Confessions of a Climate Meme Maker

10 Climate Memes for an Age of Climate Crisis Grief | ISSUE 26, Nov. 23, 2019

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Environmental attorney Mary Christina Wood made a pungent observation about who is addressing the climate crisis—and who isn’t—in a February 2019 profile in The Sun, “Before It’s Too Late: Mary Christina Wood On Avoiding Climate Disaster”

INTRODUCTION | Tackling Climate Crisis Grief

Every week it seems someone writes about eco-despair, eco-anxiety or some version of climate crisis freakout. At a recent climate change conference I attended, one presenter was Lisa Van Susteren (sister of Greta, the TV news anchor). She’s a founder of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance, whose business card is definitely not light reading:

I took her card and asked to interview her for a future podcast. I hope to take a deeper dive into what I suppose we should all start calling ‘climate psychiatry.’

And also maybe ‘climate mindfulness’?

Cara Buckley published a notable addition to that genre in the New York Times, with the eye-grabbing headline: “APOCALYPSE GOT YOU DOWN? Maybe This Will Help: Searching for a cure for my climate crisis grief.” It’s an above-average entry in the bumper crop of articles on grappling with the frightening thought we may have wrecked the planet in a ditch.

Below is a sampling of Buckley’s insights on working through her C.C.G. (Sooner or later, we need to standardize what to call ‘climate crisis grief’ in the Associated Press Stylebook. I mean that with all due respect, although with a little gallows humor—about the only kind of humor you can bring to the climate crisis.)

Here is Buckley:

Several psychologists told me they are telling the same thing to patients who are grappling with eco-despair: Feeling depressed about the crisis is actually a sane, healthy response. Yet as a culture, we pathologize depression as a personal failing, and as individuals, we avoid it, partly … out of the fear that if we dive in we won’t emerge. But that causes us to shut down. By jumping into the pain, it can alchemize into something bigger, Ms. Serrante told us, and reconnect us with our deepest selves.

The key is to channel it, through everyday actions or joining wider movements, and also to figure out a way to face it without being controlled by it, because operating out of fear, anger and blame burns us out. That is where the spiritual component comes in — to find a way to move to a place not of tacit acceptance, but of fierce, roaring compassion.

1 | Take Everyday Actions

Let me repeat something Buckley notes. The key is to channel eco-despair “through everyday actions.” So, here’s one thing I do, if not every day, about every week or so.

I make climate memes. I can’t gauge their impact except to note how many times they get retweeted or earn a comment. But meme-making helps work off some nervous C.C.G. energy. I hope they add to the climate conversation by lifting up key quotes on climate science, activism and advice for coping with the crisis.

I sift Twitter and the media for astute observations, insights and facts. Then, I fire up my smartphone “Be Funky” app (yes, that’s its real name) and get to meme-making.

I try to use my own photos when possible, instead of stock photography, to make them more original. It takes longer if I use one of my elder brother’s cool, swirled landscape photos, which look like funky little Earths. I run drafts by him for graphic feedback, which adds time for revisions.

Then, I pitch them like messages in a bottle, into the ocean of the World Wide Web.

Here, for example, is something Cara Buckley wrote in her Times ‘Apocalypse’ piece:

… What I learned, in the Red Hook workshop and in long conversations with psychologists, deep ecologists, an indigenous activist and Western Buddhists, was more or less a prescription for handling climate grief.

It looks like this: Live like the crisis is urgent. Embrace the pain, but don’t stop there. Seek out a spiritual path to forge gratitude, compassion and acceptance, because operating out of denial, anger or fear only hurts us in the end.

The second paragraph leapt out. I pulled one of my brother’s swirled nature shots into “Be Funky.” Below is the result, which you, O reader, are seeing for the first time publicly in this newsletter:

Steal this CCT climate meme and others on this page. (Attribution credit welcome. SOURCE: ChangingClimateTimes.substack.com)


Earlier this year, at what I call the CCT ‘MemeWorks,’ I began sourcing the meme quotes. That way, people can track back to the context from which the meme was sprung. If you’re on Twitter, check out the hashtag #ClimateMemes, which features about 20 CCT memes. I used to have the hashtag mostly to my memes. But it’s getting busy these days.

Everyday actions.

It’s all we’ve got.

TWO | The Difference Between Weather v. Climate


You hope that we’re long past the point where a climate change-trolling Congressman totes a snowball into the U.S. Capitol to try and disprove global warming.

But probably not. So, with the help of his colleagues, Climate Central meteorologist Sean Sublette launched a recent Twitter thread that serves up illuminating metaphors on the difference between weather vs. climate. Click here or on the meme below to check out the thread. Add metaphors of your own for the next time a public official lobs a snowball at climate science because he had ice on his windshield.

THREE | The Climate Movement is Growing, Not Shrinking

It’s an odd state of affairs for those who spend loads of time staying current with climate news. We get knocked for a loop at a new report on the crumbling West Antarctic ice shelf and the disaster its collapse could pose for coastal populations.

Then, along comes this week’s fifth Democratic U.S. presidential debate, where exactly one question was asked about the defining matter of our age. (I don’t consider it an ‘issue’ as climate change subsumes all other issues.)

And you wonder: What does a global crisis have to do to get a little attention around here?

