- It was an unusual speech assignment.The speech was supposed to connect climate change and health to an audience of doctors and medical researchers at a big conference for reproductive health. The Ministry know all there is to know about climate change, but nothing about reproductive health. There was simply no office or person capable of telling me the in's and out's like I was used to. So I had to do all the research myself, working much closer with the Minister than usually.
From the beginning we knew it was a bit of an odd connection. The Minister was invited as much for family ties as for his political credentials. His brother was on the organising committee and present at the conference as apparent in the speech.The minister was also quite clear from the beginning that he wanted something out of the ordinary. He felt that the argument had been made too many times that populations growth was causing climate change. He simply disagreed and taking that argument would have put the audiences' doctor wovs at odds with our call to action. It should not be saving lives or climate action - it should be saving life equals climate action (and climate action eguals saving lives)That is why the Minister wanted to make the argument that it was not the size of the population that mattered but the kind of consumption they had. The problem was the middleclass patterns of consumption and they could be changed - indeed they should be changed.That is what I sat out with. And then I started my research on WHO and UNFCCC.
- It quickly became evident from my notes that I had some startling data. But it was just that: data. It was all logos and no pathos, no ethos - no story. I had to have a story!So I invented one. I worked to connect the different statistics in a relatable way that would compose a story. That meant cutting a lot. And what I didn't cut, the Minister did in our sessions. I had different scenarios with data, I had the effects of climate change on a pregnant female body, now I needed to name that female.At first I went with Fatima. It just seemed right for the parts of the world that will be affected the most, Africa, Middel East, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia. But it was too associated with a particular religion: Islam. For a conference of american, european and entirely global audience it was too specific. It would make the case, it might even bring the story as a possible patient for the doctors, but it still had a distance. I tried a lot of names. And when I said the name Sarah it stuck. Sarah has religious associations too, but they encompass all the Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaeism. And the story of Sarah is the story of a difficult pregnancy. It had to be Sarah.
- Sarah would not only be a possible patient. She could be their wife, daughter or themselves. Telling the story of Sarah, could be telling the story of the person they love the most. Climate change could be what harms their kids, their spouses or themselves.I have always found great inspiration in writing from a parent perspective because the welfare of our children is something shared across humanity (afterall, at the hight of the Cold War, Sting made the point that the Russians love their children too). If I could take climate change and make it so concrete that they would be able to feel it in their stomach, then it would seize to be an abstract notion for scientists and science wars. It would go from abstraction to embodied experience and feed our protective instincts. I figured that for an audience having dedicated their lives to medicin, that feeling would hit home.I also tried to go further. Doctors are like crime novel lovers - they enjoy figuring out "what did it". So I made an attempt at describing the symptoms of the deceases that would be the symptoms of climate change. I thought it might engage them more. It became too much play and I think it would have drowned out the message in a game of diagnosis. A game we would no doubt loose. So the idea was dropped.At some point it was done. And on May 23, 2013 Danish Minister for Climate, Energy and Building gave the speech at the conference. I was not able to be there - I had other speeches to write - and a the time I did not know that they filmed the speech. You can see it below.
- After the speech was given I send it along to David Murray from Vital Speeches of the Day. He encourages all speechwriters to do the same. And one day I discovered that it had been published in Vital Speeches International july 2013 edition.
- That was a great feeling!
And the speech stuck with me as I read about the potential of framing climate change as public health months after I had done just that.
- Come december the Ministry agreed to send in the speech to the Cicero Speechwriting Awards.
- And on World Health Day, I thought about the speech again.
- And then all of a sudden - or rather with a 5 day frustrating delay - the winners of the 2014 Cicero Awards was announced and Climate Change and the Story of Sarah was one of them.
- I was on a high and the congratulations came rolling in - especially ion social media. Thank you everybody! Especially the vibrant social media community of international speechwriters (you know who you are)!