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This Viral Meme Sparked a Discussion About Carbon Emissions

Can memes start conversations about the climate crisis? How a viral Twitter meme opened the door to a discussion about global carbon emissions.

Written by
Angelica Pizza

The internet makes it easy for us to start conversations. Through social media and mass media, it’s convenient for the average person to share stories, news, information, and everything in between. That means we’re also seeing an increase in conversations surrounding sustainability, the environment, and carbon emissions.

That's where Shanu Mathew's recent viral tweet comes in. In February 2022, Mathew, a vice president in sustainable investing and net-zero focused research at a $275 billion+ AUM investment manager, tweeted his thoughts about who's responsible for global emissions.


The tweet features the popular Spider-Man pointing meme, with each Spider-Man cartoon labeled as a different industry that should lower its emissions. Included in the picture are developed countries, companies, consumers, governments, and more.

And the tweet made its way onto our timeline. The meme garnered over 3,000 likes and received hundreds of retweets and responses, sparking a conversation about the climate crisis—and asking who's to blame.

In this week's episode of Good Together, Mathew and Brightly's founder and CEO Laura Wittig discuss the message behind the meme and the road to net-zero carbon emissions.

The Meme's Message: It's Time to Take Action

Mathew says the meme was born out of "frustration" in regard to narratives that try to decipher who's to blame for the climate crisis—all while avoiding action. He believes we need "less blaming" and more action if we want to make progress.

"In this space, this velocity of information that comes out is really hard for most people to process, and oftentimes it tries to attribute a huge amount of emissions to a particular topic or a party," he says. "And then we end up in this environment where everyone is consistently pointing at a worse offender or someone else that has a bigger responsibility as well. Instead of actually taking action and getting your own house in order, we're spending all this time in a circular motion of saying, 'Well, how about XYZ?'"

Mathew also says he thinks the meme generated the attention it did because there's a "collective frustration" regarding climate change and how to solve it. And for Mathew, the main message is that we need global leadership to step up.

Can We Achieve Net-Zero Emissions?

In the same Twitter thread as the Spider-Man meme, Mathew tweeted some highlights from the 2022 McKinsey report, which details the necessary actions to take across industries in order to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

According to the report, “global decarbonization will be possible only if nine system-level requirements are met." And Mathew says this action is going to require effort from everyone.

"Ultimately, if you think about systems, they're made of their individual parts," he says. "And the people that we elect to represent in government are people that we each individually vote for, and corporations where you decide to work, and where you decide to spend your money. That's ultimately how you can influence some of these companies."

He also says there are five major challenge areas that are responsible for decreasing the world's emissions: industry, transportation, agriculture, energy, and buildings. That means the solution isn't one-size-fits-all. Instead, there are multiple actions that need to be taken across these sectors.

However, despite how daunting it may seem to tackle global carbon emissions, Mathew says he's encouraged by the attention this global issue is receiving. And he's excited to see everyone participating in making a change. He says this is a "systems-level problem," but with all hands on deck, we can solve it.

To learn more about Mathew's work and how the sustainability space needs to change to achieve net-zero goals, listen to this week's episode of Good Together.