, Volume 43, Issue 5, pp 592–599 | Cite as

Narratives Can Motivate Environmental Action: The Whiskey Creek Ocean Acidification Story

  • Ryan P. Kelly
  • Sarah R. Cooley
  • Terrie Klinger


Even when environmental data quantify the risks and benefits of delayed responses to rapid anthropogenic change, institutions rarely respond promptly. We propose that narratives complementing environmental datasets can motivate responsive environmental policy. To explore this idea, we relate a case study in which a narrative of economic loss due to regionally rapid ocean acidification—an anthropogenic change—helped connect knowledge with action. We pose three hypotheses to explain why narratives might be particularly effective in linking science to environmental policy, drawing from the literature of economics, environmental policy, and cognitive psychology. It seems that yet-untold narratives may hold similar potential for strengthening the feedback between environmental data and policy and motivating regional responses to other environmental problems.


Environmental decision-making Social–ecological systems Human dimensions Narratives Marine policy 



The authors would like to thank COMPASS for the opportunity to participate in the ocean acidification communications training in September 2012, from which the idea for this manuscript derived. Two anonymous reviewers substantially improved the product, and the authors are especially grateful for the thoughtful reviews that pointed out additional timely and relevant literature that provided further context for the piece.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ryan P. Kelly
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sarah R. Cooley
    • 3
  • Terrie Klinger
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Marine and Environmental AffairsUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Center for Ocean SolutionsStanfordUSA
  3. 3.Department of Marine Chemistry & GeochemistryWoods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA

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