A Little Humor May Help With Climate Change Gloom
By Lakshmi Magon
This year, three studies showed that humor is useful for engaging the public about climate change. The studies, published in The Journal of Science Communication, Comedy Studies and Science Communication, added to the growing wave of scientists, entertainers and politicians who agree.
In March 2017, the American Psychological Association published a report defining eco-anxiety as "chronic fear of environmental doom." The report referred to literature that described an increase in depression and anxiety caused by peoples' "inability to feel like they are making a difference in stopping climate change."
With psychological stakes this high, humor may seem inappropriate. But Phil McCordic — a Canadian actor, writer and producer of children's programming and the host of TVOntario's Science Max educational series — thinks it could be a way to access "the attention of a lot of people you wouldn't have otherwise."
"Humor is so useful for children's programming because it grabs attention," says McCordic, who adds he believes this can be applied to adults too.
"Climate-change humor stops people from worrying about their politics and lets them take in the information ... Scientists don't always understand their audience. Getting someone to laugh is half of the work of getting them to understand."
McCordic's views are echoed by researchers such as Christofer Skurka, assistant professor of film and media studies at the Bellisario College of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. His research has shown that humor is a useful tool for making 18- to 24-year-olds more politically engaged in climate change.
Beth Osnes is an associate professor of theater at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her research shows that the creative techniques used in theater are a useful tool for climate-change communication. Osnes says that communicating climate change to young people using humor is "magical."
"Climate change isn't a laughing matter but sometimes you have to laugh at your pain to get to a solution," she said.
Climate Comedy Has Wide-Ranging Applications
The climate-change humor trend isn't isolated to research institutions. Using comedy to tackle climate-change debate is found in mainstream media, including in the comedy of comedian John Oliver and The Late Show host Stephen Colbert.
The Onion, a landmark American satirical media outlet, has headlines that include "Report: If Earth Continues To Warm At Current Rate Moon Will Be Mostly Underwater By 2400" and "Sighing, Resigned Climate Scientists Say To Just Enjoy Next 20 Years As Much As You Can."
"Science should be serious! But it should also be funny, challenging, impressive and a range of other things," says Levy. "I want to make climate change less scary by tapping into that funny side."
Lakshmi Magon is the Dalla Lana Global Journalism Fellow, Science Communicator, at the University of Toronto.
Disclosure statement: Lakshmi Magon does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond her academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
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<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
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