INSIDE THE GREENHOUSE | Re-telling climate change stories

A Laughing Matter? Confronting Climate Change Through Humor

Lead Author:

Maxwell Boykoff and Beth Osnes

Why fuse climate change and comedy? Anthropogenic climate change is one of the most prominent and existential challenges of the 21st century. Consequently, public discourses typically consider climate change as ‘threat’ with doom, gloom and psychological duress sprinkled throughout. Humor and comedy have been increasingly mobilized as culturally-resonant vehicles for effective climate change communications, as everyday forms of resistance and tools of social movements, while providing some levity along the way. Yet, critical assessments see comedy as a distraction from the serious nature of climate change problems. Primarily through conceptions of biopower and through approaches to affect, this paper interrogates how comedy and humor potentially exert power to impact new ways of thinking/acting about anthropogenic climate change. More widely, this paper critically examines ways in which experiential, emotional, and aesthetic learning can inform scientific ways of knowing. These dynamics are explored through the ‘Stand Up for Climate Change’ initiative through the ‘Inside the Greenhouse’ project where efficacy of humor in climate change communication is considered while individuals and groups also build tools of communication through humor. This is a multi-modal experiment in sketch comedy, stand-up and improvisation involving undergraduate students, culminating in a set of performances. In addition, the project ran an international video competition. Through this case, we find that progress is made along key themes of awareness, efficacy, feeling/emotion/affect, engagement/problem solving, learning and new knowledge formation, though many challenges still remain. While science is often privileged as the dominant way by which climate change is articulated, comedic approaches can influence how meanings course through the veins of our social body, shaping our coping and survival practices in contemporary life. However, this is not a given. By tapping into these complementary ways of knowing, ongoing challenges remain regarding how communicators can more effectively develop strategies to ‘meet people where they are’ through creative climate communications. Read more in Political Geography ...