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The Daily Tar Heel

Climate changing pop culture

Although it seems like “global warming” has long been a common term, it only entered the cultural vernacular recently as climate change was being accepted by the majority of Americans. And like many serious phenomena, the public has turned global warming into something we have perfected the art of: an object of pop culture.

I am not referring to nonfiction — An Inconvenient Truth qualifies as more than just pop culture. But Dennis Quaid staring dramatically into the distance as glaciers crumble around him in the b“lockbuster movie”: “The Day After Tomorrow” fits that category. So does the South Park episode that aired later: “Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow.”

Climate change is worming its way into literature as an increasingly common fictional subject. Scientists-turned-authors abound, and even normal authors are using a warming world as a plot device.

But the truly spectacular works it inspires take place in the future. Climate change is the new darling of science fiction — think Star Wars, but with an extinct Chewbacca and Obi-Wan battling the Force of an encroaching ice storm.

It has entered children’s pop culture as well. The little trash-chewing robot WALL-E in my favorite Pixar movie makes the dangers of waste understandable to even the very young.

Comic books have grabbed the reins as well. And though some consider these to be lower forms of literature, graphic novelists like Kate Evans are proving that they can tackle this issue just as well as any novelist. Her new graphic novel “The Carbon Supermarket” uses humor to explain carbon trades in terms anyone could understand.

It’s not all Death Stars and climate superheroes either; global warming has inspired some truly poignant works. Barbara Kingsolver, an environmentalist-author, makes climate change a plot driver in her emotional books. And as much as I make fun of Dennis Quaid, his search to find his son in a drowning New York City gets me every single time.

Climate change is so scary and so dramatic because it is real and happening now. When we see families torn apart by extreme weather, we think Hurricane Sandy; in our minds fictional devastated towns and cities become our own.

Some might think the transformation of climate change from a scientific subject into a medium of pop culture downgrades its seriousness, but I think it’s a good thing.

People will only act to change something they consider important. Stuffy scientists droning on about glacial temperatures may not inspire the average individual, but a movie about a family that looks just like your own certainly might. Even cartoons like “South Park” get global warming into ordinary people’s living rooms, and that is the first step.

Climate change is no laughing matter, but if it takes a million comic books to get people to change their ways, then let the jokes roll. After all, when the climatologist walked into a bar…

Holly Beilin is a columnist from the Daily Tar Heel. She is a junior global studies major from Weston, Fla. Contact her at

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