Climate change is no laughing matter, but don’t tell that to Jim Poyser. The self-proclaimed climate change humorist uses his unique brand of comedy to educate and advocate. We love his jokes as much as we love his mission, so we sat down with him this week to talk about the role of humor in the climate change conversation.
As the executive director of Earth Charter Indiana and director of Youth Power Indiana, Jim has dedicated his career to addressing global climate change, but he knows nobody really wants to talk about it.
“I don’t even want to think about it,” he admits. “It’s a challenge to figure out how to communicate the urgency around climate change. … How do I talk about this without making people recoil?”
Jim doesn’t like the way many environmental films approach the problem. “You’ve seen the documentaries like ‘11th Hour’ and ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’” he says. “Ninety percent of the documentary is how screwed we are.” He shakes his head. “I don’t know about you, but by the time I get to that last 10 percent, I just want to leave.”
Jim says he tries to flip this ratio. He spends 10 percent of his time talking about consensus science and the need for swift action, then devotes the other 90 percent to discussing solutions.
He also focuses on educating children because he believes they’re most capable of accomplishing meaningful change.
“Our schools are the single best opportunity we have to transform what we’re teaching these kids,” he says. “The kids have to be leaders right now.”
Instead of using scare tactics or guilt trips, Jim adopts a disarming comedic tone. He worked with designer Will McCarty to create digital bumper stickers with lines like, “My other leaf-blower is a broom,” and, “Wst nothing. Nt vn vwls.” (Read: Waste nothing. Not even vowels.)
He also runs ApocaDocs.com, a website with satirical commentary on real climate change news, and hosts “The Ain’t Too Late Show,” a game show about ecological challenges.
Last Christmas, Youth Power Indiana channeled his lighthearted approach. Program participants dressed as Santa’s elves to describe the effects of climate change in the North Pole. A video posted on the organization’s website features elementary schoolers wearing paper hats and elf ears. “Stop burning fossil fuels and melting our home,” they plead.
Jim explained his comedic philosophy at a TEDx conference, saying, “I believe that using humor creates a safer platform for paying attention. Paying attention is a heart-wrenching and intimidating activity, but it’s also absolutely necessary.”
When we spoke with him this week, he said his approach has changed over the years. “Early on, I really emphasized the humor … but I’ve come to a profound shift.” He hasn’t abandoned his signature tone, but he now pairs it with immersive experiences to teach kids about sustainability.
“The immersive experience is where it’s at,” he says enthusiastically. “The more formal the setting, the more it’s like a lecture, the less it’s going to matter to kids.”
In his work with Youth Power Indiana, he gets kids involved in sustainable farming projects. For example, in an upcoming project with Indy Urban Acres Farm, he and local students will travel to the farm using IndyGo buses. The event will serve a dual purpose of teaching kids about local farming and showing them how to reduce carbon emissions by taking public transportation
“It’s the double whammy — mass transit as an act of sustainable behavior and then we’re going to visit Indy Urban Acres,” Jim smiles. “It is hands-on, minds-on, engaging youth-led inquiry and discovery, making connections.”
Our chat with Jim made us laugh, but it also made us think. We’re betting the Indy Urban Acres field trip will do the same for Jim’s students.