Intersections of Art and Science

Jo Brand translated my science. I’m certain that comedy can connect people to climate change – the Conversation

Comedian Jo Brand speaks with walkers before beginning the ‘The Great Big Walk’ in Batley, Leeds, May 29, 2017 (by Anthony Devlin / PA Wire CC BY 2.0 DEED via Flickr).
Comedian Jo Brand speaks with walkers before beginning the ‘The Great Big Walk’ in Batley, Leeds, May 29, 2017 (by Anthony Devlin / PA Wire CC BY 2.0 DEED via Flickr).

A new comedy project pairing leading comedians with climate scientists presents a novel way to communicate the climate crisis.

“If people like me have to get involved, you know we are in deep shit,” says Jo Brand, renowned British comedian and The Great British Bake Off host. Why? Because she has joined the ranks of other notable comedians such as Nish KumarKiri Pritchard-McLean, and Jonathan Pie in Climate Science Translated, a project that translates complex climate science into accessible and funny content to spur millions of people into action.

Even though climate change is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, research by the Climate Science Breakthrough team shows that just 2% of the public can name a climate scientist. Nearly everyone knows Jo Brand. Getting famous comedians to translate what climate scientists are saying in a funny, ironic and often blunt way makes the science much more accessible.

And it works. Research shows that humour can be a transformative tool in science communication and have a positive impact on people’s understanding of climate change. So far, my video with Jo Brand has been viewed more than 3 million times and has gained mainstream attention, with celebrities like Ellie Goulding, Gary Lineker, Rainn Wilson and Thom Yorke retweeting the videos. Each time, that brings the core message to a broader audience.

It also works because comedians can say things that scientists cannot – for example, they can swear. Jo asked me in our chat after recording the main film, “was it time for scientists to be allowed to swear, as things are so bad?” My answer, which is in the video clip below, is no. Because the public expect scientists to be calm, rational and to stick to facts – as soon as we “become human” we lose credibility. So, in many ways, Jo Brand is my human side screaming at everyone to do something, now!

Mark Maslin (02-19-2024)

Jo Brand asks Prof. Maslin - Should Scientists Swear?

Climate Science Translated (11-23-2023_)

Mark Maslin x Jo Brand

Comedian Jo Brand helps Professor Mark Maslin spell out the actual risks of climate change, pulling zero punches, and using highly unscientific language throughout. The film is part of an ongoing project to help the climate science cut through to the public.

Additional Reading

Shaoni Bhattacharya – Guardian (01-28-2024)
Interview: Climate scientist Mark Maslin: “We have all the technology we need to move to a cleaner, renewable world”

The professor of Earth system science on the hottest year on record, using humour – with a little help from Jo Brand – to get his message across, and why there are reasons to be positive…

Prof Mark Maslin studies climate change and human impacts as professor of Earth system science at University College London (UCL) and the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. He recently partnered with the comedian Jo Brand in an online film to “translate” climate science for a wider audience. He is one of the lead organisers of Love Your Planet with Al Gore’s charity, the Climate Reality Project, and the Climate Cafe at UCL on 14 February.

We’ve just heard officially that 2023 was the world’s hottest year, and that we are likely to breach the temperature rise limit of 1.5C warming above pre-industrial levels in the next 12 months. What are your thoughts on that?
Last year being the hottest on record was something we knew was going to happen at the end of 2023. Two hundred of the 365 days last year were the hottest ever recorded for that particular day, which gives some idea of how huge this was. The temperature is 1.48C above the pre-industrial – close to the 1.5C limit [for this century] that was set up by the Paris agreement in 2016 – so we are worryingly close to it. We also know that El Niño [a natural weather pattern] is starting in the Pacific Ocean and always adds some warming. So in 2024, we could break the 1.5C limit temporarily…

Is there room for climate optimism then?
We have all the technology we need to move to a cleaner, renewable world. All the stats are showing incredible growth: we have exponential growth in solar, wind, EV batteries, which is all fantastic. We also have politics – 90% of the world’s economy says it will be net zero some time this century. That’s huge. We are transitioning away from fossil fuels. It should have been 30 years ago, but it’s now. The signalling is great, but we have to do it faster…

Additional Films in the Climate Science Translated Series:

Nish Kumar x Fredi Otto

Kiri Pritchard-McLean x Bill McGuire

Jonathan Pie x Prof Haigh

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