A Climate Story for Every Show
What’s your favorite television series? Fleabag? The Golden Girls? Whatever your preference, the scriptwriters who created The Climate Storytelling Playbook think there’s a place in it for climate change. The playbook, a first-of-its-kind resource, was created to help Hollywood tell more and better stories about global warming—and about impacted communities of color that are pushing for solutions. In this excerpt from the online playbook, the project creators imagine how the climate crisis could show up in a wide range of popular shows. Is one of these the onscreen climate story for you?
Because the climate crisis affects every part of our lives, it also fits into every genre. We will die happy when we see a climate rom-com. (A climate activist falls in love with the daughter of a fossil fuel tycoon, anyone?) And detective fiction lends itself so well to this moment in which we need all the problem-solving skills we can get. Action-adventure, buddy comedies, political thrillers, police procedurals going after climate criminals, Wes Anderson-style ruminations on the meaning of home…
Climate has a place in every story. The climate crisis can be integrated into any storyline and genre, from a passing mention to being the driving force of an episode. You don’t have to dutifully churn out pamphlets on emissions. (Please don’t do that; there are so many pamphlets.) You can still write the stories that are most important to you, and climate can be part of them.
A bunch of classic U.K. soaps coordinated crossover climate-themed episodes ahead of the U.N. climate conference COP26. Imagine the crossover potential in the Marvel Cinematic Universe!
The potential for drama is endless. When his mother is diagnosed with lung cancer, a teenage boy sets off on a one-man mission to sabotage the plastics factory next to his house. As fires close in on Los Angeles, a woman must escape, and she has nowhere else to move but into her uncle’s climate-denying, hyper-religious household. A heat wave causes so many unhoused people to need the ER that a doctor loses his shit in the cafeteria, quits, and joins the circus—OK, that one’s a mess, but you’re the writer.
You get the idea: bad for humans; great for story fodder.
In “Climate Stories in Action,” we illustrate the point using imagined climate loglines of off-air shows, plus case studies of films, TV shows, and novels that are already doing the awesome work of portraying the climate crisis in moving and entertaining ways.
PROMPT: Try out a climate crisis story for the protagonist of your favorite show or the last show you worked on. How would Tony Soprano deal with the emotional fallout of flash floods in yet another hurricane? How would he cope with the uncertainty of climate breakdown? Or what would Will Smith do if he had to cancel Uncle Phil’s surprise birthday pool party because of wildfire smoke? What would Jack McCoy do if a climate activist was arrested and the case landed on his desk?
Here are a few climate loglines for off-air shows that we love, several of which are by writers from those rooms.
Genre: Animated comedy
Logline: BoJack goes to his high school reunion, only to discover all the monarch butterflies he was in drama club with have died. (Written by BoJack Horseman writer/producer Elijah Aron.)
Genre: Political drama
Logline: A huge protest against an oil pipeline is raging outside the White House. When a famous Indigenous youth activist, Melanie, receives multiple death threats, Olivia wants to help but has a conflict of interest: Melanie has uncovered that President Grant’s campaign donors are major funders of fossil fuel pipelines.
The Golden Girls
Logline: On the brink of hurricane season, Dorothy is terrified and wants to call in their repairman to do some serious weatherproofing. Blanche is on board—if she can watch the handsome young repairman’s backside while he cleans out their gutters and downspouts. Rose tells her to keep her libido in check, and to Blanche’s horror, his $15k quote does exactly that.
Genre: Children’s animated comedy
Logline: Susie invites Tommy over to her house to see the “stroller panels”—creatures that live on the roof of her house and eat sunlight. Tommy is afraid, and it takes an adventure up to the roof for him to realize the creatures are friendly and “make Earth happier.”
Genre: Crime drama
Logline: When water usage is restricted in Neptune, 09er households disregard the regulation and continue to fill their mansions’ pools with no legal consequences. Pissed off, Veronica is determined to hunt down the billionaire bribing Sheriff Lamb and make sure county police hold them accountable.
Logline: This year on Purge Night, if the criminals don’t get you, the Category 5 hurricane might. (Written by The Purge executive producer/writer/showrunner Krystal Houghton Ziv.)
Genre: Supernatural action drama
Logline: Jesse Custer makes an uneasy alliance with Hitler, who, now that he’s taken over for Satan, is pissed that global warming lets the Damned not mind the fires of Hell as much. (Written by Preacher creator/executive producer/showrunner Sam Catlin.)
Logline: When George starts dating a climate activist, Kramer goes berserk after talking with her, trying and failing to find the right way to act. He stops eating meat, stops showering. What is the best way to be?!
Logline: When the hot priest invites Fleabag to a climate protest, she agrees to go for one reason only: to troll for end-of-the-world sex, the best kind of sex there is.
Logline: Tracey wants to have sex with Connor, but he’s gone plastic-free and refuses to wear a condom.
Logline: A big summer storm has led to flooding in Dumbo, and the 99 is recruited to help with the rescue effort. Terry gets competitive with Rosa about how much debris they can each clear, while Jake and Amy get stranded in a collapsed building with several hysterical residents.
Logline: When Martin complains about the homeless, Frasier tries to shame his father by inviting a homeless man to spend the night in the recording studio during a freak snowstorm. But when the man invites a bunch of his friends to come stay as well, Frasier is torn between looking bad and having them inhabit his studio until March—“or longer, if this crazy weather keeps up!”
Logline: It’s been 75 degrees for a week in December, and the study group is loving that they can work outside in the sun—all except Britta, who gets them to help her stage a protest to get Greendale to divest from fossil fuels. It’s broken up by the dean, who tells them Greendale is already carbon-neutral: They can’t pay for fuel, so the power comes straight from a kinetic generator—powered by Chang running on a treadmill.
Logline: When Greta’s neighbor is hospitalized for asthma, she discovers that she is living in a “sacrifice zone”—a typically working-class neighborhood within 2 miles of an oil well—and that asthma is rampant in her apartment complex. She enlists the GSA to campaign for a greater buffer zone between her community and the oil wells. But Chester, Delilah, and Ana decide to take more direct action—and are detained for trespassing. (Written by Genera+ion writer Michelle Denise Jackson.)
Excerpted with permission from The Climate Storytelling Playbook, created and published by Good Energy Project and The Center for Cultural Power. Read more about the collaboration here.
The Center for Cultural Power is a women of color, artist-led organization, inspiring artists and culture makers to imagine a world where power is distributed equitably and where we live in harmony with nature.
Good Energy is a story consultancy for the age of climate change. Their mission is to inspire, support, and accelerate stories in scripted tv and film that reflect the world we live in now—and help us envision a better future.