A great challenge of climate change communication is that the issue is abstract, slow-moving, and often invisible. To get the attention of their audiences, climate communicators sometimes rely on the immediate and the emotional: violence, cute animals, and children.
In the videos below, you will see polar bears falling to their deaths, children fighting against police, and cartoon animals drowning in rising waters. Many attempt to link climate change to universal human feelings, such as the desire to protect children.
Humor, too, plays a role in gaining attention. As is clear from these videos, climate contrarians have used satire to repurpose a British public service announcement on climate change. Other communicators have deployed cats to sound the alarm. And John Oliver of “The Daily Show” demonstrates that sometimes apocalyptic news is more digestible when it’s hilarious.
If you have a favorite video that is not on the list (or on this list or that one), let us know in the comments section below or by e-mail.
Department of Energy and Climate Change, United Kingdom (1:10)
When the British government released this chilling advertisement in October 2009, the backlash from climate contrarians was swift.
Hundreds of people filed complaints with Ofcom, the telecommunications regulator. Some argued that the spot was misleading because it (correctly) attributes climate change to human activity. Others complained that the advertisement would scare children. After an investigation, Ofcom cleared the ad in October 2010, concluding that educating viewers about climate change was in the public interest.
Climate deniers, meanwhile, released parodies of “Bedtime story.” Although inconsistent with the scientific realities of climate change, the two examples shown below may be effective communication tools for certain audiences.
Both portray climate change as a liberal conspiracy to destroy capitalism. “There once was a land where the people were very, very free,” a father says to his daughter in the first video. “Energy was cheap, and prosperity filled the land. This made some grownups very angry, and they wanted to take away our freedoms.” In the closing shot — of a snow-covered house — the video invokes the now-standard trope that cold weather disproves climate change. (For an explanation of why it does not, see Jeff Masters’ response to the February 2010 East Coast snowstorm.)
In the second parody, the father tells his daughter, “Sweetie, it’s time you learned about our religion.” What follows is a mish-mash of insults and unfounded claims: The world was once perfect, until people became prosperous and stopped sacrificing to the “climate gods.” “Unless we all listen to science and destroy capitalism, they will punish us for our sins,” the father says. (Warning to sensitive viewers: This video contains strong language.)
Moms Against Climate Change (1:26)
In this video, riot police face off against children protesting climate change. Although the video appears to be staged, the footage is eerily similar to real-life clashes between Danish police and young adults outside the 2009 United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen. (See for example, this video shot by Sara Peach.)
Plane Stupid (:56)
Plane Stupid is a network of advocacy groups that protests the aviation industry’s greenhouse emissions. In this intense advertisement, polar bears fall from the sky, creating bloody spatters as their bodies crash to the ground.
BP Oil Spill Re-enacted By Cats in One Minute
YouTube user tremendousnews (1:29)
When it comes to online video, the truth is that cats dominate. As of this writing, for example, this video of cats playing “patty cake” has received more than 7.3 million views on YouTube. It’s no surprise, then, that energy and climate communicators have attempted to link their “pet” issues to the animals. Last summer, YouTube user tremendousnews released this satirical video, in which cats stand in for BP officials reacting to the Gulf oil spill. Warning to sensitive viewers: The video contains offensive language.
Cats Against Climate Change
Vimeo user Londonlime (:52)
In this video, a cat worries that climate change will increase the number of puddles in the world.
Our Dead Planet: Our Melting Cities
The Daily Show (5:07)
In this 2008 clip, John Oliver pokes fun at documentaries on global warming. In the opening sequence, he repeats the word “planet” in a mock-chilling whisper. In one pointed exchange that alludes to the tension between dramatic storytelling and dispassionate scientific communication, NASA climatologist Drew Shindell explains mildly that the earth is warming and that many regions will become less pleasant to live in. Oliver replies, “I’m going to need you to be a lot more threatening than that.”
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Our Dead Planet – Melting Cities|
A Way Forward: Facing Climate Change
National Geographic (7:43)
This video provides a succinct summary of climate change, its effects on people and the policy options available to address the issue. After outlining the threats posed by climate change, the narrator explains that individuals alone cannot solve the problem. “It’s largely up to governments to ensure that the right choices are available and attractive,” she says. Although nothing in the video will surprise a well-informed viewer, educators may find it a useful introduction to the topic.
A Tour of the Cryosphere
This spectacular animation, developed using satellite data, leads viewers from the South Pole to the Rockies to the vanishing sea ice of the Arctic. The narrator explains how the world’s frozen regions influence the climate. Using examples such as the 2002 collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf, the video also demonstrates how the warming climate is rapidly changing the cryosphere.
300 Years of Fossil Fuels in 300 Seconds
Post Carbon Institute (5:38)
This video provides a rapid-fire history of fossil fuels, demonstrating how the use of coal and oil has dramatically altered human society and the planet since the Industrial Revolution. The narrator concludes, “We have to do four things, fast: Learn to live without fossil fuels, adapt to the end of economic growth as we’ve known it, support seven billion humans and stabilize population at a sustainable level, and deal with our legacy of environmental destruction.” It was produced by the Post Carbon Institute, a Santa Rosa, Calif.-based think tank.