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At Berlin's Human Rights Film Festival, activists and experts discuss how to put a halt to climate change with positive storytelling


During the panel, speakers explored how positive storytelling can help activists to forge alliances, sensitise public opinion and stimulate good policymaking

At Berlin's Human Rights Film Festival, activists and experts discuss how to put a halt to climate change with positive storytelling
Berghof Foundation executive director Andrew Gilmour speaking during the panel

On 22 September, Berlin's Human Rights Film Festival hosted a panel entitled “Putting a Halt to Climate Change”. The gathering, which unspooled in the German capital from 16-25 September, aims to inspire and educate its attendees, opening their eyes to several humanitarian issues, as seen from new perspectives. The talk covered the different strategies we can implement to slow down, and ultimately stop, climate change, and whether the traditional storytelling approaches – showing the aftermath of fires or floods, for example – are sufficient to sensitise the masses.

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The talk, moderated by Movies that Matter's artistic director, Margje de Koning, was opened by a brief speech by Berghof Foundation executive director Andrew Gilmour. During his contribution, Gilmour stressed the idea that the ones currently most affected by the consequences of climate change are “the poorest people, often living in the poorest countries in the world”, even though they have basically “zero impact on producing the carbon” that is harming them. “If industrialised countries don't understand this injustice, we're not going to gain the momentum we need,” he warned. He then highlighted the importance of forging alliances and winning people's hearts with realistic strategies, “threatening” carbon producers with serious class actions, and strengthening social activism and positive storytelling efforts.

Next, de Koning introduced the other speakers: the Heinrich Böll Foundation's head of International Environmental Policy Division, Lilli Fuhr; German activist Franziska Heinisch; and Thimali Kodikara, co-host of the Mothers of Invention podcast and a representative of Docsociety.

Fuhr started the discussion by pointing out, “Radical proposals for change must be considered radical realism.” Heinisch added that, despite people's widespread feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness, many are still able to demand solidarity and change. She agreed that these demands are most definitely radical, but also sorely needed.

Kodikara later talked through her podcast and its aims: it focuses on the efforts made by black, brown and indigenous women who have been innovating from the front lines of climate change for generations, with the intention of disproving the erroneous assumption that these, along with other minorities and under-represented groups, cannot provide concrete contributions to policymaking.

After a brief discussion on the role of (de)colonisation and its effects on the climate emergency, Heinisch shared the fact that, during her current work on developing a campaign about the impact of Germany's automotive industry, she had to deal with many “geo-political implications, linked to the grabbing of resources and emissions, but also to the question of how to change this status symbol and transition to a new image of public transport. [...] It's not just about climate activists wanting to eliminate cars,” she said, and added how important it is to co-operate with people who may have lost their job or have been damaged somehow by the corporations operating within the sector, in order to also give voice to their struggles.

The second part of the panel invited open questions and contributions from the crowd. On a more positive note, Kodikara explained that some great work has been done “over the last three to five years” and, while still not sufficient, “there has been an explosion of conversations around climate change and climate justice, very much women-led and women of colour-led”. Towards the end of the panel, Heinisch suggested, “Everything we need [for change] is already here. [...] We need to tell fewer stories about how big the problem is. We need these too, of course, but we also need to portray the individuals, the initiatives, their struggles, in order to give hope and stimulate people to get involved,” she concluded. The event was brought to a close by an uplifting speech by Heinisch, focusing on the importance of chasing “utopias” to redesign our lifestyle, our work and the places we live in for the better.

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