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Video on Climate Skeptics Generates Millions of Views and Some Controversy

The viral video, posted in late August, has brought political satire to the debate on climate change, outing skeptics in Congress and causing a stir.

Sep 10, 2013

A funny video that calls on the World Meteorological Organization to name hurricanes after climate deniers in Congress has struck a chord, or a nerve, with people around the world—going viral in the two weeks since it was first posted on YouTube.

"We are knocking at the door of 2 million views of the video in around one week—more than we could have hoped or expected for," Daniel Kessler, media campaigner for 350.org Action Fund, the climate activist group behind the viral video, said last week.

But the video has done more than generate views and cause a laugh. It has sparked over ten thousand comments on YouTube and other social sites debating the scientific evidence about climate threats and the merits of poking fun at climate science doubters—with slightly more than half favoring the video.

"Awesome video," wrote one YouTube commentator. "In a perfect world this [naming system] would be true."

The 2-minute-48-second video, designed by the advertising agency Barton F. Graf 9000, starts with pictures of smiling everyday people who share names with some of the most destructive hurricanes to hit the United States—Sandy, Andrew, Katrina.

"What did these people do to deserve having their names associated with this," says the narrator in a deadpan semi-sarcastic tone.

Because global warming will fuel "more frequent and devastating storms," the narrator suggests an alternative approach: to name extreme storms after lawmakers who deny the reality of climate change and oppose policies to curb emissions. A fake newscaster prepares the nation for "Hurricane Marco Rubio," a Republican senator from Florida and a climate skeptic.

"Marco Rubio is very dangerous," says a breaking news alert that flashes across the fictitious broadcast. The video targets about a half-dozen other politicians.

The video was shared by popular social media websites, including Upworthy, which mines the web for potentially viral content that it sees as meaningful. "It was like finally somebody was expressing what [people] were thinking in a very hilarious and eloquent way," said Adam Mordecai, the Upworthy contributor who shared the video.

Mordechai posted the video under the headline "This Is Probably The Funniest, Most Effective Way To Deal With People Who Ignore Science Facts Ever." It set an Upworthy record for the most views for a climate change-related post, with 1.9 million views. It is now the 21st most-watched video on the site.

On YouTube, the video has 2.05 million views, with more than 11,000 thumbs up and about 3,200 thumbs down.

Representatives for Rubio and the six other lawmakers featured in the video did not respond to requests for comment.

David Kreutzer, a fellow in energy, economics and climate change at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research think tank, said the video is misleading.

"They can name hurricanes after whomever they want," Kreutzer said. But to mislead people "into thinking that if Congress voted on cap and trade [or other climate policy], then we wouldn't be having these hurricanes is a fraud."

'A New Way Of Talking About This Issue'

New viral videos crop up every day—largely a result of sites like Buzzfeed that are designed to manufacture viral content on the social web. Much of them show cute pictures of animals, especially cats.

Few if any videos on climate change have hit the viral traffic goldmine.

Dave Canning and Dan Treichel, creative directors at Barton F. Graf 9000, said they felt they had a winning idea early on. "Once we started seeing edits of the video, then we kind of thought it would catch on," Canning said. This is "because of how controversial and funny it is. It's a new way of talking about this" issue of climate denial in U.S. politics, Treichel added.

Kessler of 350 Action Fund attributed the video's popularity to rising public acceptance of climate change and the news relevance of the topic. Just as the video was released, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) grabbed headlines when he said in a speech, "I am a global warming denier. I don't deny that."

Kessler said the group began working with Barton F. Graf 9000 on the video this spring. They chose to focus on hurricanes because Sandy's fierce destruction has become a sign of global warming and was the catalyst that forced climate action back on the Democratic political agenda. The hurricane's 14-foot storm surge engulfed the Atlantic seaboard last November and caused as much as $65 billion in damages. In its wake, top climate scientists went public linking warming ocean temperatures and rising seas with extreme storms.

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