How Humour Can Change The Climate Conversation

By engaging, inspiring and entertaining people we can make them more receptive to facts and new ideas. With this in mind, artist and activist Sydney Spaceship investigates why humour is the secret tool in the fight against climate change.

I’ve learned a few things when it comes to talking to people about global warming. 

Striking up a conversation around climate change can be a good icebreaker (pun intended) when meeting new people. However, it can also be an extremely frustrating discussion to have. It’s hard to know how best to approach the topic when people are quick to take offence or become defensive, especially when you start asking questions about the changes they make in order to lower their carbon footprint. I know, I know: you were only asking if they recycle

I was once quick to conclude that the best way to have a good global warming discussion is not to have one at all. But then I asked myself: why do climate conversations always get so gritty? I mean, we all know the scientific facts: 10 years, irreversible damage, mass extinction, more plastic than fish in the ocean, et cetera et cetera. Scientist have been preaching this mantra for decades and people are still pretending not to hear. 

The reason is simple: for some, stories of rising sea levels and mass migration can be more anxiety-inducing than they are inspiring. Straight, hard facts can have a tendency to scare people or send them into denial, pushing them to hide or ignore certain aspects of their lives in order not to think about the consequences their actions have on our environment. In a world where people respond to positivity, we have to find an uplifting way to tell people to change. 

It’s hard to talk to people about global warming without sounding moralising or worthy, and that’s something that I have learned across countless dinner tables (sorry to all involved). There is no rulebook for sustainable living that is applicable on an international scale and until we have a global and systematic solution for global warming, telling people what to do just won’t work. We need to communicate in a way that’s engaging, accessible, and down to (our imminently overheating) earth. And that’s where comedy comes in.

“What humour allows us to do is to address those things that are simultaneously unacceptable, but accepted,” explains Pablo Suarez, associate director at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, on their partnership with former cartoon editor of The New Yorker Bob Mankoff. Comedians such as John Oliver are already addressing the issue by making people laugh, and Larry David’s joke that the most reasonable thing to do in a climate crisis is to shave one’s head (reducing water consumption, plastic hair combs and energy-wasting hair dryers!) was so outlandish it actually got me thinking. Hear me out when I say that irony, jokes and lightheartedness might just be our secret tools in the fight to save the planet.

Making space for humour is a great way to get your listener on the same page as you, because it’s as simple as this: when someone has their guard up and feels threatened by the way you make your point, the point won’t come across. In order for people to open up to new ideas and worldviews, they need to feel somewhat comfortable. Humour lowers defences and takes away social conditioning, which makes it easier to point to something that needs to change without anyone feeling threatened or offended by it. Through the use of humour, we can start conversations where everyone, no matter their previous stance or preconceptions, can voice their beliefs and concerns without having to fear judgment or moralization. From that point, a mutual dialogue can emerge and set the path for change to occur. Imagine your carnivorous cousin changing his meat consumption after a dinner table joke, or your friends quitting fast fashion all thanks to a post on @slowfashionmemes (if you know, you know). 

Image: Slow Fashion Memes

People might argue that such an approach is trivialising the importance of big issues such as global warming. After all, climate change is not a joke. Yet while the problem of global warming is very complex, even the most eco-conscious city dweller can’t avoid a big carbon footprint without some pretty major changes to the system in which we live. As long as we are within this dichotomic state of wanting to sustain the planet but also wanting our economies to grow, perhaps we really do need humour to stay sane. 

There are many forces in the world that polarize and divide us, but there is one thing that will always unite us: our frustration. No just kidding, I mean laughter… laughter unites us! We need to laugh and therefore open up conversations with even the most serious among us, in order to truly understand the unity of humankind and our dependency on this earth.

Knock Knock. 
Who’s there? 
Ken who?
Ken we stop global warming?

Maybe we Ken!