Why did this beloved source of climate memes disappear?

Canary memorializes gone-but-not-forgotten Climemechange and curates a list of its greatest meme hits.
By Mike Munsell

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Canary Media’s Friday Social column explores the intersection of energy, climate and social media.

I’m going to close out Canary’s week of special coverage on recycling renewables in the most Friday Social way possible — by recycling some renewable energy and climate memes. But these aren’t just any climate memes; they have to do with a mystery I’ve been trying to solve for a while now.

What happened to Climemechange?

For years, if you saw a climate or renewable energy meme going viral, there was a strong chance it was created or propagated by the popular Instagram account Climemechange.

The account has over 116,000 followers, including Greenpeace, Greta Thunberg and AOC. It’s been profiled by Vice, Gizmodo and others.

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Yet despite its popularity, the creator of the account deleted its years’ worth of memes and has largely stopped posting. This Buzzfeed listicle of Climemechange memes is now a graveyard of deleted posts.

The account started in 2018 and, as best as I can tell, shut down halfway through 2021.

Then, around the time of last fall’s COP26 conference in Glasgow, Climemechange, perhaps feeling the buzz of the climate-centric week, emerged from dormancy and posted a handful of Instagram stories.

Given my self-assigned beat (climate and the internet) and seeing that Climemechange was temporarily active again, I reached out through a mutual Instagram connection, hoping to learn more about why they had mostly stopped posting. They relayed that they were not yet ready to chat, and I haven’t heard back since, despite a couple more attempts to contact them.

Like whoever is behind parody site The Sunion, the person behind the Climemechange account chooses to remain anonymous, but they have noted that they have been working with cleantech business and climate policy” and have real-world credentials of knowing what’s causing climate change and how we can solve it.”

I respect their right to anonymity; I was just hoping to learn more about the sudden disappearance. Climate communication is vitally important today, and humor is a great tool.

Comedian Rollie Williams of the popular YouTube channel Climate Town (and a previous subject of this column) explains the connection in a Columbia University Climate School blog post:

The deck is stacked against climate communication. Fossil fuels have spent billions to confuse people, the human brain seems wired to underestimate long-term problems, and even beautiful, sexy facts have become murky and politicized. The biggest asset climate communication has is the ever-increasing club of people who care enough about climate change to try to recruit new members. The next step is for them to take off the kid gloves and talk about climate change through a more human lens that incorporates humor. That’s the funny, empowering, informed, fun humanity that gives momentum to a movement.

As goofy as a meme account is, the person behind Climemechange is an excellent climate communicator and quite knowledgeable too. When asked what message they have for climate doomers, Climemechange told Vice in 2020:

Every fraction of a degree of warming that we avoid has an immense, gargantuan, impossible-to-overstate large impact on countless real human lives. The problem is that people think in binaries sometimes. It’s not like the only two choices are we’re doomed” or things are good” — that’s the wrong mental framework. There is in fact an infinite spectrum of outcomes between the best-case scenario of a fossil-fuel-less, closed-loop, regenerative, socially just society and the worst-case scenario of mass extinction.

But it’s also true that things can get much worse, and some things can also get much better. We can wake up every day and choose to pull the levers to make things as good as we can given the circumstances. Our true power isn’t in going zero-waste and vegan at home and never flying again, although that’s good for the planet, but our much greater power is in voting, organizing, putting our dollars in ethical places and making our voices heard when it comes to what our future should look like.

In the Gizmodo interview, Climemechange gets to the heart of why they originally started the Instagram account.

[My account is] for getting the people that can say a million more things about the Avengers universe than our own universe, people who just simply don’t know about what’s going on and aren’t thinking about it and making them a little bit more conscious of it. […] If you take stuff that people are already looking at, laughing at, and relating to, you can layer this subject over it in a way that makes them just think about it for two seconds while they’re scrolling past another picture of their ex having fun without them. And if you can get them to think [about climate change] for those two seconds, that’s two more seconds than they were thinking about it before. Maybe they’ll even become somebody who’s involved with making change here.

I still haven’t decided if today’s article is a plea for a comeback or an obituary for the account. If it’s the latter, then I’ll proceed to memorialize the account by sharing some of the posts that continue to live on through Twitter and the internet at large. Or maybe I’m just pulling them out of the online landfill and doing my part to recycle.

Mike Munsell is director of growth at Canary Media.