Commentary by John C. Topping, Jr., Climate Institute President and Avid Cartoon Collector
Sometimes the best barometers of the arrival of a political issue or a cultural shift are political cartoons and in the US monologues of the late night talk show hosts. In recent months climate change has moved front and center not only in Europe, Oceana and Asia, but also as a grist for the mills of American cartoonists.
Perhaps the most biting of recent videos is one of master Bush impersonator Will Ferrell's lampooning the 43rd President 's views on global warming.
ExxonMobil is taken to task for its efforts to fund climate skeptics and to oppose greenhouse emission limits in a biting cartoon video, Toast the Earth, that also assails the company's vigorous effort to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. This video, a product of Exxpose Exxon, a combined effort of 15 environmental groups, is being blizzarded across the country just as Exxon Mobil has announced the largest one quarter profits — ten billion dollars — of any firm in American history. It also comes just as ExxonMobil's hard-line CEO, Lee Raymond, has retired. Video viewers are asked to email the new CEO, Rex Tillerson, and urge him to change ExxonMobil's course. This video is not only biting but it also is perhaps the most targeted cartoon video ever directed at a head of a major US firm.
For years cartoons on global warming have tended to be fairly soft edged such as in this e-greeting card of a beach scene. Over the past year or so as evidence has mounted that the climate may be changing greatly the Bush administration has come under withering fire from cartoonists both for its hesitancy to endorse greenhouse emission limits and for its apparent censorship of climate science. Stories in early June that a senior White House aide had consorted with oil industry lobbyists to rewrite climate science reports evoked scornful commentary from Steve Bell in The Guardian, Tom Toles in the Washington Post to Jen Sorensen in the alternative Slowpoke blog.
Perhaps the most telling of these cartoons to date is a video with a Halloween climate mash theme. The President, Vice President and Congress are depicted as pawns of the fossil fuel industry. There is an anti-Bush flavor to a Finnish cartoon series. The international environmental group, Greenpeace, depicts Bush as a Pinocchio-like patsy led by the nose by the oil industry. The chickens have come home to roost in a cartoon in the UK-based Tiempo that depicts the US Capitol flooded with a future Bush grandson clutching to the dome to save his life. Some other Tiempo cartoons are hardly much kinder. The same is true of cartoons by Victoria, British Columbia cartoonist Ole Heggen.
Bush is tweaked slightly more gently by some US cartoonists. In several, human inactivity also fuels global warming, believing in an Easter Bunny or Santa Claus view of global warming, and in some uncharitable cartoons posted on a Rutgers site. The President was almost literally tweaked in a story, Bush Attacked by Penguins, posted on an Internet parody site.
With the US President’s less than skillful handling of the Katrina response, cartoonists had a field day lambasting him and his administration both for ineptness and for coddling fossil fuel interests and risking more severe hurricanes in the future. The Washington–based liberal group, Center for American Progress in a cartoon, Katrinastan, savagely depicts the President and Vice President as Roman despots seeking a way out of declining popularity. A gentler but negative caricature of Bush as an inept chef cooking in the Katrina kitchen is presented by British cartoonist, Mark Wilson. Yet the piling on of the foreign press and cartoonists in Bush whacking evoked a mild amount of sympathy for the President with US cartoonist Daryl Cagle of MSNBC.com declaiming against this in a column. Daryl Cagle in another column intersperses an interview with greenhouse skeptic Fred Singer with an assortment of climate-related cartoons. Katrina-related developments caused the libertarian site, reason.com, to skewer FEMA and Congressional pork barreling.
Bush is not the only US politician lampooned for his stance on climate. The President’s 2000 Democratic opponent is ridiculed by Detroit News cartoonist, Larry Wright, in a caricature entitled Gore-bal warming. Politicians in Australia and New Zealand have been skewered for climate denial.
Business attitudes on profiting from climate change are lampooned in a British cartoon and US automakers are pilloried for opposing the California CO2 standards. A range of climate change cartoons is listed on a commercial site and yet another. One cartoon lampoons the public's confusion of global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion.
A weekly on-line environmental cartoon, Rustle the Leaf, is linking with environmental groups, especially in the US, to promote earth-saving themes. Perhaps the most scientifically sophisticated of all the work to date is a cartoon book done about 5 years ago by Kate Evans on Climate Chaos. In 2006 Evans produced an updated version. A recent British government cartoon video of about three and a half minutes provides a detailed forecast of likely changes in British weather patterns in a greenhouse enhanced world (click on link in left column, "Interactive Content: Climate Change is happening," Flash video).
Cartoons are emerging as a means of educating young people about steps they can take to protect the climate. An on–line interactive Australian game site targeted at young people features Greena, “the worrier princess” who shows young Australians how they can translate their concern for the climate to effective action. We are likely to see a lot more of these game sites in many languages as innovative, media savvy people join the climate protection fight. UCAR has a Kids’ Crossing site and US EPA has its Kids Site on global warming.
Antedating the recent disclosures of warming in the Arctic, a clever ad hoc musical group, Captain Sea Level and his merry band, as early as 1988 was entertaining hundreds with its renditions of such songs as When the North Pole Melts (cartoon). The group has posted a cartoon on its site and others depicting Santa Claus’ quandary in a rapidly warming world. It would not be surprising to see clever lyrics soon melded into video cartoons on climate change. The potential imagery is powerful — polar bears and penguins in distress, Santa treading water, and fossil fuel producers and their political acolytes fiddling while the Earth burns. Perhaps this imagery will do as much as the mountain of accumulating scientific studies to move the public to insist on decisive actions by policymakers.
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