My name is Cassandra Ceballos, and I serve as the new Talk Climate Manager at Climate Generation. In my role, I’ll be overseeing community engagement programs and climate storytelling. In that spirit, I’d like to introduce myself to you by way of sharing some of my story.
Born on an island in the Caribbean, oral tradition and the passing down of stories from one generation to another is a vital part of our culture.
Specifically, I come from an island called Ayay by its original inhabitants, the Taíno. Today, it is known as St. Croix, part of the United States Virgin Islands. Some call us a territory, but I think it’s important to acknowledge what we really are: a modern day colony. Growing up in a colony in the Caribbean surrounded by the most amazing natural beauty, juxtaposed against the reality of violent crime, poverty, and disinvestment, I sought to make sense of the cognitive dissonance through poetry and narrative. Though the path that took me down was winding and not always clear, it eventually led me here, talking about climate change and the power of personal narrative.
While storytelling is in my blood, I firmly believe that we can all be tellers of our own stories and even help others discover theirs. Unfortunately we don’t take enough time to reflect on our personal stories, nor listen to others. Yet, paradoxically, doing so could be one of the greatest tools in our fight against climate change.
That’s why my guiding motto for the Talk Climate program, and the work I hope to do at Climate Generation, is “Storytelling for All.” Climate change is real, it’s happening all around us, and we are not doing enough to stop it. We need more people, everyone really, living and interacting in a way that is in harmony with the earth and each other if we ever hope to successfully combat climate change.
Stories are powerful, much more so than we give them credit for. Take slave plantations for example. Like many other Caribbean islands and southern states, there is a preserved plantation, Estate Whim Museum, on St. Croix. When you visit a slave plantation, as I did many times on class field trips, you enter from the Great House. You receive the tour from the plantation owner or overseer’s perspective. Why not from the slave’s perspective?
People marry, and host functions or events on plantations. Meanwhile, the history of the land remains unacknowledged. How would it change the way we think of these spaces if we made a conscious effort to remember and memorialize the site of tragedy for so many? That’s the power of storytelling. Sharing stories makes people realize they are not alone. Storytelling helps build community and it helps people heal together.
The idea of healing together is one of the foundational drives of the Talk Climate program.
As a defense mechanism against white supremacy and a colonialist legacy, I put walls up against certain groups of people based on my own preconceived bias. I didn’t have the patience or the compassion to listen to someone dismiss my identity, or the reality of climate change. Just as they would throw up walls when confronted with certain trigger words like global warming or white supremacy, I would make the easy choice not to engage with folks who I felt discounted my humanity. This strategy must change.
Accountability, truth telling, and reconciliation are three necessary components of building a better future. Talking about white supremacy is uncomfortable and difficult. Talking about climate change is difficult. But, what’s even more uncomfortable and difficult is living under the suffocating blanket of it without acknowledgement. In order to get everyone thinking about climate change and working together to stop it, we have to start talking to people different from ourselves. I myself struggled with that for a long time.
We need to figure out how to bring more people into the fold of tackling climate change. Clearly I think personal climate stories can help do that, but I also think not starting with climate change can also be a useful strategy to target what some folks call “the movable middle.” What do I mean by this? Well, we probably all know someone who doesn’t believe in all “this climate change nonsense” and shuts down at the mere mention.
But, what if we decided it was okay for folks not to believe in climate change from the very beginning? What if we started conversations and built relationships by talking about all the other things in the world that would be better if we effectively and equitably tackled climate change? I have personally convinced a right-wing climate change skeptic to invest in renewable energy and stop lobbying for coal jobs, through a conversation that was independent of climate change.
Believing in climate change is not a morality issue, but stopping it is.
If we can get more people talking about climate change by shifting our approach to how we start those conversations, I firmly believe we can create transformative change together.
One such method of reaching folks through personal storytelling is deep canvassing. Deep canvassing is a method of community engagement and political campaigning that involves having in-depth conversations with individuals about issues they care about. The goal is to build a connection with another person and understand their perspective, rather than just trying to persuade them with a set of talking points. Deep canvassing has been used in a variety of political and social campaigns, including those related to climate change.
Climate stories are a key component of deep canvassing efforts related to climate change. For example, a climate story might be about how an individual has personally experienced the effects of a severe weather event or how they have seen the impact of climate change on their local community. By sharing these stories, activists hope to build empathy and understanding around the issue, ultimately leading to more support for climate action.
Climate change activists can use deep canvassing to engage in conversations with communities and build support for climate action. By having in-depth conversations and sharing personal stories, activists can understand their perspective and concerns, and tailor their messaging to address those issues. Activists can use climate stories to help people connect with the issues on a deep level and build empathy for those who have been affected by climate change. By focusing on building relationships, deep canvassing can be an effective way for climate change activists to build support for climate action and create lasting change.
To learn more about deep canvassing for climate action, explore the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication’s recent case study, The Power of Listening: Deep Canvassing Increases Support for Climate Change Action in Rural British Columbia.
If you want to receive monthly emails with Talk Climate tips, stories, and research, I hope you’ll subscribe to the Talk Climate Digest to join the conversation.
Cassandra Ceballos serves as Talk Climate Manager for Climate Generation, overseeing community-based programing and climate justice storytelling. To the role, Cassandra brings years of expertise in multisolving through her work first at Climate Interactive and then the Multisolving Institute. Cassandra attended the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia on a full merit scholarship. A proud first-generation college student, Cassandra graduated in 2017 with a dual-major in Economics and Sociology. After college, Cassandra worked to increase representation of young adults of color within conservation corps through The Corps Network’s Moving Forward Initiative before transitioning to serve as a Crew Leader for opportunity youth at the Montgomery County Conservation Corps. Born and raised on the island of St. Croix, in the US Virgin Islands, Cassandra is passionate about advocating for justice and equity within and across the environmental field. Cassandra lives with a cat, Nutmeg, in the Mid-Atlantic and enjoys local music, reading, stand up comedy, and birdwatching.