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Employing Humor to Make Climate Science Digestible

In Review: The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change

Just six years ago, Gallup estimated that 61 percent of Americans grasped the reality that human activities cause global warming. Today, that number has slipped to 57 percent. In this climate of decreasing public acceptance, we need persuasive, knowledgeable advocates explaining the human book cover thumbnailcauses of global warming in elegant, digestible, and, most importantly, acceptable ways to counter the relentless disinformation war being waged by the fossil fuel industry.

One creative tool to help increase awareness and understanding of how human activities cause climate change is The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change, a new graphic book illustrated by Grady Klein, and written by Yoram Bauman, who describes himself as “The World’s First and Only Stand-Up Economist.” Together, these two bring a modicum of levity to the task of conveying the basics of climate change, an otherwise dour topic. With a comedic touch, and a small cast of characters cracking jokes in the background, they elucidate the basics of climate science, predictions of future warming, and possible solutions. Drawing heavily from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Klein illustrates numerous infographics to help readers visualize complicated processes and associated statistics.

page from a graphic bookKlein & BaumanWith a comedic touch, and a small cast of characters cracking jokes in the
background, Bauman and Klein elucidate the basics of climate science,
predictions of future warming, and possible solutions. Click to enlarge.

Bauman’s background as an economist comes through clearly in his analysis, exemplified by his seven Chinas theory. The seven billion humans who occupy the planet at this time can be split into five groups of 1.4 billion, roughly the size of China’s population, he explains. The Rich Countries make up just one of those Chinas but are responsible for half of all resource consumption and half of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Global economic development is rapidly transforming poor people in the other four Chinas into middle class consumers who look to the Rich Countries as role models. If they follow in the footsteps of the Rich Countries, global resource consumption and greenhouse gas production will multiply two-and-a-half times without any population growth. But, population growth will likely take us up to 10 billion people before the end of the century, which adds two more Chinas to the mix. Those seven Chinas would consume three-and-a-half times as many resources and produce three-and-a-half times the greenhouse gases compared to today, underscoring the urgency with which we need to change our ways.

When it comes to solutions, Bauman discounts (and rightly so) our ability to counteract climate impacts through technological solutions.  He also gives scant consideration to government subsidies and other direct government actions. Unsurprisingly, as an economist he favors market-based solutions, arguing that we should internalize the currently externalized costs of carbon pollution through implementation of a carbon tax, such as he the tax he helped design and implement in British Columbia, or a cap and trade system similar to that currently used to regulate commercial fishing in many parts of the world today.

page from a graphic bookKlein & BaumanBauman’s background as an economist comes through clearly in his analysis,
exemplified by his seven Chinas theory. Click to enlarge.

There is a lot to like about this graphic book, but it certainly has its limitations. I had to remind myself several times that it is just an introduction to climate science, and must be considered as such. Bauman also glosses over multiple topics, leaving the reader wanting more information. For example, he touches briefly upon the idea of climate action as an insurance policy, but doesn’t bother to lay out the case for why it’s a good policy to buy. Surprisingly, Bauman also skips over many economic arguments for climate action, such as the costs associated with increasingly destructive hurricanes, more frequent and more severe droughts and heat waves, loss of land mass due to rising sea levels, and increased flooding. Nor does he discuss the costs and benefits of various policy responses, such as changes to transportation policy, government subsidies to renewable energy companies, or increasing numbers of green energy jobs. In leaving out these topics, he missed several opportunities to teach economics to environmentalists, and environmentalism to economists.

For those who already understand climate science, the book will provide little more than a handful of statistics and a few chuckles. For anyone who refuses to accept the science behind climate change, or who believes there is a great climate conspiracy, the book’s heavy emphasis on the scientific method and the IPCC report may fail to sway long-held beliefs. However, someone who wants to understand the basics of global warming and climate science should benefit from this very approachable primer, potentially retaining more knowledge due to the graphical and humorous delivery than they might from reading a denser and drier alternative.

Ryan Walker
Ryan is Director of IT at Earth Island Institute in Berkeley, California. He first became interested in global warming 25 years ago when he campaigned with the Student Environmental Action Coalition against Hydro Quebec’s James Bay Project. He first became interested in graphic books a few years before that.

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Comments

“The sooner we stop burning dirty fossil fuels, the greater our chances of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius.” http://clmtr.lt/c/LdF0fS0cMJ

By ray delcolle on Fri, August 22, 2014 at 3:24 pm

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