Minimal Lind, Maximal Impact

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Alternatives Jounal, where my strip Footprint in Mouth appears every two months, has undertaken a complete rebranding. It is now called AJ and aims to bring environmental awareness to the forefront of Canadian newsstands.

As part of the redesign, the editors asked that I switch to a single panel format for my cartoon. They felt that there was too much reading (and fact checking!) involved in the previous format. While in the past, I have preferred a comic strip format, I also welcome the challenge of distilling my satire to a single hit.

My new single panel cartoon has no title, but its loose mandate is “giving animals a voice.” Talking humans will still make cameo appearances, especially when they insert their foot firmly in their mouths.

Northern Gateway Drug

Stephen Harper seems hellbent on converting Canada into one of the human-rights-abusing petrostates that, in comparison, make our oil “ethical.” Using McCarthiest tactics to brand environmental groups opposing the Northern Gateway pipeline as foreign stogies, when the forces behind that pipeline have significant foreign money behind them is disingenuous at best. Harper would just as well have no inquiry and get on with building a disaster waiting to happen, further trashing our precarious environment and many people’s livelihoods and lives. (The Globe published a strong column – albeit relegated to the weather page – on Harper’s hypocrisy that’s worth a read.)

This is just the tip of the blackened, melting iceberg. So many forces seem in collusion to try to tear as much wealth from the ground as quickly as possible before it’s all gone that it’s hard to know where to start yelling “stop!” It’s enough to want to make you want to give up and pop a happy pill. Which, perhaps not coincidentally, is what more and more people are doing. Or diving in to the blissful ignorance encouraged by our insta-grat world o’ screens.

As I was in the process of penciling this cartoon, I read Elizabeth’s Renzetti’s article in the Globe that made a similar point: apocalyptic films and cults are popular; actual news of our impending demise is not. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists just moved its doomsday clock minute hand closer to midnight. The threat had been eased to six minutes due to Obama and Medvedev’s moves to reduce their nuclear weapon stockpiles. In mid-January, it moved to five minutes. Who noticed? I wouldn’t have, without Renzetti’s column. As she concludes,

Never mind Mayan soothsayers and Biblical ranters – this is the real stuff of nightmares. And unlike God’s wrath, there is actually something to be done about it.

Still, it doesn’t seem that anybody is. That constant sense of inaction and dread makes me depressed. My therapist might cite other grounds. Lord knows, they are myriad. But if the demise of our planet isn’t a valid cause for clinical depression, I don’t know what is. Hence this cartoon.

(There are a number of articles online about the climate change equivalent of Seasonal Affecitve Disorder, though not much. A right-wing post derides such talk and contains typical, laughable deniers’ comments, including this one:

The weather has ALWAYS been changing. Just one example will suffice: there is a reason why Greenland is called that; invoking human guilt is of no help. There was no Tea Party when the forests of Greenland gave way to glaciers, snow and ice.

Yes, no Tea Party, and no humans either; it happened long before any humans were around to name it.)

Anyway, the cartoon above is an update of a sequence of comic strips I did nearly five years ago about Horst. I thought I’d include them here. A few gags remain.

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Another year older and deeper in debt

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While brainstorming for a new Footprint in Mouth cartoon, I looked over one I did four years ago when the Bali accord failed. Since then, Canada’s Great Fail has continued with Copenhagen in 2009 and Durban just this month. It brings to mind the old Violent Femmes song: Another year older and deeper in carbon debt – and as the effects of climate change worsen, our efforts to speed up its rate only intensify.

This cartoon was literally Swiftian. And burning babies is still Harper’s implicit policy, as he incinerates thier future, giving the world they’ll inherit an infinitesimally small priority compared to, say, putting more children in jail, in larger and ever-more Kafkaesque prisons, or filling the deep pockets of oil company shareholders. (True confession: I hold pension funds in the tar sands. Almost anyone who has a pension in Canada does – even those with so-called “ethical” mutual funds.)

This 2007 cartoon was timed for the holidays, right after the Bali conference. We face an even grimmer future after the fiasco of Durban.

Happy holidays.

(Below, the cartoon that led up to the one above.)

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Gravelstock

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This cartoon was inspired by the green-washing of the Melancthon Quarry site, which makes the whole thing seem less disruptive than farming (chemical-free processing! no more nitrogen residue or water use than farming!).

I just had fun with the locavoracious idea – gravel instead of food.

That gravel pile took about an hour to ink. I’ll sue Highland for a repetitive stress injury!

There was one comment that stood out somewhere in Highland’s marketing – that aggregate is one of the bases of civilization. It almost made me spew my coffee (oh, when our civilization goes down, that will be what humankind will miss), but I couldn’t find a home for it in the cartoon.

In a way, I’m just repeating a lot of Highland’s claims (“chemicals aren’t used in the processing of the gravel”), but they seem so absurd it’s funny.

Additional sources:

$18 million per acre:
http://rabble.ca/news/2011/06/monster-mine-plan-cuts-deep-ontario-farmland

If you’re looking for in-depth information about why this would a create sort of mini-tarsands in Ontario, check out  North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce. There’s a lot of good information here. The site for the No Mega Quarry movement is here.

