Tag Archives: Oceans Melting Greenland

Amusing Monday: A comedy connection to climate change info

Climate scientist Josh Willis, who graduated from the Second City Comedy School, does a pretty good impersonation of Elvis Presley, as he tries to help people understand climate change.

“It’s a tough thing to communicate, and I think that we need to use all the tools that we can in order to really reach people and help them understand what’s happening to the planet,” Willis said in an interview on KNBC’s “Life Connected” show in Los Angeles, which aired last week.

The first video on this page features a rock ‘n’ roll song that answers the question, “What’s climate … What?”

“You take a bunch of weather and you average it together and you’re doing the Climate Rock!”

Professionally, Willis, who works for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is part of a team that travels to Greenland to observe how changing temperatures are melting away the glaciers and raising sea levels. They call the project OMG, for Oceans Melting Greenland.

Willis, who holds a doctorate in oceanography from the University of California, San Diego, makes his living as a scientist, but he has long enjoyed connecting with people in a humorous way.

“Being a scientist, we’re trying to discover something about the world, and I think being a comedian, you’re trying to discover something about people that makes them laugh,” he said in the KNBC piece by Belen De Leon and Tommy Bravo.

Willis spends a portion of his free time performing in comedy clubs. He developed the Elvis character and produced a video on YouTube.

“Being a kind of a middle-age, doughy, white guy with big hair and sideburns, Elvis seemed like the perfect guy,” Willis said.

He has found that people might ask Elvis basic questions about climate change that they might not ask a stuffy scientist, and those personal interactions have improved his ability to communicate science in more creative ways, according to an article last week by Zoe Sayler of Grist magazine.

“Climate scientists have become a political weapon, right? We’re seen as this kind of imaginary force that’s either being manipulated or telling you the truth, depending on your political leanings,” Willis was quoted as saying. “We need to be humanized a little bit, because we’ve lost that.”

In the Grist article, Sayler gets Willis to tell the story about a research paper he co-wrote that suggested a brief shift toward global cooling — a finding that, if true, would have reverberated through the world of climate science. Just before presenting the paper at a climate conference, Willis found an error in the data.

The mistake was like a comedy routine with no laughter, and Willis decided the best thing to do was rewrite the paper, provide the correct findings and explain what went wrong.

“We all fail, and we all make mistakes,” Willis said in the Grist article. “When you can own up to them, and try to move on, then people usually forgive you. I think in comedy, the same thing is true. When you bomb, the best thing you can do is own up to it and make fun of yourself.”

The other two videos are bits by Willis, featuring one character called Dick Dangerfield and another called Guy Scientist.