WHEN asked about the key climate change issues, IPCC lead author Professor Roger Jones echoed the concerns of colleagues by saying: “Feedback is like climate change on crack. Denialists deny this in your dreams, Coz climate change means greater extremes.”
“Shit won’t be the norm,” added others.
If only all interviews on climate change could be this colourful, this frank and this… well… lyrical?
Earlier this week, Australian ABC show Hungry Beast screened an original rap video staring nine actual climate scientists, complete with “mutha f******”, a slammin’ gangsta baseline and scores of peer-reviewed science papers and decades of research to back it up.
Since the original rap was posted on YouTube and other blogs (including this one) three days ago , the video has been viewed more than 56,000 times and reposted on sites in the UK, Australia and the US, including the Huffington Post, one of the world’s most popular blog sites.
For a viral online clip which features neither Justin Beiber, Charlie Sheen, Osama Bin Laden or the unlikely and hilarious antics of domesticated cats, this is a remarkable return.
Hungry Beast presenter, comedian Dan Ilic, co-creator of the clip, told me he had “basically blackmailed” the climate scientists several weeks ago into taking part by threatening to “burn a pile of 100 spare tyres” if they didn’t do it.
“I was actually very surprised they agreed but some thanks goes to my producer for helping to get it over the line,” he adds. To write the lyrics, Ilic consulted the group to ask what the key issues were on climate change. “They told me that it’s real and it’s happening. They talked about how climate feedbacks are an extraordinary thing,” he says. “When permafrost melts there’s a stack of methane that’s released which just adds exponentially to the problem”, hence the lyric Feedback is like climate change on crack .
The group of scientists were approached to take part by Ilic, who has been behind several successful viral satirical videos for community advocacy group GetUp and other campaigns.
Jason Evans, of the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre, says the offer to take part was hard to refuse, given he is a “closet rap fan” from way back.
Finally allowed to release his inner Beastie Boy, Evans, who researches past and future impacts of climate change at regional levels, slams the first line “yo….we’re climate scientists.. and there’s no denying this Climate Change Is REEEEALL.”
He’s also had his fair share of engagement with climate sceptics, although none quite like this. “You can’t be a researcher in this business for long without having to have exchanges with sceptics or deniers,” he says. “But then it also doesn’t take long for you to realise you are wasting your time,” he adds. Evans used to reply to sceptics with copies of peer-reviewed research, but these days he sees little point.
“They have made their mind up so it’s pointless engaging and, anyway, all my work is publicly available. This was really a much more fun and light-hearted way to get that message across.”
Evans says that the hardest bit to wrap was the line “Denialists deny this in your dreams, Coz climate change means greater extremes, Shit won’t be the norm, Heatwaves bigger badder storms”. But then he revealed that after he and colleagues spent an hour and half recording the audio for the track, their voices were not used in the end.
“That may tell you something about our actual rapping ability. We were just the pretty face on the front… but we are working on our first album,” he added, worryingly.
Dr Ailie Gallant, a University of Melbourne researcher in climate change and climate variability, says she took part because it “highlighted the issue of unqualified opinions on climate science by politicians, economists etc. in the media”. She also thought it was funny.
There were others who didn’t think it quite so hilarious. After undergoing a collective sense of humour bypass, climate sceptic bloggers including Tim Blair, Andrew Bolt, Anthony Watts and Steve McIntyre all grumbled disapprovingly.
“I’m not perturbed by those who deride it – it’s just satire,” says Dr Gallant. “Contrary to popular opinion, not all climate scientists are serious old men in lab coats; we are real people and we do have a sense of humour. In saying that, I think the job of satirical humour is to make people laugh, but then to make people think. I hope Hungry Beast’s rap makes people think about the importance of considering who is presenting opinions on the science of climate change in the media.”
Victoria University’s Professor Roger Jones, the elder statesman in the video who also finds time to be a lead author for the IPCC, agreed to take part in the gansta rap smash even though he says his “guilty pleasure is actually metal”. “I did it because I knew it was going to be fun,” he says, adding that he also decided to do it because he realised that most other senior professors his age would probably have said no.
“This has been a real topic in the science community more recently – why do people believe certain things. It is increasingly clear to the scientific community that the so-called rational form of decision making is only utilised by some people, some of the time.”
Professor Jones says he generally splits forms of denial into two different categories. One is “defensive” where people deny the evidence of the risks of burning fossil fuels or smoking simply because they are”too hard for people to contemplate”. The second category is “offensive” denial.
“Offensive denial shows someone’s blind self interest where they’re willing to invest time and money as the tobacco industry has and certain people are now doing, to delay decision making and confuse the evidence. For a while, the scientific community has been left behind.
“The video was always going to be offensive at some level. I take my offense at offensive denial. A bit of profanity I don’t really give a rats about. Those are just social mores.
“One of the best ways to learn about hornets is to poke the nest. In a way, this is a bit like that.”