I was going to caricaturize the Highland rep, John Lowndes, who met with farmers to buy their land, but he is a bit of a shadowy character without good photos on the web. The money behind him is Baupost Group (their site is locked – also very shadowy) which is a hedge fund led by Seth Klarman. There are plenty of photos of him. See this article for more about him.

Cloudy Skies

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This special, full-page cartoon appeared in last month’s 40th anniversary issue of Alternatives.

When I was 21, I spent a year backpacking in Europe. Like every other tourist who went through Paris, I experienced a brief frisson as I stood before the real, original Mona Lisa. I had probably already seen it over a thousand times in duplication. Its celebrity did make a confrontation with the original intriguing – like running into Scarlett Johansson on the street. But in the end, I felt let down. Why all the hoopla? Somehow, the original felt like a pale imitation of…itself.

This gave me the idea for a cartoon about cheap Mona Lisa reproductions somehow draining the original work of its colour and then literally threatening its existence, sort of as an inverse Dorian Gray. Teams of specialists would be ushered in to try to save it. Reproductions were banned. Other famous artworks began to falter as well. Michaelangelo’s David withered. The Sistine Chapel started to crumble. Picasso’s works became even more cubist.

This loss of the aura or cult of the original was discussed by Walter Benjamin in his 1936 essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. I was fresh from reading about him and eager to play on both his ideas and my experience of the Mona Lisa Letdown.

But my cartoon never came to life. It felt, somehow, too fanciful. Back home in Canada, I could find no context.

Flash forward to the digital age, which found me mulling over whether the exponentially expanding universe of digital photographs is draining reality of its colour, of its “realness.” Metaphorically speaking, I felt it was: When more people at a wedding are viewing it on their camera screens than are experiencing it first-hand, does the actual experience lose its authenticity? Are we living for life’s sake or to make a good Facebook post? Is the glut of images, now cheapened because of their metastasizing quantity, also devaluing the memories they capture?

Hardly fuel for a cartoon in an environmental magazine. Unless I could show that photography was actually damaging the natural world, in a manifestation of the observer effect, in which the very act of observation changes what is being observed. Are we observing our world to death?

I started googling the Cloud, and was surprised, sadly, to find evidence to back up my musings. My google trail is below.

So, happily, the cartoon that had been buried like a cicada in larval form can now come forth and make loud, irritating noises.

Cartoon Sources in order of reading

“Is a picture worth even 140 characters anymore? Barely.”
http://sweatstock.com/picture-word-parity-imminent

“Facebook users upload 7.5 billion photos per month.”
250 million photos per day x 30 = 7.5 billion per month

This blog, which I found after my cartoon was done, ably illustrates the explosion of images. But its estimation of 3.5 trillion total photos worldwide is, in my opinion, far too low.

“The datasphere has ballooned beyond a zettabye – a million times the content of the largest library or equal to 75 billion fully-loaded 16-gig iPads!”

“This cloud … generates as much CO2 as the world’s airlines.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/click_online/8297237.stm
http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/news/2010/07/100726_data_wt_sl.shtml

“At this rate, by 2020, the Earth’s data load will be 35 zettabytes.”

“Your e-reader has the environmental impact of 30–70 books – and the average American reads only nine a year (Canadians read 20).”
http://gigaom.com/apple/is-reading-on-your-ipad-more-green-than-paper-books

But the greenness of e-readers is hotly debated. This site has a list of links that deal with the topic. Of course, an iPad is far more than an e-book – you can read magazines, watch video and do lots more. Figuring out the environmental impact of using one as opposed to doing it all the old-fashioned way is like comparing apples (pun intended) and oranges using algebra.

“Over 25 million iPads and 5 billion cell phones all use the mineral coltan.”

Virtually any portable electronic device uses coltan, which is used to extend battery life. Just google “coltan,” and you’ll find oodles on information on it. You can start at Worldwatch and Foreign Policy. It’s mining doesn’t only threaten gorillas – millions of humans have also died in wars fueled by this dirty metal.

I first heard about coltan almost a decade ago on a short-lived but excellent Canadian TV drama, The Eleventh Hour. I thought it was fiction, as the word “coltan” sounded so sci-fi. But it wasn’t. (It’s short for columbite-tantalite). Think twice before ditching your cell for a new, equally dirty one. (How many times did you use to replace your old land phone? And how many cell phones have you ever owned?)

“We’re shredding biodiversity – nature’s cloud – to grow our zettacloud.”
Media headlines have disputed that species are disappearing as fast as has been reported. But that is a sham. Biodiversity, which when you come down to it is an unimaginably complex form of information, is disappearing faster than our own data is accumulating.

I didn’t have space in the cartoon to open this can of endangered worms, but the crux is that our cloud of information is metastisizing at the expense of nature. Reality is fading in part due to the digital photography boom. Our digital world is becoming richer and denser as nature is becoming poorer and scarcer. Digital feels effortless, footprintless and eco-friendly. But the infrastructure – energy for cooling huge data-centres, mining, disposal of heavy metals – is not.

