Finding the funny.
Solving the climate crisis will involve everyone. Comedians included, says Issy Phillips. Portrait by Harriet Jane.
A bag of carrots, a tub of hummus and a tube of toothpaste. What do these have in common? They’re the three items I forgot to buy at the supermarket and they are forcing me to march back to the shops.
Although I walked to the supermarket to reduce my carbon footprint and took my reusable calico bags, it strikes me that nothing will mitigate the impact of the plastic these three items came in; the packaging of these seemingly banal items will outlive me in landfill. How could something so innocuous also be so destructive?
I have these conversations a lot with my housemates; one is a scientist and the other works in renewable energy. Our kitchen is always full of conversations about newly published research and updates on legislation to subsidise solar panels. We share our insights like we would a meal and the knowledge we learn from each other leaves us satisfied and full.
However, I can’t help feeling like my contributions to both our conversations and our planet are limited. I’m not an engineer, I don’t work in government or the energy sector and I’m not a professional activist.
I care deeply about the climate crisis but feel excluded from making a larger impact because I lack the traditional skills of a scientist, policymaker or activist. This was how I felt until I realised as a comedian, I could write a joke about it.
I used to think that comedy was the best way to switch off and escape the barrage of depressing climate news. But could it also be the exact thing we need to re-engage?
Comedy as a medium connects audiences in a way that a research paper or news story can’t. It takes a huge issue and converts it into something personal, transforming feelings of hopelessness into laughter.
Earlier this year I did a performance at TedxYouth Sydney and used comedy and ASMR (a strange combination) as a tool to unpack some of the impacts we will experience under a changing climate.
Although it may feel like an abstract way to talk about droughts, flash flooding and the destruction of ecosystems it did something important: it made people laugh about something they felt like they couldn’t, and in that moment they were able to engage with the climate crisis in a new way.
We need artists and writers to work with scientists to communicate the data because the arts can move people in a way that a statistic can’t. Something I’ve learnt through making climate comedy is that activism can take many forms and doesn’t always look like going to protests or signing petitions.
One of the most powerful ways to reach someone can be by having a conversation about the ways an issue is making you feel.
Solving the climate crisis will need everyone. We need scientists to measure the relationship between carbon dioxide concentrations and global heating. We need engineers to design new and improved solar cells to further renewable technologies. But just as importantly we need artists, designers, journalists, filmmakers and whatever skills you have to make change. Interdisciplinary collaboration is the key to unlocking the solutions to the climate crisis. Get out there and do what you can: your skills can make change.
My activism: Hiccup
New creative-climate collective Hiccup was born out of some of these feelings. Late last year I worked on a small music event and at the end of the night I stood speechless watching a man with a leaf-blower rounding up plastic cups, straws, wristbands and other items into a micodump destined for landfill. The mound of waste amassed over a single evening induced panic and distress. The thought that this was happening each night in venues all over the world was paralysing. I confided in a friend about what I saw and how it made me feel, and from here blossomed plastic-free climate event Hiccup. We partnered ‘soft activism’ in the form of climate-conscious music and art with ‘hard activism’, donating all profits to green organisations doing impactful work on the front line. The response from our community was overwhelming. Creating a space to engage in climate action through music, dance and art was a language people understood. It turns out you can dance and protect the planet at the same time.