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Opinion: Where is the climate crisis in pop-culture going?
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Opinion: Where is the climate crisis in pop-culture going?

Opinion: where does the climate crisis in pop culture go from here?


14 December 2021 

I got tickets to the Galway Comedy Festival a few months ago. We went there together for the weekend, and decided to take a stroll along the Flaggy Shore before heading back to Dublin. 

I saw some wind turbines far away as we parked. I joked that I was always there for the job, even when my car doors were shut. It got a laugh – and we swiftly moved on. 

It is a moment that I remember often. The longer I cover this beat, the more I can’t unsee it: the climate and biodiversity crisis is ubiquitous. Living in Ireland and in the Global North, I’ve been lucky and incredibly privileged to have only noticed it recently. 

No matter where you live these days – you are reminded of what’s unfolding. In Ireland you can see severe storms and flooding, and wind turbines appear on the horizon. Both the problems and solutions are often seen simultaneously. 

The severity of the environmental crisis’ ramifications depends on where you live and other factors. Your location also influences how your local area scales up to decarbonising. 

There is evidence everywhere you look for this mosaic of relief and disaster. It’s impossible to ignore it. 

This well-documented omnipresence now begins to manifest in one of our main communication channels: popular culture. 

I’ve been intrigued by and previously written about the rise of climate fiction, otherwise known as “cli-fi”. These literary titans include Octavia Butler, Kim Stanley Robinson Jenny Offill

I have learned to overcome a lot of my difficult emotions by reading fiction that deals specifically with the climate crisis. Sitting down with a piece of “cli-fi” feels like sharing a meal with an equally concerned colleague: they have a working knowledge of how high the stakes are and how pervasive and unjust the crisis is. They can offer a different view and even help to forge a route that leads to positive outcomes. 

Their presence serves a purpose other than the cultural trend that is stronger with each (televised season): the integration the climate crisis into everyday plotlines. 

Here are some examples of what I mean. You may be destroyedExplores the relationship between systemic racism and the climate movement. Sally Rooney’s female characters in Beautiful World. Where Are You? Please share your observations on environmental collapse. A student urges the world to address the threats bee populations face in Mae Martin’s limited series Feel Good

None of these works would outrightly advertise themselves as “climate-themed” – which is exactly why we need them. 

For the most part, experts have highlighted that the people flocking to explicit “cli-fi” pieces of work are those who are already concerned about the issue – and that’s a great thing to see. As stated above, I’ve found it comforting and community-building in its own right. 

But – when it comes to getting more people on board, the discussion has to reach beyond the already-preached-to choir. 

It looks like this is already happening. Recently, I tore through Ted LassoThe show continues to win award nominations and is gearing up for its third season. The story follows a midwestern American football coach who has little knowledge of soccer taking over as the Premier League team’s manager. It’s uplifting and riddled with great one-liners and has buoyed me through these colder and darker evenings. 

I’ll share no spoilers in case you choose to tune in – but a second season plot line brings the injustices of the climate crisis right to the fore and much This was written about itWhen the original episode aired. 

Then there’s the star-studded, bombastic metaphor film for the climate crisis: Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up. I’ve yet to see it myself and will scribble down my own thoughts once I get a chance, but from everything I’ve read about it so far, I don’t think I’ll be walking away from it disappointed. 

The film’s basic premise is that scientists discover a comet hurtling towards earth that threatens to wipe out all life within a six-month time period. The analogy isn’t a carbon copy (excuse the word choice) for the climate crisis – but the parallels are laid bare for all to see. 

These two examples of culture are not niche items: they have been consumed in millions. They – to different extents – will reach portions of the population that don’t actively seek out cultural takes on the environmental crises before us. 

They will hopefully stay in people’s minds and serve as constant reminders that while you might choose not to look up, our current unjust reality trudges alongside you, regardless of where your gaze lands. 

Because no matter where you live – you can’t get away from how this crisis permeates our lives the globe over, to varying degrees. 

And if you don’t believe me: try going for a walk and register some whisper of what’s happening. It will look very different depending on your vantage point and the consequence that you encounter might be very subtle to the naked eyes.

But no matter what, keep your eyes up. Keep your eyes focused on the sky.

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