Memes, as defined by Culture2 (formerly DarwinSF) founders Joe Brewer and Lazlo Karafiath, are “the units of culture that reproduce themselves through people’s thoughts and behaviors.” The word meme has recently been appropriated by Internet culture to have a quick image with some funny text overlaid on it, but a meme can be any idea or concept that gets passed around and takes hold.
Nearly a year ago, Brewer and Karafiath started the Climate Meme project. By studying the spread of memes and ideas surrounding climate change, they found that a surprisingly small 5 percent of Americans think about and digest global warming as an idea. This means a whopping 95 percent of the US population are somehow able to avoid thinking about climate change, even when prompted to do so by mass weather events. Using the analogy of a virus, it seems that most people are able to immunize themselves from thinking about the global warming “virus.”
If you are reading Sustainable Brands, chances are that you are part of the 5 percent. The original Climate Meme project studied the way that memes and ideas spread between the 5 percent who do engage with the ideas. The research found that there were approximately 5,000 unique thought constructs concerning global warming. These different ideas were then shown to hit on five different resonance points ranging from the survival aspect of a climate-warmed future to the worry over finding unity over the many issues.
However, it seems that the ideas truly have stopped spreading beyond this 5 percent of the population. Now Brewe and Karafiath have joined with San Francisco design and strategy consultant Ting Kelly to expand the project with Climate Meme 2. Instead of examining what causes ideas to spread, this project will focus on what is stopping the 95 percent from engaging with the ideas. If the study is able to pinpoint the psychological reason that prevents further interaction, it is possible that these memes or ideas can be adapted to break down these defenses and infect the cultural ethos even further.
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With so much focus on internal debates, it is refreshing to see a project that wants to expand the population pool and reach a wider target. Only through involving a larger community on a personal level will the meme of global warming take root and connect. But with just a few days remaining in Climate Meme 2’s crowdfunding campaign on Rocket Hub, this incredibly promising project, based on complex systems and ideas that aims to reshape the way we think about spreading information, is poised to be underfunded and undervalued. Help Climate Meme spread the climate change virus!