What makes ladies' cha-chas dry up faster than a drought in a desert? Bill McGuire and his climate comedy. It's all the rage! Note: anything in italics is a quote from the article.
CNN proudly presents Bill McGuire. Bill says, "I’m a climate scientist. This is why I’m laughing". Bill McGuire is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at University College London and author of “Hothouse Earth: An Inhabitant’s Guide.”
How funny is climate scientist comedy? Better sit down for this first one:
Q: How many climate change deniers does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: What are you talking about, the bulb is fine.
I had to pick myself up off the floor because, goddamn, I've never heard a joke so funny until I reread it. So, is the bulb fine? In a punch line for these types of jokes, you're supposed to say who's answering the question in the answer. Here's an example: How many drummers does it take to change a light bulb? One (the subject), and the rest to say "Wow" in amazement.
Maybe that's too nitpicky of me or maybe Bill's just warming up. It is early.
See, despite the post-COP28 despondency, it is possible to laugh in the face of climate change. In fact, not only is it possible, it is essential.
What we needed from the climate summit in Dubai was a binding commitment to cut emissions in half within six years, so as to have any chance of keeping the global average temperature rise (compared to pre-industrial times) this side of 1.5°C, and side-stepping dangerous, all pervasive, climate breakdown.
What we got was a vague intention to transition away from fossil fuels — no timeline, no roadmap. It was the sort of outcome that elicits a chuckle and a shaking of the head in disbelief. But chuckling is a healthy response, even when things seem bleak — especially then, in fact.
Bill, can I charge you for a new computer monitor? I just spit out my coffee on it reading those last few paragraphs. Don't stop!
In World War II, comedy was utilised to belittle Hitler and reduce him to a figure of ridicule that morphed him in the public’s perception from a monster into a joke; from someone to be feared to someone who could be beaten. Those suffering the devastating nightly carpet bombing of British cities in 1940 and 1941 fought back in the only way they could, with laughter. The so-called Blitz ‘spirit’ depended upon a good dose of black humor, which I am sure continues to play a key role in lifting the mood, today, in war zones like Ukraine.
I wouldn't think people in London were laughing it up all that much in the early 40s, being in a bomb shelter all night, wondering when the bombing would stop and if they'd see the next day. I didn't see the humour in that at all until Bill said something. Now I find the German night raids absolutely hilarious.
Whenever times are difficult, people resort to wit and repartee. The reason is simple. If you don’t laugh, you will cry, and that marks the beginning of a very slippery slope. As civilization faces a threat that dwarfs that of every war ever fought combined, and the outcome of the latest climate COP offers little hope, it’s something we need — not only to remember — but to actively adopt as a weapon in our armoury to fight for a better future for our children and their children.
That by far, is the funniest thing he said, and I don't mean the crying makes things slippery joke. I love Bill's comparisons with climate change and war. Sometimes we need to belittle and minimize the atrocities and real horrors of war just so we can laugh. That inspires hope. You're on a roll, Bill.
They say that laughter is the best medicine, but weaponised comedy has the potential to do more than just make us feel good. Not only can it help inform and educate about global heating and the climate breakdown it is driving, but also to encourage and bolster action. Fortunately, this is happening.
Normally when I finish a funny movie, I don't feel like joining some kind of advocacy group but it's 2024, and a new year to try something new. Members of advocacy groups are the warmest and funniest people around when they’re not throwing soup on Van Gogh paintings.
This is why ventures like “Climate Science Translated,” which I took part in earlier this year, are so important. The British-based project — brainchild of ethical insurer Nick Oldridge and the climate communications outfit Utopia Bureau — teams climate scientists up with comedians, who ‘translate’ the science into bite-sized, funny and pretty irreverent chunks that can be understood, digested and appreciated by anyone.
I watched some Climate Science Translated and I had to hit pause more than once just to catch my breath. Why watch old videos of Norm MacDonald when you can sit through a master course of comedy by the Utopia Bureau? Comedy Fact: Did you know Utopia translates to “No Land” as in, it just doesn’t exist? Amazing.
