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Friday 22 September 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Diane O'Connor
Opinion Climate change is no laughing matter but comedy can help
Diane O’Connor is a stand-up comedian and climate activist – she says comedy is a powerful art form in the battle against climate despair.

AS A CHILD, I was forever catastrophising, so in one way I am the perfect candidate to live through this Climate Emergency, or “unprecedented times’ as some euphemistically like to call it.

In my head, as a worrier by nature, I considered myself to be living in unprecedented times anyway. I was always waiting at the station for that proverbial catastrophe train.

Climate change is happening and is a scientific fact – it is gradual but that doesn’t stop me from worrying that the flashy light in the sky is a meteor headed straight for my house.  That fear has helped me to navigate my internal sat nav away from a default ‘doom’ setting and instead inspires me to rev into action. I have been practising staying positive since I first realised there were many more threats facing humanity and this lovely planet than Bosco had told me as a child.

The downside of being an artist with an excellent imagination is you can imagine lots of terrible things. You can also though use your artwork to make sense of it all – or dare I say even a joke out of it. Laughing in the face of the Climate Emergency mightn’t be the obvious stance to take, but it’s the one I’ve chosen and I stand by it.

Comedy as antidote

Panic and fear send me into a spiral, unable to do anything productive unless I consider jumping from one terrible scenario to another helpful. Comedy has been a really useful tool for communicating those emotions and instigating a conversation about the Climate Emergency.

There is a lot of anxiety and tension around the topic of climate change and if we can alleviate some of that with comedy, even temporarily, we can make way for some much-needed conversations and acceptance of what it is we face. Maybe then we can come together and demand real change.

I was often labelled a worrier growing up. I could turn a scrape on the knee into sepsis before my mam had a chance to grab a plaster. I’ve had more A&E bills than I care to admit and if the GP had a loyalty card, I’d be cashing in my free appointments like some getting their hair done.

Frankly, I prefer the doctor’s chair, slightly cheaper and I always leave feeling a little lighter.

Doc: “OK, Diane but how can this prepare you for an actual crisis?”

Me: “Well, after spending so many years worrying about things that were out of my control and that never actually came to pass it made me want to grab the teeny tiny power I have within this mess and harness it. And if there’s a chance we can reduce the seriousness of the trouble ahead – I’m running for that bus!”

That’s the thing that those in big global business and power would not like us to realise – each of us has authority in this and collectively we can make things happen. So that’s the choice I make. I can get overwhelmed and I admit, I did spend most of 2018 in that state sharing Facebook posts and petitions trying to shout “This is serious” into a vacuum. I was desperate for things to change, desperate for hope.

After one too many tumbleweeds posting yet another “save the planet” petition, I decided to put down the phone and act instead. The more time I spent ruminating and panicking the less time I spent doing.

So as well as attending actual protests, I joined the Climate Ambassador Program, attended social Eco events and collaborated with Bright Club Ireland on a Climate themed comedy night. Through all of this, I began to meet and be surrounded by like-minded people and suddenly realised I was part of this amazing movement that had been there all along.

Who benefits from our panic?

Then in 2020 in the midst of the Covid lockdown and a very quiet gig life, I co-founded a Social Enterprise called the Sustainable Life School with my friend, fellow worrier and now colleague, Nathalie Pavone. Here, we began to deliver a sustainable living program to businesses and communities. So yes, I am now too an Accidental Entrepreneur, who is trying to stay on the right side of panic.

While panic is a valid feeling and a necessary stop on the way to action, staying at it too long doesn’t propel us forward. Of course, if there is a particularly bad climate news day I can feel a pull back into despair. I try not to stay too long there, though – only for a pit stop – as the only people who benefit from frozen despair are the very corporations and systems that got us into this mess in the first place.

I find that action is a much better way to fight back and the more action I take, the more I want to take. Finding people who are pushing for change and surrounding myself with those trying to transform the faulty system has been crucial – it’s my favourite part of this – there are some genuine everyday heroes out there who are great craic as well. The people who are trying to make the world a better place are the people I want to be around as things get more challenging.

As once said to me by one of my brilliant aunts when I was a child, “If you worry you die, if you don’t worry you die, so why worry!” I was waiting for a more hopeful punchline which revealed the secret to not dying but alas, that was the point.

In that spirit, we don’t know in definite terms what is ahead for our species on this planet, but we have a good idea and it’s pretty terrifying. However, climate change is happening despite how we feel about it, so why not jump to action and see if collectively we can turn it around, or at the very least reign it in? We don’t yet know what is on the other side of that magic door and there is still a chance for hope.

Diane O’Connor is a Stand-Up Comedian, Writer and Drama Facilitator based in North Dublin. She was one of 29 artists engaged in the Axis Assemble programme in 2021. Diane is also a Climate Activist who loves combining her passion for the environment and the arts to create, educate and entertain and is one half of the social enterprise The Sustainable Life School. Diane’s show The Accidental Activist will take place on 9th November at Axis Ballymun.

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