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Comedy: “Don’t look up” Can comedy help spark climate crisis action
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Comedy: “Don’t look up” Can comedy help spark climate crisis action

Scientists played by Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Rob Morgan sit in the Oval Office

“We’re trying to tell you that the whole planet is about to be destroyed,” Ph.D student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) tells morning TV presenters in the film “Don’t Look Up.” When one of the hosts, played by Cate Blanchett, retorts that they “keep the bad news light,” the scientist who has identified a comet headed for Earth yells “we are all gonna fng die!”

Meanwhile, populist politicians and social media influencers are telling the world: “Don’t look up.”

The disaster comedy is a thinly disguised parable about the climate crisis, government failure to act, and the disaster comedy is Second-most viewedOriginal Netflix film, the most watched in a single week.

The film has divided critics as well as the public opinion. But it has inspired. broad discussionThis is not only about climate crisis but also how to communicate urgency with the 2030 deadline to reduce emissions. 

Scientists played by Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Rob Morgan sit in the Oval Office

Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio & Rob Morgan play scientists who sit in the Oval Office trying to convince the US president that the end of the world is near.

A climate film about climate that isn’t about climate

For George Marshall, founder of UK-based climate communications think tank Climate Outreach, the star-studded satire raises climate crisis consciousness with a unique analogy that transcends our preconceptions on the issue.

He said, “It’s a movie that is clearly about Climate Change that isn’t about Climate Change.” “We know from a lot of research that talking about climate change will not trigger people’s preconceived notions and prejudices. [then]People can deal with it.”

He describes a “moral complexity” around climate change and who is responsible for it that limits public engagement with the issue a phenomenon Marshall refers to as “collective silence” in his book, “Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change.”

This reticence also relates to the rise of climate denial and more polarized opinions on the issue, which one Study argues can be traced, in part, to social identity.

But the satirical, overblown metaphor of a comet heading to Earth “gives it a clarity,” said Marshall of the challenge of communicating the growing scientific consensus on global heating. It’s a very clever vehicle.

Climate scientists can relate

Leonardo DiCaprio plays the film’s less reserved astronomer and is one of Hollywood’s most vocal climate activists. But until now, he had never found the right big screen vehicle to advocate about his climate concerns.

“I believe we all considered this an incredibly unique gift,” said he. about the film written and directed by Adam McKay, who also helmed the “The Big Short,” a film about the events that led to the 2008 global economic crisis.

“We had been trying to get the message across about the climate crisis and Adam really cracked this code with creating the narrative,” he stated.

DiCaprio also wanted scientists as the central characters of the film. “I wanted my hat off to people who dedicate their life to this issue, and who know what they are talking about,” he stated.

Climate scientist Peter Kalmus has been vocal in the media about his appreciation of the film, WritingIt “captures all the madness I see every morning.” Kalmus, who works at NASA, has been “screaming into space for 15 years” and was largely ignored. He felt “like I’d been seen” by the film.

Enjoying the end of the universe

But key to focusing attention on science was not the presentation of voluminous climate research but an outrageous comedic scenario.  

George Marshall says that climate science reports or factual climate documentaries have often failed to capture the public imagination  apart perhaps from Al Gore’s 2006 Oscar-winning climate film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” 

He said, “It doesn’t work to hit people over their heads with scientific data.” This is evidenced by the increasing anti-science disinformation that is feeding climate denial, even at a time of growing academic consensus on the issue.

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a marine biologist and co-creator of the “How to Save a Planet” podcast, tweeted that “we just need WAY MORE entertaining climate content from Hollywood that helps us frame the problem and see the solutions. I need humor-infused media with climate themes that include humor. 

Indeed, research shows that when late night show hosts use comedy to talk about climate it can help increase public engagement on the issue. 

Michael E. Mann is a climatologist and author “The New Climate War.” Comparable the comedic approach of “Don’t Look Up” to Charlie Chaplin’s absurdist anti-fascist films like “The Dictator”, which changed perceptions of the threat from Hitler. 

“McKay’s film succeeds not because it’s funny and entertaining; it’s serious sociopolitical commentary posing as comedy,” Mann wrote. “That’s the spoonful that makes the medicine go down.”

How to harness rising climate alarm

“Don’t Look Up,” has touched a nerve in a time when rising anxiety and climate crisis alarm is rampant.

According to a September 2021 report StudyOn climate change viewpoints in America, 33% of respondents expressed concern about the climate over the past year. This sharp increase also indicates that there is increasing support for climate action. Recent UK pollingAlso, there are near-record levels concern about the climate. 

Edward Maibach, co-author of the US study and director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication in Washington DC, describes related research that suggests that “lots of people are willing to engage in civil disobedience to protect the climate.” He said that “few actually do” as suggested by the film “Don’t Look Up”.

This disconnect could be bridged by mass entertainment, especially comedy.

Maibach stated, “I hope Hollywood will make movies that feature relatable characters who engage civil disobedience in defense of the climate.” “The climate stories that inspire and teach people to take climate advocacy to the next level are the ones we most need,” Maibach said.

The metaphor of improving an imperfect climate

According to George Marshall, one problem with “Don’t Look Now’s” critique of climate politics is a heavy-handed parody of Donald Trump-like, science-denying populist politicians.

The president played by Meryl Streep and her chief of staff and son Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill) reject the immediate comet threat before manipulating it to their own political ends  and those of an eccentric big tech donor who wants not to deflect the asteroid from its collision course, but to mine it for rare earth materials.

A woman in a put points in front of the American flag

President JanieOrlean Meryl Streep tells voters about a possible comet approaching: “Don’t look upward.”

But when Hollywood liberals like Streep and DiCaprio are seen to mock the conservative response to climate change, it alienates some and “misrepresents” the complexity of the problem, said Marshall.

He believes that a president “much more like Obama” would have shown there is inaction across the political spectrum.  

Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, avowedly pro climate Democrat, has resumed. Handling of oil and gas drilling permits in his first year of office including on the eve of the UN climate conference in Glasgow. 

The film’s portrayal of mass action as futile and its tragic ending may hinder its ability to inspire climate activism.

Climate communicator Edward Maibach wants instead to see empowering climate films. He stated, “I want movies that show positive outcomes for the future and how they can happen.”  

Edited By: Jennifer Collins

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