Laughing Through the Tears: Climate Change and Comedy

It’s hard to deny the healing, mind-clearing effects of a good long belly laugh after a long day. And climate change and the accompanying fear of a dying world are not exempt from the balm of a well-timed joke. While it may seem fatalist to joke about something so important and urgent, jokes about the climate crisis can actually help the climate movement and help prevent the paralysis of climate grief

A report released by the American Psychological Association in March 2017 established the connection between the physical effects of climate change and the psychological effects on our mental health. The thirteen authors and editors explained that climate change is impacting how we behave: increases in violence, aggression, fear, helplessness, fatalism, and resignation are becoming commonplace. One of their solutions is to support social networks and strengthen connections between members of the community, and while ‘underutilized’, two researchers have found that “comedy has power to connect people, information, ideas, and new ways of thinking/acting”. 

Image via LiveAboutDotCom by Daniel Kurtzman

In their report, researchers Maxwell Boycoff and Beth Osnes discovered that humor not only holds powerful (perhaps otherwise untouchable) people accountable by finding the holes in a climate change denier’s argument or pointing out the absurdity of a situation, comedy has the power to reach audiences that would not be reached through a scientific journal publication or a news organization. The number of people who can read a four-piece comic strip would dramatically outweigh the number of people who have the time, access, and the background knowledge to digest the entirety of the multitude of IPCC Reports on the state of the climate. Finally, comedy can unite people across man-made and divisive social boundaries, like political party lines and age gaps. 

Image via EarthDesk by Steve Greenberg 

“In recent years of apparent saturation of somber and science-led climate change discussions, comedy and humor are increasingly looked to as potentially useful vehicles to meet people where they are on climate change.”

A Laughing Matter? Confronting Climate Change Through Humor by Maxwell Boykoff and Beth Osnes

We can always count on The Onion to show their talents by using satire to point out the absurdity of a situation: “Warning society that it has reached a crucial tipping point from which it may never be able to recover, a brittle, yellowing report sitting in the archives of the University of California’s Bioscience & Natural Resources Library reportedly urged readers Friday that “the time to act against climate change is right now.” And other news outlets like The New Yorker have pinpointed the stages of climate change denial. 

Image via The New Yorker by Peter Kuper 

Climate change comedy should by no means be the only method of effectively communicating the climate crisis. These climate jokes, while hilarious and educational at times or potent and blunt, are just the start. It is a way of drawing people in and infiltrating their everyday life, forcing each and every person to consider the ramifications of climate change and preventing a complex and upsetting topic from becoming completely debilitating. But it is just a step in the journey to understanding humanity’s role in climate destruction. Hopefully, a comic like the following could spark conversation among the members of the community, engaging the young and the old, the unemployed and the overworked, the red and the blue and everyone in between. And one should never underestimate the power of a single sentence. 

Image via Green Humor 
Image via Green Humor 

If you’re interested in climate change humor, check out accounts on Instagram like @climemechange and @the_earth_is_on_fire and websites like Green Humor and The New Yorker! Let us know what climate change publications you like to follow!

Catie Brown

Although I’ve always loved writing, I embarked on my journey into science journalism about three years ago. I am fascinated by all things water — oceans, ice, coral reefs, currents, extreme weather, sanitation, energy, and (of course!) climate change. I also love looking into the different ways we talk about climate change as a social, cultural, economic, spiritual, and political crisis. Big thanks to coffee and chemistry jokes for keeping me going. Happy reading!