Climate Action Through Comedy: An Interview with Adam Levy, PhD

Adam Levy, or as he is known online, “ClimateAdam”, is a climate scientist and YouTube personality.

After getting his PhD in atmospheric physics from the University of Oxford, Levy started a YouTube channel called “ClimateAdam”. His channel, as he describes it, provides “all the crucial climate change gossip” and is “dedicated to making important information about climate change clear, accessible and playful”. In an age of climate skepticism and apathy, Levy seeks to make climate science both informative and enjoyable.

We had the opportunity to chat with Adam Levy regarding how to make climate science accessible and engaging, and his path in fighting for climate justice. If you’re interested in seeing more of his work, subscribe to his YouTube channel!  

Mikaela: Tell us a little about you. What sparked your interest in climate science? What is your background in climate science academically and professionally?

Adam: I remember hearing about global warming first when I was a child. I didn’t understand it much then, but I recognized that it could be something very serious. A decade or so later, when I was in my early 20s, I had just graduated from a physics degree, and had a strong desire to apply it to something meaningful. So I decided to go back to study, to research the science of climate change. I now have a doctorate in atmospheric physics (climate science) from the University of Oxford. I don’t do research anymore, but I spend a lot of my time thinking and talking about global warming, both professionally and recreationally!

Mikaela: You’re the host and producer of a YouTube channel called “ClimateAdam”. What inspired you to create the channel?

Adam: While I was doing my doctorate, I was constantly having conversations about climate change. I realized just how different those conversations were when I had them with my colleagues versus when they were with friends, family, and strangers. But I loved these discussions, because it felt like I was able to share the knowledge I was accumulating, and help other people see through some of the disinformation they had come across. So I thought, why not start talking to even more strangers? I decided to start making YouTube videos about climate change, and so ClimateAdam was born!

Mikaela: How would you describe your approach to climate science education?

Adam: I was aiming to make a YouTube channel that was first and foremost entertaining and engaging. I wanted my videos to be funny enough that you’d want to watch to the end even if you didn’t care about climate change. The hope was that if I could do this, I could trick people into learning. And maybe even trick them into caring.

Mikaela: Who has influenced this approach?

Adam: My biggest influences were other YouTubers. I’ve spent years watching Natalie Tran’s videos (communitychannel), for example, and I loved her self-deprecating sense of humor, combined with the absurdity of her playing all the characters. If I could tell climate change relevant stories with half her charm, I told myself, then I’d be doing alright. Other YouTubers, like the Vlog Brothers, convinced me that YouTube can be a powerful platform for explaining complex ideas in engaging ways.

Mikaela: How do you see social media factoring into activism and social change?

Adam: Social media can be something of a double edged sword.  It connects us, but it can also reinforce the barriers between us. It’s been great engaging with others who care about climate change. But the most meaningful interactions I’ve had are the - often fleeting - conversations with people who have simply not given global warming much thought. It’s those interactions that make me feel ClimateAdam is worthwhile, and remind me of the power of social media to inform as well as entertain.

Mikaela: Have you had many interactions with climate skeptics? What were those interactions like?

Adam: When you tell people you work on climate change, you quickly find out just how common skepticism is. And it’s very hard to predict who thinks global warming is a “load of rubbish”.

My interactions with skeptics have generally fallen into one of two camps. Some people have heard all sorts of conflicting information, and are genuinely - and understandably - skeptical. They ask questions, and listen to answers.

But some people aren’t hoping to have a conversation, and don’t care about the answers to the questions they raise. I once gave a talk on climate change, and took questions after. A hand went up immediately, and before I could catch my breath he’d asked ten questions all of which started along the lines of “If climate change is real, then how come…?” My interrogator was completely disinterested in the answers to his questions. He just wanted to ‘ask’ more questions.

Mikaela: Have you made any unexpected connections with people through ClimateAdam?

Adam: I recently had the great pleasure of meeting writer and artist, Rosemary Mosco. It was wonderful to meet someone whose approach is so different, but whose core values overlap so strongly.

Mikaela: What are some other projects you’re involved in, outside of ClimateAdam?

Adam: I’m a reporter at Nature, the interdisciplinary journal of science. I co-host the weekly Nature Podcast, and make (slightly more sensible) videos for Nature Video. I don’t just cover climate science at Nature, which is probably good for me, as I’m most likely obsessed with the climate enough already.

Mikaela: If you had a magic wand and could change one thing regarding the politics or practices that cause global warming, what would you change?  

Adam: I would make burning carbon cost as much as air pollution and climate change cost our society.

Mikaela: What advice would you give to people interested in climate action?

Adam: There are so many ways to act on climate change: protest; voting; lower your personal carbon footprint. But whatever you do, it’s essential you talk about it. Our collective silence on this overwhelming issue is deafening.