Climate Humor Can Break Down Barriers

Climate change is not a joke. Usually, messengers are scientists who describe how rising greenhouse gas emissions are threatening the planet’s land and sea surface, or assess the role it played in recent wildfires or hurricanes.

It is possible that society has reached saturation for somber, gloomy, and threatening science-centre conversations. This possibility inspired me to work with Beth Osnes, a colleague, to spread messages about climate change through humour and comedy.

Since around 20 years, I have been studying and practicing climate communication. My book, Creative (Climate) Communications, combines social science and humanities research to help people connect more effectively with issues that matter to them. This is not a dumbing down of science approach for the general public. It is a smartening-up approach that has been proven to bring people together around a divisive topic.

Climate Change

Understanding the magnitude of climate change and its connections to other issues like food security, disasters, and migration is crucial. Stories that are based on scientific knowledge have not been able to engage large audiences.

The majority of interpretations and approaches that are too gloomy or negative tend to stifle people rather than inspire them to act. Jonathan Franzen, a novelist, recently published an essay in The New Yorker entitled What if We Stop Pretending?.

Despite our best efforts, we have not made any progress towards achieving the goal (of stopping climate change) for over thirty years.

Research in social science and the humanities has shown that this type of framing is effective at disempowering readers. Smarter approaches could activate and move them.

Comics chose a different route when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a 2018 report warning that the world had only until 2030 to take measures to limit global warming to manageable levels. Trevor Noah, host on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, noted.

Do you know those crazy people who shout that the world is ending They’re all climate scientists, it turns out.

Kimmel Made The Following

There is always a silver lining. A planet’s calamity can be another planet’s opportunity for business. He then cut to a going-out-of-business advertisement for Planet Earth that read.

Everything has to go! 50% of all nocturnal mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects are on sale before hell can exist. You must act quickly, because the end of planet Earth is near. It’s gone.

Climate Getting Hot In Here

Social scientists and humanities scholars are looking for new ways to communicate climate change. Research has shown that experiential, emotional, tactile, visceral, and visceral communication meet people where they are, consistent with what I have written in my book. These methods are effective in eliciting action and engagement.

Scholars studied how shows such as Saturday Night Live, Last Week Tonight, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Full Frontal, and The Daily Show, use humors to increase understanding. One example is Al Gore, former Vice President and he appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert 2017 to take turns with Colbert while he offered climate change pick lines over slow-jam background music.

Gore: Are you climate change? Because when you look at me, the whole world vanishes. Colbert: I am like 97% scientists, and it is getting hot here.

Colbert: Is it an Antarctic iceberg of the size Delaware breaking apart the Antarctic ice shelf? Or are you just happy seeing me?

Gore: I’m sorry, I hope you aren’t powered by fossil fuels. You’ve been running through me all day.

Sarah Silverman, comedian, took the time to discuss climate change during her 2018 Hulu program I Love You America. She spoke out about how climate change is driven by the interests of a very narrow group and absurdly wealthy and powerful people.

“The most disgusting irony is that billionaires who created this global atrocity will be the ones to survive. They will be fine, while we all die in our planet-sized hot cars.

Breaking Down Barriers And Finding Common Ground

Research has shown that comedy can reduce defenses in times of deep polarization. It temporarily suspends social rules, and connects people to ideas and new ways for thinking and acting.

Comedy can exploit cracks in arguments. It pokes, pokes, prods, and draws attention to the absurd, hypocritical and false. It can make complex aspects of climate change more understandable and help to manage them.

Comedy can be influenced by many disciplines, such as theater, performance, and media studies. My colleagues at the University of Colorado are Beth Osnes and Rebecca Safran. Phaedra Penzullo is my co-director of the Inside the Greenhouse initiative. This uses creative fields to create effective climate communication strategies.

We have been directing “Stand Up for Climate Change” for four years. This comedy project has been a success. Our students and I create sketch comedy routines that we perform in front of live audiences at Boulder’s campus. We have learned a lot about the audience’s reactions and the content of those performances. We have found that humor is a powerful tool for increasing awareness, learning, sharing feelings and inspiring performers and audiences.

It might be humorous to dismiss climate change as a trivial issue. This is especially true for the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. A greater risk is for people to cease talking about the issue and to miss the opportunity to reimagine their futures and actively participate in shaping it.