Derek Nielsen Photography

Derek Nielsen Photography

Uncategorized Climate Hope Through Storytelling
Image of a lush green forest in the Michigan with the sun peaking through the trees

Climate hope is a new term. The term is growing in popularity as the climate crisis becomes worse. Every day we are reminded of the serious environmental issues our planet faces. We should certainly recognize these issues, but all too often, these reminders leave us paralyzed. When the narrative is so dire, we turn inward instead of outward to take the issues head-on. How can one person make a change? The problems are too big or too far along. It’s too late. Wrong. Nature is resilient and endlessly resourceful. The stories we tell shape our future.

What Is Climate Hope?

Large male moose in Grand Teton National Park standing in the woods looking directly at the camera
Heir To The Throne – Fine Art Print Of 50 – Derek Nielsen Photography

Climate hope is a concept around driving positive content forward, like presentations, headlines, photographs, news articles, or blogs, to inspire people. Lift them up. Create a mindset around opportunity and potential instead of stirring negative emotions. We have all been there, stuck in a feeling of hopelessness as if there is nothing we can do about the planet’s future. Climate hope has the power to unite and drive change. We do need change. 

News Organizations Need To Do Their Part

image of Bryce Canyon at sunrise with a deep red glow across the landscape
A Fresh Start – Limited Edition Print of 50 – Derek Nielsen Photography

I began writing this article on July 11th, 2023. That week alone, the news headlines read… Landslides in California, Dangerous Floods in Vermont, World Records Hottest Day For Third Time In A Week, Texas and Southwest Under Severe Heat Advisory. The list goes on and on, but to not scare the reader off, I’ll move on to the hope part. In addition, the rest of the month’s headlines only got worse. To clarify, this was in the United States alone. These headlines get the attention of viewers and dominate the news. 8 out of 10 people never make it past the headline when reading the news. A study shows 59% of links shared on social media have never been opened to read what is inside. Just think about that. What we are being inundated with is clickbait, and it works.

Other headlines that received little attention… Bison Making Return To Indigenous Lands, Electric Vehicle Sales Remaign Supercharged, Humpback Whale Population Booming, Candy Bar Wrappers Go Plastic Free. We need to keep hearing these stories. We need to keep seeing these headlines. Headlines like these give us hope. News organizations often use sensationalism in their headlines to drive traffic and sales.


“People high in hope have sustainably better physical and mental well-being. They also tend to live longer and happier lives. High-hope people see and respond to the world differently, and they use their thoughts to focus on what they can control.” Dan J. Tomasulo, Ph.D.

Changing The Narrative On Climate Change Through Storytelling

Floating icebergs and gagged peaks of Antarctica
Last Frontier – Limited Edition Fine Art Print of 6 – Derek Nielsen Photography

Nature is resilient and rebounds well if we allow it to. Every year we see natural disasters occurring across the globe. Yet, we see a remarkable rebirth in those exact locations years later. For example, Yellowstone National Park suffered devastating wildfires in 1988. Nearly 800,000 acres of forest were affected. That is nearly 36% of the park. However, by the following year, much of the affected areas were in the process of regrowing. On the whole, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is now thriving.

 One of my favorite success stories in conservation involves the beloved Mountain Gorilla. Mountain Gorillas faced an almost inevitable extinction based on their population trajectory. Deforestation and poaching drove this population to the brink of collapse, with only 300 individuals left on the planet.  Through the hard work of scientists and government officials, the population has rebounded to well over 1000 individuals. Along with the rise in population came a new way of appreciating them. These animals now bring tens of millions of dollars to the local economy each year. Furthermore, the attitude of an entire county changed. Gorillas are now revered instead of seen as a trade commodity or nuisance and are seen as a global success story in conservation.


Climate Hope Sparks Activism

Black and white image of a mountain gorilla laying in the forest looking at its hand
The Thinker – Limited Edition Fine Art Print of 6 – Derek Nielsen Photography

Direct action fuels climate hope. Find small ways to get involved. We have all been out of shape at some point in our lives. Surely the idea of going to the gym or going on a run is daunting at this stage. But, after taking a few small steps and being consistent, we’re feeling better just like that. Activism is the same way. Small steps can lead to big changes.

 I am currently doing a social experiment to show how one person can change the minds of many and how getting a community involved leads to greater change. After I picked up 100 full bags of trash over four months in my neighborhood, no cultural shift has changed. Almost every day, I can go down the same few streets and pick up the same amount of plastic trash. In the Fall of 2023, I will contact schools and local organizations in my area for support. I will show the difference between a one-person effort vs. a community lead effort. Find organizations meeting up to make a difference, or start one yourself. We have strength in numbers. Patagonia has a great list of resources available on its website to help people get involved in their local communities.

