A man wearing glasses looks at a globe.

Climate change scientist trades in the halls of Oxford for YouTube

Adam Levy, who goes by “Climate Adam” on YouTube, often uses humor to debunk climate change myths.

The World

Learning about climate change can be overwhelming and depressing. Sometimes a bit of humor helps.

Adam Levy started his career as a PhD student in atmospheric physics, but he’s traded in the halls of Oxford University for the world of clicks, likes and comments. He’s making YouTube videos about climate science under the name “Climate Adam.”

Related: Children must build resilience in the face of climate change

Levy, from Berlin, talked to The World’s host Marco Werman about why he turned to YouTube to debunk climate myths and why levity is key to engaging more people in the conversation. 

Related: Greta Thunberg and youth climate protests make a return

Marco Werman: When did you realize you wanted to move away from academic research and toward science communication? What was the moment you said, “Enough of the ivory towers, I need to take this to the people!”

Adam Levy: Well, I think once I started actually talking about my research, I realized I enjoyed doing the talking about the research more than actually researching. And there was a particular moment where I had a conversation with someone down at the pub who, it turned out, didn’t believe in climate change. And just through this conversation and him actually getting, I suppose, converted by what I said, I thought I should do this as much as possible and then started turning to YouTube.

In one of your videos, you tackle the question of, “Is it too late to do anything about climate change?” You do have this nice self-deprecating style. And in another video, you say climate change isn’t like a bomb going off. It’s more like getting punched in the face. Climate change — it is one of the bleakest subjects I can think about. What do you think is the benefit of approaching climate change with humor?

I think it allows people in. I think with climate change, people are so scared of climate change itself, but also so scared of getting it wrong. It’s this immense topic. And I think using humor allows people a way in to understand it, but also to join that conversation. And I feel it invites people watching to ask questions, to say what they are uncertain about in kind of a nonjudgmental forum. And I really hope it appeals to people who who aren’t already on the streets campaigning and helps those people understand what they need to understand about climate change.

One of the perks, of course, of social media is that it’s all about engagement. What have you learned from the public as you’ve made these videos over the years? Has the engagement changed the way you think about climate change or what needs to happen?

Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think as someone who started working on climate change around nine years ago, there was this real attitude that the way to engage people was always to emphasize hope. We always needed a hopeful narrative, and that was how we would inspire people and engage people. And actually, I think we’ve seen that shift in the last few years. We’ve seen a lot of people hugely engaged and hugely active in the climate movement through conversation, not of despair, but of realism and of discussing openly the things that are scary and are fearful. And I think actually talking about these things openly and honestly, it’s really valuable.

I mentioned earlier what kind of drag it is to cover climate change. You’ve written about how making YouTube videos has helped you deal with climate anxiety. Explain climate anxiety, and how has your project helped you?

Climate anxiety is this fear, this anxiety, about what’s happening to the planet, what we’re doing to the planet and the sense of helplessness as we see ourselves continue to do that. I felt this most severely when I was researching because it felt so frustrating to be going to these seminars and learning about this amazing research and then see the state of the public conversation or political action just lagging 10, 20, 30 years behind. And so for me, talking about climate change, actually spreading that information, sharing that information, and starting conversations, gives me a lot more hope and alleviates that anxiety a lot better than actually doing the research ever did.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

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