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Climate Characters: An Introduction

In this article

We want all the stories

When it comes to climate stories, there are no perfect heroes. No Birkenstock-wearing, granola-eating, tree-hugging hippies in bike brigades coming to save us all. (Okay, fine, there are some—but they can’t do it all on their own!) We’re moving past the tropes of dorky do-gooder, angry vegan, and the eco-terrorist villain who prefers his pet cat to the town he’s about to blow up. The people who care about climate are real and multidimensional and flawed.

Because everybody is having and will have a unique experience of this crisis, every character can be a climate character. They don’t have to be climate scientists or activists: your climate characters could be the young queer person made to feel unsafe in the shelter during a hurricane, the crusading small-town lawyer who can’t get his antidepressants after a wildfire, the grandmother in a wheelchair stuck on the tenth floor when the elevator goes out in a heat-wave power outage, the neurodivergent teen who finds community in a green tech class.

They’re your roommate stripping as a side gig to fund their new nonprofit. A couple wrestling with whether to have kids. A teen skipping school to strike with his crush. The grad student struggling with panic attacks. A conservative farmer from Georgia witnessing escalating storms decimate his peach crops, profits, and spirit. An auntie who becomes a solar engineer. The Sierra Club lobbyist racking up frequent-flier miles because of their long-distance relationship. The Latino preacher who takes on the coal plant suffocating his neighborhood. A young oil-rig worker enduring an existential crisis. A grassroots activist secretly longing for a pedicure and a martini.

They’re neglectful parents, or alcoholics, or people struggling with depression. They’re the school jock or theater nerd, the secret authors of fanfiction, the managers of their dog’s TikTok. Their humanity is genuine, as is their concern, courage, and passion.

Not everyone can or should be Greta Thunberg. Most climate characters will be everyday people, the kind we recognize from our own lives. How would Carrie Bradshaw respond to a flash flood ripping through her favorite shoe store? What would Larry David do when his neighbors failed to follow new water-conservation regulations in drought-ridden Los Angeles? What does The Sex Lives of College Girls look like when a heat wave blows out the power and everybody’s vibrators die?

Bottom line: “environmentalist” isn’t a character trait—and climate change isn’t just an environmental issue in the first place.

Who are the characters who will bring your climate stories to life?

PROMPT

How do your characters react or respond to the climate crisis? How do the psychological impacts of it manifest in them? Are they obsessive, depressed, in denial? Do they ignore it, only for it to explode out in other ways?

Are they courageous, or even blindly optimistic? Are they able to take action?

How do the emergency and their feelings about it show up in dialogue? Are they able to talk about it honestly, or are they evasive?

We want all the stories

Just like our planet needs biodiversity in order to thrive, our narrative galaxy needs diverse characters and stories.

Having a diversity of voices at the table, and a diversity of characters on the screen, isn’t just the right thing to do: it will give rise to better climate stories, and show how interconnected climate is to the many injustices and cultural experiences impacting people’s lives. Telling real climate stories means talking about the real differences between us (more on that in our article on Intersectionality and Justice). This might mean bringing members of other communities into your writing process, and being secure enough to know that hard work and vulnerability are necessary elements of getting it right. That is how we’ll capture the truth of what it means to be alive in this warming world.

Centering Indigenous, Black, and other underrepresented storytellers and characters can help the whole world envision the way forward. Representation in stories is a matter of survival in a very practical sense. And for those who are already more than represented, this is a rallying call—to listen, communicate, and write stories that take you out of your comfort zone.

We need the full range of culture, creativity, lived experience, and inspiration to respond to this crisis. It’s about saving the whole goddamn planet, after all.

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