Climate change: Comedy was deployed as a weapon against Hitler. Can it now help save the planet? – Professor Bill McGuire and Kiri Pritchard-Mclean

They do say that laughter is the best medicine, but can it really help cure a planet suffering at the height of a climate emergency?

We are about to find out. On the day that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest grim report, outlining the dire straits we find ourselves in, Climate Science Translated was launched with a more optimistic vibe. The project is the brainchild of Nick Oldridge and the Utopia Bureau. Nick is big in the ethical insurance world and a seasoned climate campaigner, who also part-funded the project. The Utopia Bureau is an influential climate communications organisation dedicated to finding new and innovative ways of getting the climate crisis message across.

Climate Science Translated is certainly a unique take on spreading the word about how bad things are set to get if we don't act now to slash emissions, pairing up scientists and comedians in a series of short films. The first features one of us, Bill, an earnest-looking climate expert, providing the unpalatable facts to camera, while the other, Kiri, an award-winning stand-up comic and actor, 'translates'.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Kiri's take is fruity and funny, as you would expect, but it also grabs an audience in a way climate scientists are not able to. After all, successful stand-up is predicated on the comedian being able to capture and hold the attention of the gallery. Failing this, their show is doomed. Comedians are also licensed to tell it like it truly is. They can cut to the chase and sum up the complicated science in blunt but lucid language, and Kiri certainly delivers.

The second film, released on Tuesday, features eminent atmospheric scientist, Joanna Haigh, 'translated' by Jonathan Pie. For those unfamiliar with the name, Mr Pie is the fictional character created and portrayed – a la Alan Partridge – by comedian and actor Tom Walker. Pie is a political correspondent and, needless to say, hilarious. His mockumentary, Pie Net Zero made him perfect casting for Climate Science Translated, and his cutting observations are spot-on.

This all sounds like fun, we hear you think, but what exactly is the point? Well, it has been clear for decades now, that the climate breakdown message has not been getting through to a huge chunk of society. With the government refusing to support a public information campaign, there needs to be some way of reaching those parts of the population that other messages have bypassed, and we think comedy could be a good way.

Humour has always had a heightened profile during hard times, as the war years of the 20th century showed. In the UK this has inevitably been 'black', a style of wit that seems peculiarly British. Between 1939 and 1945, Hitler was fought with fun as well as bombs, the morale being kept up at home via shows like It's That Man Again and hugely popular comedians like Tommy Handley, Charley Chester and Kenneth Horne. The BBC even broadcast satirical humour directly into German homes, designed – if they were brave enough to listen – to make people laugh at the little moustachioed corporal and his antics.

They worked because they were based on a truth: that Hitler was, among other things, a ridiculous figure. Climate Science Translated is designed to condense the dry science into similarly punchy truths, and help it hit home with millions more people in a way that lengthy IPCC reports simply can't. Well-known comedians can reach out to those who have previously thought little about how our planet's climate is falling apart. They can also prod those who know, but aren't doing much about it. The hope and expectation is that humour will work where lectures fail.

Wildfires are becoming an increasing threat in many parts of the world as the atmosphere heats up (Picture: David McNew/Getty Images)Wildfires are becoming an increasing threat in many parts of the world as the atmosphere heats up (Picture: David McNew/Getty Images)
Wildfires are becoming an increasing threat in many parts of the world as the atmosphere heats up (Picture: David McNew/Getty Images)

Once again we are facing dreadful times, and the need for laughter has never been greater. Humour is an essential part of coping, and if we can't smile – even when our world is collapsing around us – then we really are lost.

Bill McGuire is professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London and author of Hothouse Earth: an Inhabitant's Guide. Kiri Pritchard-Mclean is a multi award-winning comedian and actor. The films can be viewed free at



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.