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The Funny Side of Climate Change

In her latest comic book, graphic novelist Kate Evans helps readers understand carbon trading schemes and their shortcomings
kate evans, climate change cartoon, the carbon supermarket, the funny side of climate change



Self-portrait by Kate Evans

Kate Evans majored in English during college in 1990s Britain while she perfected the art of getting arrested for trying to prevent the U.K. government and industry from cutting down too many trees. A fan of science, she gradually turned her artistic talents and environmental passions to crafting comics about climate change. In 2006 she published a fully referenced graphic novel based on peer-reviewed science, Funny Weather: Everything You Didn’t Want to Know about Climate Change but Should Probably Find Out. And she has just released a 16-page comic, The Carbon Supermarket, about carbon-offset markets as folly, which she has allowed Scientific American to reproduce in full (below). I talked with Evans by phone to find out why she thinks cartoons can help the world tackle climate issues.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

The Carbon Supermarket appears courtesy of Kate Evans.If you have problems viewing the PDF, please download the cartoon.

Why are comics a good way to teach difficult science?
My friend Rosie says, "If you make someone laugh, then you're halfway to changing their mind." People are having fun. They're reading something pleasurable. When you create that, it's very easy to get the message across. And something that combines words with pictures is very powerful. That's why the advertising industry uses words and pictures in combination.

Your online bio explains your interest in cartooning, but why did you take on climate change?
Well it's the elephant in the room, isn't it? You can't be a sentient person in the beginning of the 21st century and not want to address climate change. If you do not, you must be in denial. I'm just so cross right now, too. I just saw a BBC documentary about the weirding of weather, and they never mentioned the words "greenhouse gases" or "carbon dioxide." And they kept saying, "scientists believe" this, "scientists believe" that. No, scientists have proved it. They're not some kind of church. There is scientific consensus. I feel very strongly about that.

What prompted you to write The Carbon Supermarket, about carbon offset markets?
Any time you see capitalism getting excited about climate change you have to look at that very carefully. A carbon market is really about privatizing the atmosphere, and handing shares in it to the people who are polluting it. That's not a sensible solution! Come now! A sensible solution is a global commitment to meaningful carbon-reduction targets. Once we have that, then capitalism will be forced to follow, because at that point it starts to become profitable to invest in industries and technologies that reduce emissions.

So policy has to precede capitalism?
Oh, yeah. Someone described carbon offsetting as moving your food around your plate to pretend that you've eaten it. If someone says, "Oh, it's great: We gave some African women some low-energy wood-burning stoves; that means we can build another coal-fired power station." No, it doesn't. You don't build the coal-fired power station. You stick the wind farms up and you give the women the low-energy wood-fired stoves—if there are easy and cheap gains to be made in carbon reductions. We also need to be reducing consumption, meaningfully, in Western cultures.

What aspect of climate change are people most confused about?
I think most people are confused about what to do next. [The documentary film] An Inconvenient Truth is clear about what's happening, but it doesn't address: Okay, what do we actually do about this? I'm trying to get people to stop ignoring what's happening.

The people who are in positions of power have a vested interest in the status quo; that's one of the problems. The other problem is that we're talking about a timescale of more than 40 years, between when your action today even starts to translate into climatic change. That time lag is difficult for people to embrace. We work on a very short timescale. Politicians, you know, get elected every four years. I have a cartoon of a goldfish, and it says, "Vote Goldfish"—the politicians only have a four-year memory. We don't have a political process that takes into account seven generations into the future. So the question is: "What are you going to do about climate change?" And I pose that question in Funny Weather.

What's your ultimate goal?
Reaching the maximum number of people. I would also like people to appreciate that comics can be about serious subjects. I get a lot of "Oh, it's nice for children." No no no no no. I think my comics should be in the House of Representatives. Anywhere in the [bathroom]—you know, so people will read it; in the [bathrooms] of rich and powerful places.

You released The Carbon Supermarket for free, under a Creative Commons license. Thank you for that! You also wrote the graphic novel, Funny Weather—for sale. Both publications are comics that explain scientific ideas clearly and concisely, yet they include a lot of text. How do you find the right balance between images and words?
First, I read the peer-reviewed science; I don't use the popular media as a source. The science is really important to me. I'm not trying to construct an artistic ideal; it has to be grounded in truth.

Then I try to distill it down to the fewest possible words and get that across in the most engaging way. I'll draft and redraft and get rid of everything that doesn't need to be there. Then it's about the characters. In Funny Weather, I use a conversation between three main characters: the scientists, the guy in the position of power—the capitalist—and the enquirer, who I've created as a child. I've used a child to represent a kind of innocence, but also a kind of uncompromising stance—a purity of inquiry. I use these three types of characters to bring out the tension inherent in the subject. And there's comedy in that, and drama.

It's also important to realize that these three characters are actually all aspects of our own selves. We're all partly the scientist eagerly interested in it, all partly the kid outraged and inquiring, and we're also all in denial—we're all in a position of power. We need to be thinking about our own inner capitalist as well.

What's coming next from Kate Evans?
My next book is about breast-feeding and birth—you know, to help people come to terms with the fact that they're mammals. It's about women's experiences, which tend to get side-stepped. One major newspaper reporter who talked to me recently said "Oh, breast-feeding, that's niche." I said, "Niche? Were you not a baby?"

I'm harnessing the power of images and the poetry of words to encourage women to connect with the process of labor in a positive way, instead of fearing it. And yet I'm doing a really detailed cartoon about Cesarean section, so people don't feel like they've failed if that happens. This is all nonjudgmental, women-supporting literature about pregnancy and birth that's got a lot of information in it. You don't control birth, you experience it. It's a subtle physiological and philosophical message to get across.

When can we see the book?
That should be out at the end of this summer. The working title is You and Your New Life. Watch my space at cartoonkate.co.uk After that I'm taking up global finance—the Occupy movement, the 1 percent and 99 percent. I'm really inspired by that.

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