Used well, fueled by renewable energy, the Cloud could be part of the solution. But it’s being predominantly used to transmit nude photos of Scarlett Johannson millions of times.

___

This story just appeared in the Globe on a plan to regular conflict minerals.

No Cukes

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This cartoon was printed in Alternatives in June. It’s on the kerfuffle over the debate between H elen Caldicott and George Monbiot over nuclear power:

After Fukushima, he came out in favour of nukes as the least evil option to combat global warming. 

His predictions that Merkel’s decision to phase out nukes will increase coal use seem to be dead-on:

But he has raised many rankles for minimizing the dangers of nuclear power:


At first, I was buying Monbiot’s argument, but researching more, I don’t, and still believe that it’s be possible to rely on renewables and conservation — with a real political commitment. But in the real world, reducing nukes may mean that global warming becomes worse.

I was having a hard time wrapping this all into a cartoon and making it funny. Then the E. coli outbreak in Europe happened. And it was an unusually rainy spring in Ontario. So, like a bad-news vulture, I was able to pick laughs from the carcasses.

(Thankfully, Hudak ended up botching his campaign, and Ontario didn’t go Tory.)

 

Why a Harper Majority Is Good for the Environment

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After this year’s federal election, I struggled to find a feel-good angle to douse my woes. 

Did you know that Harper’s new fighter jets are actually being purchased without enginesThe government will be responsible for adding them – at extra costs. That, and the fact that when crime is at a 42-year low, he’ll be doubling our prison spending to $3.147-billion by 2013-14, shows that this government is only concerned with cutting areas that aren’t part of their black-and-white, Bush-era non-scientific, neanderthalic world view. 

And, yes, Harper will be putting new focus on the war of 1812, putting it into the new Canadian citizenship test, commemorating it in Parliament. “If we don’t learn from history, we’re doomed to repeat it.” Well, there are a lot of years between then and now to learn from.

Genderless

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It wrote this cartoon back in 1994, near Weltschmerz’s inception. I dust it off now because of the kerfuffle about the Toronto parents who have decided to keep their baby’s sex secret. Only they, two midwives and the child’s two siblings know what is between Storm’s legs. This family has made international news, with many lambasting the parents, who have understandably refused further interviews.

What’s old is new again. Nearly two decades ago, a friend of mine told me of her friends, who were doing the same thing. At the time, I found it bizarre, misguided political correctness run amok – and great fodder for cartoons. After all, I thought, in the first few years, parents and siblings have a greater influence in a child’s mental development than society at large. They are not free of societal preconceptions, much as they might want to think otherwise.

Of course, in 1994, there was no Internet, and the story didn’t hit the media.

Do I still think it’s bizarre? Well, keeping a secret like that would be immensely impractical. It spotlights gender as a defining aspect of personality – by making it into a secret, it is emphasized. And the parents may push their (maybe) boy to do (maybe) “girl” things.

However, as the parent of a girl who wishes desperately to be a boy, I find the Great Wall of Gender tall, thick, impenetrable and ever-growing, despite decades of striving for women’s rights. It’s the first question asked of a new baby. Clothes and toys are more and more genderfied. And marketers have been unfettered to foist stereotype-reinforcing (and apparently highly profitable) media on our children.

When my daughter, having just switched to boy clothes, picked up a flower off the sidewalk, a man sitting on his porch said, “ahh, hes’ a flower-lover, eh?” I can’t imagine him saying that if a girl-identified kid did the same thing.

So I understand Storm’s parents’ motivation, and hope it opens some eyes and helps bring down the wall – or at least hacks a few doors through it.

I still find this cartoon funny. I like when a cartoon has legs. Regardless of what’s between them.

God’s Work

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It’s been hard to miss the onslaught of television and full-page print ads trumpeting how environmentally friendly the oil sands are. (They’re called “oil sands” now, not the more apt “tar sands.” Big Oil: 1, Earth: 0.) They all feature photography of “real people” – do-gooders all – against a natural backdrop. You know the ads are authentic because the skies are not blue. They’re grey, and the lighting is all dark and sombre. This isn’t just a PR-job. This is a realistic assessment of the situation. And you know what? It ain’t as bad as it’s being painted by David Suzuki and his followers. And Big Oil is really trying to do a good job. Which is why they’re shoveling so much money into these ads.

When I looked for a spokesperson to use for this cartoon, I found that the person behind this campaign, Janet Annesley, VP Communications, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, had a video online in which she talks about her motivation, inspiration, etc. – all very much like the ads she has commissioned. Yes, her father and grandfather were in communications. (Since this cartoon was printed in the December issue of Alternatives Journal, the video has  been pulled from the oilweek.com Rising Stars feature, though her name is still on it. A screen capture is below.)

Believe it or not, the the second-panel sentence, “When I started in the oil sands, I was told, ‘You’re doing God’s work now,’” is a direct quote. I ran with it. Impossible not to. And thus, on the seventh day, my “day of rest” punchline was formed. Thanks Janet.

But nobody will know. They’ll think I’m just being over-the-top again. Sigh.

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