A decade of cli-memes

From Saltbae to Smudge the cat, the meme makers react to the climate crisis

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By Lesley Price

Memes haven’t only changed the way we communicate but are the language of our online generation. And, for many of us, are the glue of our digital friendships. No matter how crudely drawn or poorly photoshopped, these visual jokes help us express ourselves, bring us together, and show us how universal humour can be.

With great global crises, come great memes. So, without further ado, let’s commiserate over the best climate memes of the decade.

01 — Ermahgerd

An impeccable reaction to becoming ‘woke’. Though we didn’t take climate change as seriously back in 2012, now more than ever, the world has us saying “ermahgerd!”

02 — This is fine

A great adaption based on the iconic illustration by K.C. Green, where flames engulf the surroundings. Things weren’t fine in 2013 and, unfortunately, they’re even less fine now. #sendingpositivevibes!

03 — Drakeposting

‘Hotline Bling’ topped the charts in 2015 and Drake’s dance moves drew equal attention. As Drakes coveted career continues, the ‘Drakeposting’ genre grows in weird and wonderful ways.

04 — Conceited reaction

This Conceited Reaction peaked in 2016 derived from a rap battle video. It resurfaced later in the decade to offer this grim yet appropriate reaction to the face-tune movement.

05 — Saltbae

If you haven’t heard of SaltBae, Turkey’s most celebrated butcher, you’ve been missing out. With his epic knife skills and sensual meat treatments, he quickly rose to meme fame in 2017. Here, his cavalier attitude to salt sprinkling bares a striking resemblance to our fossil fuel giants.

06 — Smudge the cat

Perhaps the most ‘worked’ meme ever, Smudge the cat vs a heated moment from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Both expressions perfectly sum up the struggle of unaligned priorities.

07 — Is this a pigeon?

A memorable quote from a 90s Japanese anime T.V. series turned fitting meme for all blind-to-the-obvious scenarios. And it’s certainly not just Americans confused by soaring CO2 levels.

08 — Andy King

If you know it, you know it. If not, watch 2018’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened to understand the vulnerable expression of Andy King, AKA Evian guy, and his commitment to hydration — or in this case, reducing carbon emissions.

09 — All Right Then, Keep Your Secrets

An “OK, boomer” moment meets Middle-earth.

10 — Hide the pain Harold

Finally, Hide the pain Harold: the face of a decade. Plucked from a stock photo site in 2011, Harold’s glassy eyes and forced-smile convey a feeling that’s sadly way too relatable. Fun fact: ‘Harold’ has even made a TED Talk about becoming a viral sensation.

Honourable mentions

11 — Leo, our most prominent celebrity climate change warrior, keeping up the good fight.

12 — Lizzo and her tiny Valentino purse at the American Music Awards.


But, all jokes aside, the BIGGEST joke is that people still don’t take climate change seriously — it’s real and needs immediate action. If you are or know, someone doing something significant to combat it, tell us about it or nominate it for Index Award 2021.

Thanks for reading, folks!

We celebrate people, from far and wide, who use design to change the world. We call it #designtoimprovelife

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