One of my favorite political bloggers, Kevin Drum, mused in a post titled: “Climate Change is Still Second or Third Fiddle for Democrats” on why candidates punted on climate change in their say-anything closing statements:

… For a group of people who are all willing to raise their hands to agree that climate change is an existential threat, they sure didn’t even feel like name-checking it when they had a free chance to do so. Apparently they didn’t think it was a subject that would motivate their voters … Sadly, they were probably right.

Even so, as Nylah Burton tweeted some months back: “The climate movement is growing, not shrinking”:

The above meme features my photo from a global climate crisis rally on Sept. 26, 2019, in the capital city of West Virginia, a place not known as a hotbed of climate activism.


How much is the climate movement growing? I posted the meme below in ISSUE 24 of CCT last month, but it bears re-sharing. Way back in Autumn 2018, a rail-thin 15-year-old named Greta flashed her now famous, hand-scrawled ‘Skolstrejk for Klimatet’ sign outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm. She was a lone kid with a single sign.

Things grew a bit by Autumn 2019:

FOUR | Never Be Afraid To Make Some Noise

Rep. John Lewis was not talking about climate change activism when he uttered this remark below. But he could have been …

FIVE | Multisolve Climate Change

Dr. Elizabeth Sawin, a biologist with a Ph.D. from MIT, is co-director of Climate Interactive in Washington, D.C. The not-for-profit think tank applies systems analysis to climate change to break down barriers to people working together. On Twitter, she has also stepped into a role as a kind of spiritual tweet-coach for people involved in climate change work. Her pinned tweet on her Twitter profile captures the spirit of this climate-tweeting:

“There is only one force I know of that is capable of seizing the win-win-win opportunities at the intersection of health, equity, jobs and climate. People, connected across silos, by bonds of trust and shared values.”

In a Tedx Talk on Youtube, she describes a “multisolving” approach to addressing the climate crisis, by helping other people solve their problems. Her quote below is a snapshot of the talk’s message:

‘Come-out-of-your-silo kaffeeklatschs’ seem utterly necessary to broaden and solidify the coalition needed for such a massive challenge. Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, seeks to help the cause with “climate beers.” By god, there’s even a website—climatebeer.com — with a great motto: ‘Have a Drink. Speak Your #ClimateTruth.’ Here’s Kalmus on the intersection of climate and beer:

When we truly accept the reality of climate breakdown and let it into our emotional selves, we might feel grief, or rage, or terror, or a complex mix of emotions. However, if we don’t do this, it means we’re holding Climate Truth at arms length, which means we’re still in denial at some level, which means we won’t be doing everything we can to stop climate destruction. Acceptance is the key to action, but acceptance takes courage.

Climate Beers are a way to meet with other climate freaks and express our emotions. I hope this might lead to greater community, greater acceptance, and greater action. We are in this together. ClimateBeer.com gives simple guidelines for facilitating a Climate Beer in your community. Like all my projects, I could use your help – please contact me!

Whoa, a chance to help out other climate freaks with a beery climate meme. (I did have to borrow a beer shot from Unsplash shooter Wil Stewart):

SIX | Reach Out to the Reachable

Climate scientist Michael E. Mann has been on the climate barricades for about as long as anyone on the scene. So, he has a thing or two to say about how much effort one should spend on those who refuse to wake up to the climate freight train screaming down the track. (Or in Upton Sinclair’s famous quote “when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” )

I’ve published this meme before, but it remains, alas, pertinent. As Thanksgiving approaches and you share turkey and stuffing—with relatives you wish might would stuff it—this climate meme may be worth keeping in mind:

SEVEN | Don’t Do Nothing

Climate justice essayist Mary Heglar’s profile has increased a lot since her Vox article of June 4, 2019, pointedly titled  “I WORK IN THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT. I DON’T CARE IF YOU RECYCLE: Stop obsessing over your environmental ‘sins.’ Fight the oil and gas industry instead.” I encourage you to read the essay and follow her work, including her recent piece in Guernica magazine, “After the Storm: How Hurricane Katrina and the murder of Emmett Till shaped one woman’s commitment to climate justice.” (Man, she has great sub-headings on her articles.)

If one thing needs to be said over and over to folks who wonder what all the fuss is about with this climate change stuff, it’s this sentence from her VOX piece (which is why I re-post this climate meme once every few months):

EIGHT | Only One Thing Matters

At 81, actress Jane Fonda has been protesting longer than most people have been breathing. She has had a succession of climate protest arrests in recent weeks. So she has earned the right to get right to the point:

NINE | Be Aware of the Whole World

Climate scientist Kate Marvel is another person whose work anyone just coming to climate crisis awareness should follow. Check out her brief essay, “We Need Courage, Not Hope, To Fight Climate Change.” It is a difficult read, but these are difficult times. I memed this quote below from the piece as it neatly sums up some of the science behind climate change, while underscoring that all the seemingly random acts of the human species are trembling the foundations of Earth’s operating system:

TEN | Look After Yourself

In perusing a host of heavy-message climate memes for the No. 10 slot, I decided to go with a key, wise piece of advice by a young climate activist. Pass it forward:

PS | You Promised Cartoons.

I did, way back in ISSUE 1. Not exactly a cartoon, but you can’t go wrong with Bill Murray and a groundhog:

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And remember:
Change the World. Not the big one. The one in which you live. And love. PS: And climate strike.

Be well. | CCT Curator, Concierge and Host Douglas John Imbrogno