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Laugh or Cry with Climate Fiction?

Laugh or Cry with Climate Fiction?
Even flowers laugh sometimes... can you see that wide petal grin?

My previous post Climate Change Fun? generated feedback from a reader who raised an important point: using humor to address the serious issue of climate change may be upsetting to some. This is very true. Many people are genuinely depressed about the future. One recent international study found 56% of the 10,000 young people surveyed (aged 16-25) felt humanity is doomed. That is stark.

When people are in that much pain over their future, should our stories make people laugh or cry? Does humor trivialize that pain? Does humor help alleviate it? It depends on the person and the moment in their life when the humor is encountered. It is all very personal.

When I was younger, I was extremely serious and very depressed. I didn’t have a great sense of humor. Even those many decades ago, I felt a lot of anxiety over environmental decline. There was strong emotional pain in me, and humor was not my avenue for dealing with it. After marrying an Englishman who raised our children on the joys of Monty Python and other British comedies, I have changed. I now see the value of humor to cope with distressing issues such as climate change, and I appreciate climate fiction infused with humor if done well.

Did you notice my disclaimer in the sentence above: if done well? Some writers will be more skilled in using humor than others. Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten, in her article “That’s (Not) Funny: How To Use Humor To Raise Climate Change Awareness,” gives several tips for how to use humor effectively when approaching this topic, including using humor to create positive emotions around working on climate issues. Humor can help counter the negative feelings that might cause people to stop thinking about or talking about the climate crisis altogether. A very important counterpoint she raises is that the humor must be expected. When thinking of climate fiction, it will be important to signal a focus on humor in the story through the use of voice or genre or even the blurb on the cover of the book.

Indeed, humor can be so valuable in raising climate awareness that we must allow it into our stories in appropriate ways for those audiences that will be drawn to it. Laughter can lower defenses, diffuse tension, create bonds between groups, and help put things into perspective. It is a valuable tool as long as both people are “in on the joke.” It should not be used to denigrate others, and if someone doesn’t think it is funny, the humor should stop immediately.

In the case of climate fiction, the reader will be the judge of what they think is funny or not, but writers should not shy away from humor even if some may not appreciate it simply because a book cannot please everyone. There are readers out there seeking humor in climate fiction. Other readers will gravitate more toward titles of suspense and drama. So, read and write the stories that work for you. If you love to laugh, find or create those books. If you need to cry, reach for stories which can give you that release. And many of us will want to do both.

(And a big shout out to Karen for the feedback. Thank you!)