learned_Reviews_Reflections
- Movements_Campaigns - Climate action and justice