Enrique OLTRA, Instituto de Ciências Sociais/Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal
My environmental education began with my father and my uncle, both white conservative men - perhaps proof that they are not always the bad guys? I first read about climate change in a book that linked it to the myth of Cassandra and our "natural tendency" to reject mortal prophecies (or, more prosaically, bad news).
Climate change is a scientific fact but so are our psychological obstacles to accept the need for action. This existential challenge has been under the media spotlight since the late 1980s and, despite the increasing availability of information, the world has not been putting in place effective responses.
In recent years of apparent saturation of sombre discussions, humorous approaches - such as satire and comedy - are progressively looked to as potentially useful vehicles to meet people where they are on climate change. The satirical mode can work better than a straitlaced one - and, as long as it's properly crafted and handled with care - ignite positive change.
Explaining complex ideas to a broad public in a funny way can be tricky, though. Most networks avoid satire because it might alienate audiences, and subjects like climate change can be intimidating. Enter podcasts. Since these audio files are easy-to-produce and distribute to the general public, they are tools with great potential for science communication.
Research shows that science communication mixed with humour presents great public approval. Shockingly, there are no podcasts of this blend in Portugal - even if humour is the dominant genre (8 out of 10 in the top-ten iTunes ranking on 2020 were labelled "comedy"). Podcasts that combine climate with comedic approaches are extremely rare even at a global level: amidst the +1,000 science podcasts in English in Spotify, I found only six (and half of them were no longer operating).
To explore these promising niche (recent data shows an overall rise in podcast listening), I'm currently developing the first-ever comedy & climate series in European Portuguese. Drawing from my experience as a journalist and host and state-of-the-art research, the podcast will be the backbone of my thesis: a real-life experiment and an opportunity to accomplish "the most powerful thing that individuals can do to confront climate change" according to a renowned climate scientist: talk about it.
Additionally, podcasting can provide an opportunity for guests (not only scholars: politicos and other stakeholders as well) to take a step back and think about the big picture. What does climate change mean to different audiences and why? But also: have I had my last good oyster?
Climate change will never be a barrel of laughs, but humour can help in overcoming the social silence around it. Through personal stories - hence the allusion to my relatives at the opening - and other strategies, the actors involved in the podcasting process (including, incidentally, members of the audience) will be able to break down barriers and find new ways of thinking and acting.
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