Stay Cool:  Why Dark Comedy Matters in the Fight Against Climate Change

by Aaron Sachs

“We don’t have a sense of humour when the prospects of life are great.  We have it when life becomes terrible—uncertain, unhealthy, precarious and outright dangerous.”

Paraphrasing a quote from a CBC radio program, probably “What on Earth”


This book about comedy does not intend to be funny; it’s a book explaining why environmentalists, activists and the concerned general public should lighten up to dark humour, embrace comedy and start making fun of ourselves. The author Aaron Sachs writes that that should make our messages easier to take, promote our cause, and attract the larger community to meet the challenge of climate crises.  In other words, we should just stop shouldin’ all over ourselves.

Reading this book was no fun. Do we need reasons to laugh? Do we need to rationalize, never mind justify, having fun?  While Rachel Carson was “usher[ing] in the new public health approach to environmentalism”, Sachs also cites and quotes comedians of the same time, the 1960s, who successfully brought other controversial issues into the public for recognition and reform.  However, “…sad to say, recent studies show that when it comes to climate change, the more you know, the less likely you are to engage in activism.” (p15)  What’s that? The paralysis of analysis?

Say it ain’t so!  He goes on to posit:  what if we delivered bad news with a sense of humor [should be ‘humour’]?  “As Americans developed something like an environmental movement at the turn of the twentieth century, they embraced an anxious, alarmist, accusatory mode that, at the time, turned attention away from their own complicity in the crisis they were decrying…We’re running out of natural resources that made us rich!… and… And soon we might not have any more beautiful places where we can go hiking and birdwatching!” (p7)

What if, indeed!  Even though Silent Spring brought in a mass movement, environmental “rhetoric remained dark, negative, judgmental, and humourless” (p17), hence Greta Thunberg’s “Bergmanesque affect” (pxxvi).

Sachs suggests that our lack of humour is a mask for our own complicity as consumers. Part of his solution is to rip the face off of that complicity.  Laugh at ourselves before others do, so others can relax and see what we have in common, so that others are more receptive to get our message to act in this society with all of its flaws and weaknesses as well as strengths and advantages.

Sachs’ focus is to use those strengths and advantages to “accept the prospect of a slightly warmer future and refocus our attention the people who are suffering today, right now. The planet is going to get through this [climate crisis], but the climate refugee may not, unless we start to care about them.”

And who are the refugees? (p91)  Hopefully, young people, if “we can get young people to look up from their devices” [referring to the Netflix movie Don’t Look Up].   And hopefully, “we’ll also be able to rely on many of the people from less industrial countries [and from indigenous cultures], since they’ve developed a basic resilience in the face of frequent blackouts and uncomfortably hot temperatures.  People who experience adversity usually learn to improvise.”  (p92)

Seems to Sachs that we are all refugees, except for the “White, uptight, One Percent” (p90).  He wants to “revive our ungated communities,” (p91) but why did he exclude that crucial demographic living in ‘gated’ communities?  Can we laugh together with the 1%?  Is Sachs suggesting that the gap between the 1% and the 99% is too big to close?  If so, then like SCAN!, we believe that the ultra rich, which includes the corporate ‘person,’ is one of the biggest challenges in dealing with the climate crisis.

Humour bonds people and allays fear.  Sachs’ climate refugees suffer from climate-induced Pre-TSD, the mental health hazard in other existential crises–war, pandemics and the continuing nuclear threat.  He addresses the emotional aspect —anxiety and fear, quoting many comedians, including Stephen Colbert, but misses one of Colbert’s best: “When you’re laughing, you’re not afraid.”

Enough said about the book per se. The bibliography is one quarter of the book, so as with most non-fiction books with extensive biblios, I recommend the bibliography instead, for humour in web sources like The Onion, Funny or Die, and Climate Stew.

Better yet! Check out Yale University’s Yale Climate Connections on this book and Aaron Sachs as it contains more links to climate change humour.

Kate Azure is a recuperating policy wonk who enjoys being a member of SCAN!.

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