Getting Kids Involved To Drive Climate Hope

forest and plants
Fresh Air – Limited Edition Fine Art Print of 50 – Derek Nielsen Photography

Get your children involved or speak at a school. During a recent conversation with Jack Lighton, CEO of SeaLegacy, he told me about the power of getting children involved. He said, “Children are a great demographic to get involved. They bring fresh concepts home and relentlessly drive them forward if they are passionate about them.” I know we all can relate. Remember sitting at your dinner table sharing the things you were most passionate about with your family? I certainly do. Equally important, the children are the planet’s future. Thus, getting them involved early will make a huge difference in our planet’s health. There are also considerable benefits to your children’s health by surrounding them with nature early in their development. Here is a list of great organizations or books that can get kids excited about getting involved. 

  • Kids For Saving The Earth – The mission of Kids for Saving Earth is to educate, inspire, and empower children to protect Earth’s environment.
  • National Wildlife Federation – Aims to get kids outside at least one hour a day. Work with schools, caregivers, parents, and policymakers to drive home the importance of outside activity instead of screen time. 
  • National Geographic’s Dr. Gabby Wild – Through her engaging and kind personality Dr. Gabby Wild has educated children across the globe on the importance of loving and respecting wildlife, including co-authoring two children’s books through National Geographic. 
  • Dr. Jane Goodall Rootsandshoots – Great resource guide for youth interested in getting involved locally or globally in social justice, pollution, climate change, and more.

How Storytelling and Climate Hope Can Lead To Action

Hadzabe tribal members standing around fire
The Chosen One – Limited Edition Fine Art Print of 6 – Derek Nielsen Photography

In the 1980s, Ethiopia saw one of the worst famines in the 20th century. A catastrophe that led to an estimated 1 million deaths. BBC reporter Michael Buerk and friend Will Rew flew aide missions into the heart of Ethiopia, delivering essential food and supplies while bringing home the stories for the rest of the world to see. As a result, Live Aide, a multi-venue benefit concert, was launched, raising millions of dollars, and broadcasted across over 150 countries to over 1.6 billion people. Through storytelling, these heroic men, among others, saved countless lives.

Best Storytelling Methods For Driving Climate Hope

The Maze of Bryce Canyon with a light snow covering the canyon walls
The Maze – Limited Edition Fine Art Print of 50 – Derek Nielsen Photography
  • Public Speaking – Organizations like Toast Masters International and Dale Carnegie help people become better public speakers. Public speaking is certainly not easy. It is usually one or two on most people’s list of greatest fears. But, with a little practice, anyone can do it. A Keynote I saw from Ryan Gellert at the 2023 SXSW convention significantly impacted me and so many of the hundreds of people in attendance. In his message, Ryan emphasizes the need for collaboration across industries to take environmental issues head-on out of necessity but also to be seen as an opportunity. 
  • Writing – If you are reading this, you can see how something like a simple blog can bring together information around a central point people search on the internet. In this case, climate hope is my target. The internet is a powerful tool if used correctly and with the right intention. Many local colleges offer writing classes to improve our creative writing skills. Not everyone has to write for the New York Times or National Geographic to make an impact. Although, these publications are some of the best for a reason. 
  • Podcasts – Today, podcasts are as popular as listening to the radio while driving from destination to destination. Companies like Spotify have entire playlists dedicated to the power and art of storytelling.
  • Documentaries – After watching two of the most powerful documentaries I have ever seen, Seaspearcy and My Octopus Teacher, my vision of our oceans will never be the same. Both of these stories tell such important yet impactful messages. To this day, I can no longer eat octopus. In addition, I also need clarification on what sustainably caught anything means. Check out the documentaries to see precisely what I mean. 
  • Photography – As a photographer, this is my sweet spot. I have seen firsthand how one photograph can move people into action. A friend and colleague of mine, Cristina Mittermeier took a photograph of a starving polar bear sparking global attention to what is really happening to the planet due to climate change.  Derek Nielsen Photography has raised over $100,000 for environmental organizations in the last year through charity auctions and fine art print sales. Photos can help change the world. A photo tells a thousand words.

What Is Next For Climate Change?

abstract image of ice in Antarctica with various curves and deep blue colors
Blue Infinity – Limited Edition Fine Art Print of 6 – Derek Nielsen Photography

In the few weeks since I began putting together this article, the world has seen the hottest July in the planet’s recorded history, floods across parts of the world while intense heat scours a majority of the Nothern hemisphere. At the same time, a global coalition to cut methane formed, Solar jobs are on the rise, and the President of the United States clean energy spending is helping stimulate the economy. There is hope.

We see so many physical signs of environmental disaster. However, so many species, including humans, are finding ways to cope with the changing world. As Ryan Gellert said in his 2023 SXSW keynote, “I always believe businesses will do the right thing once they have exhausted every other option.” Fortunately or unfortunately, we are at that point. We must begin a global shift from “what-about-me-ism” to “how-can-I-help-ism.” As I have said many times on social media, just like a colony of ants working together to tackle a massive task like bringing down a much bigger object, we humans need to organize, collaborate and act as a colony to tackle this problem. The more time we spend in nature, the deeper we fall in love with it. Get outside. Visit a national park. Take that dream trip you have always wanted. Our passion for nature fuels climate hope and will be a major factor in saving this planet.

Derek with a penguin

Hello! I'm Derek.