Environmental storytelling is one thing. A concrete ecological future is another. Between both is Yasmina Auburtin, whose job it is to help scriptwriters and authors include sobriety in their stories.
Missions Publiques. You worked for a long time in production and in the television industry. Since 2008, you have been a consultant in editorial strategies and 5 years ago you added the dimension of impact. You help scriptwriters, authors and producers to include sobriety in their creations. What was your “turning point”? And what made you realize that this field needed to participate in this transitional narrative?
Yasmina Auburtin. With a psychologist-nutritionist friend, I had set up a content agency specializing in food. I had always favored organic, local and seasonal food, mainly for health reasons and to support the agro-ecological sector, but it was then that I investigated more seriously the other side of the agro-industrial setting and really measured the extent of the disaster: soil and biodiversity erosion, alarming imbalance of the phosphorus and nitrogen cycles, destruction of carbon sinks, aggravation of climate change by ploughing etc. And then more broadly the 9 planetary limits. I must admit that it crushed me and after moving on to intensive zero waste, permaculture training, making organic jams, I saw the film Demain and other inspiring documentaries that made me think that my years in audiovisual production (in television and advertising) could be put to good use in telling the story of the environmental transition.
Missions Publiques. For you, embracing a more sustainable lifestyle means “replacing less with better”. What resources do you use to describe this “happy sobriety” and make the fiction plausible?
Yasmina Auburtin. I used to say that the framework of thought to succeed in the passage from this world to another more sustainable and more united one, is to replace the abundance of goods by the abundance of human connections and to replace the value of appearing by the value of being.Above all, I am talking about the fact that we have evidence that people are quite happy with this lifestyle (and I am not talking about living in a cave or raising goats in the mountains somewhere). To inspire storytellers, we just need to bring up these real initiatives (for the moment they are small confetti scattered all over the world) so they can be used to make us dream, so that they can build new role models aspiring to something other than the quest of having more and more (money, power, square meters, worldwide trips…). With Imagine 2050 (the consulting firm I work for), we have, for example, supported the writers of the French popular TV drama Plus Belle La Vie, which reached millions of people every night. If you want to write narrative angles that tell the story of the ecological transition without being anxiety-driven or moralistic about it, you need both scientific knowledge (how is a tree a response to global warming and biodiversity loss?) and experiences in the field of sobriety (how does a company social and solidarity-based company or a cooperative society of collective interest work? What does shared governance look like in concrete terms? By bringing them all this material, it was really nice to see their glass ceiling of creativity explode. We also had fun making a sequence more real than life, by having activists from Greenpeace, ANV-COP21(1) and even the “art-ivist” Camille Etienne(2) play their own role in a scene of citizen mobilization.With the Glénat publishing house, we have also enabled authors of children’s novels to bring these subjects more effectively to teenagers by completing their documentation work in directions that they had not thought of at first. Finally, we also regularly work with content creators on social networks who want to talk about these topics but don’t necessarily feel legitimate and don’t know how to go about it. We used to say that there is no reason to wait to be perfect to speak up. You can take any little step as a start and encourage your community to do the same!
"On an Excel table that does not take into account either planetary limits or negative externalities, this model works rather well so we don't really want to explore its hidden side.
Consultant in editorial strategy
Missions Publiques. At Missions Publiques, we have analyzed many citizen recommendations and visions for the environmental transition. If we were to summarize our findings, it would be that citizens are ready to change their lifestyles. However, the transition from individual awareness to action seems more complicated. Finally, our current model of a consumerist and capitalist society is not that critiqued. What is your analysis of this?
Yasmina Auburtin. I say that citizens and decision-makers are first of all men and women for whom, changing habits and/or thought patterns is something very difficult… all the more so since our consumer and service society has doped us up to simplicity and comfort, to speed and that on an Excel table that does not take into account either planetary limits or negative externalities, this model works rather well so we don’t really want to explore its hidden side.
In fact, I think that awareness is not enough. In my case, and in the case of many of my fellow friends and activists in this struggle, the questioning and the move to action first went through an emotional shock made of anger, sadness, an immense feeling of hopelessness in front of the magnitude of the task. The ideal would be to create the conditions for our political and economic decision-makers to be shaken, but from the heart out!
Missions Publiques. In a recent interview(3) , the author Valérie Zoydo said “when ecology becomes an end in itself in a story, we get bored (…) We must avoid the “dystopian/utopian” pitfall. The fear of the first one is a paralysis. The hope of the second only convinces the convinced. It is advisable to be at the convergence of the two because a story needs shade and light. But the most important thing is to interest the public in order to allow a clandestine pedagogy. It is thus essential to understand its expectations better, its hopes and specially to make it lean in”. What do you think about it?
Yasmina Auburtin. I have already had the joy of working with Valerie and yes, we are aligned, I totally agree with this. I am also in favor of not stubbornly trying to make “green content” but sprinkle into the programs they already like, the ingredients of a desirable world, new heroines and heroes with whom they will want to identify, working especially in a non-verbal approach.
It is also high time to tell the stories of a future that finally makes people want to live! Dystopias are the fuel for anger, eco-anxiety or resignation (screw it, sobriety won’t help) but above all, they don’t reflect the truth. Let’s remember this law of biology which is also true for humans: in an abundant environment, there is competition between species. However, in a situation of scarcity, species cooperate. It is not to be a “care bear” to spread this good news. While investigating the blackout to feed scriptwriters who wanted to know how to get out of these extreme situations, we sourced some incredible stories: inhabitants who organize themselves to collect wooden furniture to heat the elderly in priority, mobilize sports teachers to encourage people to get moving, gather cell phones still charged in a hospital to light up the operating room and allow a woman to give birth… In short, lots of anecdotes (some of which come from Texas, who would have thought?) that can clearly give you goosebumps and restore your faith in humanity. Let’s trust each other a little more and let’s get rid of the idea that man is wolf to man!
And on citizen participation around an assembly, we can only applaud the idea. At the heart of the world we want to build, there is a democratic renewal. To achieve this new narrative, we will need a lot of collective intelligence, because even when we are aware, our imaginations, stuck in the pollution of the world, are often stronger than we are! By getting together around a blank page, we can clean them up more efficiently.
(1) ANV-COP21: “Action non-violente COP21” is a movement of citizens who are not resigned to climate change and social injustice.
(2) Camille Etienne is the rising star of the “climate” generation in France.
(3) « Une Assemblée citoyenne pour écrire les fictions de la transition », L’ADN, 2022.