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Using Humour to Raise Awareness in Environmental Change

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 1619 words Published: 18th May 2020

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In the modern day, challenges of sustainability are difficult to overcome. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains trillions of plastics that severely harm marine ecosystems. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas intensify and accelerate global warming, causing sea levels to rise. New findings and figures usually evoke feelings of hopelessness about the state of the environment, leading to inaction on fixing the problems. To counter these effects, comedy draws attention to environmental issues, but more importantly it disarms people’s defensive response and spreads a message of encouragement. With the spread of optimism, people will urgently combat issues regarding sustainability. Through emotional appeals, the continuous progress from raising awareness to persuading audience will result in progressive changes.  

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Before tackling environmental issues, people must recognize the effects of environmental damage. The first step is to grab attention from the audience, sending a message about the effects of pollution and the destruction of the natural landscape. Combining humor with knowledge about the environment will highlight the issue, creating a lasting impression. Stephan Schmidt’s article “Effects of Humor on Sentence Memory” states, “Humorous sentences were better remembered than non-humorous sentences on both free- and cued-recall tests and on measures of sentence recall and word recall.” Therefore, a comedic message against environmental damage will echo in a listener’s mind, unconsciously reminding themselves of the issues at hand. Eventually, this constant reminder will develop a mere exposure effect towards sustainability, connecting themselves with the topic. This humor effect towards environmental protection will further stimulate a determination to contribute to this movement.

Instead of simply providing facts and figures, environmental activists should utilize humor within their presentation in order to effectively grab attention from a wide-range of people. Since some audience will find ecology boring, activists should use humor to engage audience. One study used eye-tracker technology to observe participants’ eye movement on a excerpt with both humorous and non-humorous text. The results confirmed that humor prolonged attention when compared to both supportive or ordinary non-humorous information (“Humor in the Eye Tracker”). Moreover, humor usually stands out among all marketing techniques simply because of its creativity. With many successful cases of advertising campaigns using humor, including Old Spice’s promotion with nonsense script and GEICO’s laughable tagline, “so easy, even a caveman can do it,” the same approach can be executed for environmental protection. With the right amount of humor in ecology presentation, the entertainment level will improve as well as communication. In most cases, humor turns plain topics into entertaining lectures, serving as an effective medium to promote sustainability.

However, raising awareness isn’t enough. Environmental activists need to further convince people who doubt global warming through lowering their defensive response. As humor shapes the speaker into a more likeable figure, sustainability issues can be further delivered to the opposition. The British comedian John Cleese said, “If I can get you to laugh with me, you like me better, which makes you more open to my ideas” (“John Cleese Quotes”). The momentary burst of pleasure from laughing puts our opinions aside, disarming the nature of aggression toward different ideas. Through relieving stress and softening tension, laughter creates a common ground for consensus and understanding. Believing that humor can relax tension and disarm hostility, Joan Gorham and Diane M. Christophel designed an observation on students’ learning regarding to teacher’s frequency for using humor. The results concluded that “the effects of humor on learning are best understood and measured within the framework of immediacy behaviors” (Askildson). The disarming ability of comedy opens spaces for reflections on global warming’s consequences and expressions on environmental issues. Nevertheless, laughter also increases blood flow and cognitive function, keeping us stimulated and focused on the given topic. Humor packages environmental issues into a more acceptable topic through laughter.

After engaging audiences to sustainability, humor motivates audience into action through encouraging eco-friendly behavior. “Humor, which has long been recognized for its tension-reducing properties …help build social bonds that can be beneficial under conditions of stress.” (Folkmanb and Judith). Through reducing tension, humor creates amicable discussion space to spread sustainable ideology, motivating more people to bring up eco-friendly habits. In like matters, encouragement boosts people’s self-esteem and generates a hopeful emotion toward the difficult problems on sustainability. Compared to condemning, these motivations better increase sustainable behavior due to audience’s voluntary commitment. For instance, many hotels ask guests to make a general contribution to eco-friendly action, such as turning off lights when leaving or reusing towels. Without further encouragement, consumers behave as they normally do. However, when hotels provide a “Friend of the Earth” lapel pin to those further committed, consumers are more willing to cooperate and perform environmental friendly action. Similarly, companies and environmental activists “create an appealing opportunity for consumers to start with a small step,” pushing public behavior toward the desired action (University of Chicago). Essentially, humor produces these positive appeals to cheer up audience from their pessimistic thoughts on sustainability. The encouraging nature of humor is capable of driving people to combat environmental problems.

When correlating humor with encouragement, sustainability issues evoke the optimism inside audience. Positive thinking reduces self-limiting ideas and spurs the willingness to contribute toward environmental protection. By thinking positively, each little step toward environmental friendly action will seem meaningful. In contrast, negatively focused discussions on sustainability are most likely to generate feelings of guilt, fear and anxiety; too much negativity just drains away the enthusiasm to change. “A lack of hope may undermine an individual’s response and collective efficacy, which are essential for motivating actions to solve the problem.” (Marlon). When an optimistic mindset collects multiple ideas and possibilities, people are more likely to volunteer to protect the environment. Comparing to pessimism, optimism motivates more individuals into actually taking action. According to National University of Singapore’s study, when participants simulate the motivated condition through holding their hand into a fist or contracting their biceps, people are far more likely to resist temptation and buy healthy food. (Wiseman, Richard) Ultimately, comedy builds up an optimistic community, where encouraged people gather and urge to contribute to environmental protection.

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Overall, humor has an outstanding potential for raising awareness and sending encouragement motivate people into action. Throughout the past decade, humor had already successfully created change of environment. For instance, one John Oliver episode of Last Week Tonight in 2015 is credited by many as “having influenced New York City officials to change their city’s bail protocol” (Maxwell, Boykoff). Comedy proves to connect people and share new ways of thinking. By understanding the current state of the environment and mentally preparing for environment protection, people are more likely to perform eco-friendly behavior.

Works Cited

  • Askildson, Lance. “EFFECTS OF HUMOR IN THE LANGUAGE CLASSROOM: HUMOR AS A PEDAGOGICAL TOOL IN THEORY AND PRACTICE.” The Arizona Working Papers in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching, journals.uair.arizona.edu/index.php/AZSLAT/article/view/21286/20865.
  • Folkman, Susan, and Judith Tedlie Moskowitz. “Stress, Positive Emotion, and Coping.” CURRENT DIRECTIONS IN PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE.
  • “Humor in the Eye Tracker: Attention Capture and Distraction from Context Cues.” Taylor & Francis, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00221300903293055.
  • “John Cleese Quotes.” BrainyQuote, Xplore, www.brainyquote.com/quotes/john_cleese_135071
  • Maxwell, Boykoff. “A Laughing Matter? Confronting Climate Change through Humor.” Political Geography, Pergamon, 20 Sept. 2018, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0962629818300684.
  • Marlon, et al. “How Hope and Doubt Affect Climate Change Mobilization.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 25 Apr. 2019, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcomm.2019.00020/full
  • Schmidt, S. R. (1994). “Effects of humor on sentence memory.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
  • University of Chicago. “Want to Encourage Eco-Friendly Behavior? Give Consumers a Nudge (Don’t Tell Them What to Do).” Phys.org, Phys.org, 11 Sept. 2012, phys.org/news/2012-09-eco-friendly-behavior-consumers-nudge-dont.html.
  • Wiseman, Richard. “Self Help: Try Positive Action, Not Positive Thinking.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 30 June 2012, www.theguardian.com/science/2012/jun/30/self-help-positive-thinking.


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