Four film shorts have now been made — all of which can be viewed on Youtube — the first ‘starring’ me and brilliant comedian and actor, Kiri Pritchard-McLean.
You can take my word for it, that “we are understating some major potential risks and tipping points.” Or you might prefer Kiri’s translation: “Even the craziest predictions probably aren’t crazy enough. You thought it was bad, well it’s a lot worse than that.” As Kiri pointedly observes: “If comedians are helping scientists out, you know things aren’t going well.”
Kiri must be one funny lady. Embellishment and exaggeration is always awesome to my comedy ears. One time I heard that 2030 was the point of no return or something. I even heard that carbon dioxide was even called pollution. That must have shook the entire botanic community, but like the old saying goes, if you can’t take a joke…
Elsewhere, a number of stand-ups have devised routines around global heating and climate breakdown — including the excellent Lara Ricote, who won the 2022 best newcomer award at the prestigious British comedy festival, Edinburgh Fringe, and Stuart Goldsmith’s climate-focused “Spoilers” routine, which launched at this year’s festival.
Climate Comedy! Now this is what I've been waiting for. Finally, something that can rival the first Borat movie. Usually female standup is awful but if you’re going to include climate change along with dating and bad personal hygiene jokes, then consider me laughed.
There is even a “Sustainable Stand-up” course aimed at teaching comedy beginners about how climate and social issues can be addressed in their shows, and which has run in 11 countries.
OMG, Sustainable Stand-up. They just don’t stop, do they? I hope those 11 countries aren’t all third world countries.
In the US, the Climate Comedy Cohort brings together comedians to develop new routines informed by the hottest climate science, and take their work on the road in a series of live shows and short-form video.
The hottest climate science? Sounds sassy.
Some climate professionals have even taken things into their own hands, like Scotsman Dr. Matt Winning, who has a PhD in climate policy, and uses stand-up to get his message across: “My idea is that we make more people afraid of flying — so we need to put big glass floors on planes….” It might sound as if plenty is happening but, as the climate continues to collapse about our ears, it is clear that more is needed — much more.
And here I always thought the Scottish were too cheap to be funny. Comic Genius in these two lines: "glass floors on planes" and "PhD in climate policy". Superb.
The world’s biggest climate joke has just ended in the United Arab Emirates, where more than 80,000 delegates — including 2,400 from the fossil fuel sector, have conspired to take the mickey.
Nearly three decades of climate COPs have done nothing to reduce emissions, nor rein-in ever-climbing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The UK Met Office has just predicted that the global average temperature rise could touch 1.5°C next year, yet the COP28 final communique is still banging on about how we can still avoid a permanent rise above this critical threshold, while at the same time failing to show how.
COP28 was always set to be a bit of a comedy show, and one that even the best comic writers would find hard to make up. Held in a major petrostate, the colossal wealth of which is predicated upon fossil fuel extraction, and which has no vested interest in slashing the carbon dioxide emissions that result from burning them, the conference was presided over by the head of the country’s national oil company".
Bill has either irony and/or sarcasm down to a science. He makes it sound like he has no idea carbon capture units are being built with the sole purpose of making oil extraction more efficient. Impressive, most impressive.
Rather than making progress on tackling the climate emergency, then, we are at the very least standing still, and quite possibly going backwards. A role for comedy in helping to turn things around has never been more urgent.
I love that line: Climate Emergency. It’s like a slogan but it doesn’t make any sense. I thought Mad Magazine’s No Joke Jokes (Issue #329) was the pinnacle but this is so funny it’s stunning. I don't know if I can handle any more funny for the day.
So let’s see more comedians build the climate emergency into their shows, and let’s get the really big hitters involved. Come on Bill Bailey, Lee Mack, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, Jack Dee and the rest. It’s your world too.
And what about a climate sit-com — surely it’s time has come? “Last of the Summer Heatwave” anyone, or perhaps “Only Fools and Climate Scientists”?
I know — “Third Overheating Rock from the Sun.”
Bill, quit your day job already! And take my wife, please.
All kidding aside, mixing "climate change" with comedy is like sitting in your own piss: it's unfunny and pathetic.