Narratives Can Motivate Environmental Action: The Whiskey Creek Ocean Acidification Story

We view the Whiskey Creek story as being more salient in influencing public opinion than much of the other important scientific work that arose at the same time, work which is generally presented in a expository, non-narrative format lacking the human focus of the Whiskey Creek story’’ narrative

Ryan P. Kelly; Sarah R. Cooley; Terrie Klinger

2013

Scholarcy highlights

  • Human activities change natural systems and alter the ecosystem services those systems provide to society
  • We suggest the narrative form of information disproportionately influenced the policy response in this case, and we pose three hypotheses to explain why such narratives might be effective in linking science to environmental policy, drawing from the literature of economics, environmental policy, and cognitive psychology, respectively
  • The much more rapid spread of the Whiskey Creek story coincided with—and, we argue, contributed to—the adoption of new policy in Washington State, while the spread of other regionally important data on the effects of ocean acidification—such as work pertaining to pteropod dissolution—was comparatively slower
  • We view the Whiskey Creek story as being more salient in influencing public opinion than much of the other important scientific work that arose at the same time, work which is generally presented in a expository, non-narrative format lacking the human focus of the Whiskey Creek story’’ narrative
  • What attributes of the WC narrative transformed it from a simple story of stress in a local, family-owned business to a case that motivated action at the level of regional government? How did the WC story avoid dismissal as an unfortunate alignment of biophysical and social factors? We suggest that this story gained critical traction because it featured identifiable and sympathetic characters—real people—with both the capacity and the willingness to share their story outside the boundaries of their community, and because their story was consistent with the effects predicted by a growing body of biophysical data
  • In the WC case, we suggest that the narrative was effective because it localized information about the global phenomenon of ocean acidification, effectively inserting the science of ocean acidification into the feedback loop between human and natural influences on the marine environment

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