Graphic Novel: Chapters of Climate Irony

(This post contains ART! If you would like to skip down to the ART, please do so!)

We have been back from our trip for two and a half weeks now! Time has flown by. Shane went right back to work, and I am taking some time to figure out what’s next. Since we’ve been back i’ve seen a thousand friends, hit a thousand yoga classes, baked a thousand banana breads, made a thousand millilitres of Kombucha, skiied several thousand metres, and taught myself how to make yogurt. I have been revelling in the beauty of where we live and the beauty of the people I choose to surround myself with, as well as reminiscing on our four months of travel. Life is awesome!

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Also, I am expecting…more fresh powder, that is!!!

I am in the process of writing about India Part 2, as well as Nepal and Vietnam. For now though, I thought I would share one of my artistic endeavors that feels very relevant.

Shane warned me that in Asia I would see a lot of pollution and garbage. When we got there, it was staggering. In four months I did not see clear blue sky, and I did not go one day without seeing litter on the ground. Even in the mountains of Nepal there was trash everywhere. Shane and I were very conscious of not buying bottled water on our trek, as the lack of waste disposal facilities meant that empty plastic water bottles ended up on the sides of rivers, or burnt in toxic garbage fires. Please, if you trek in Nepal, try your best to manage your waste. It’s the least we can do as wealthy tourists!

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One interesting thing about being viscerally confronted with trash every day is that it isn’t hidden. I think that in our developed Western societies, we throw our trash away and hardly think twice about where it goes. In Asia, we were confronted with it every day. We were confronted with plastic straws in the ocean, plastic cups on the ground, and endless wrappers scattered all over the street.

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The smog line flying into Kathmandu

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My final project before I graduated UBC was a graphic novel about Climate Change. My English thesis course was about Climate Fiction, a relatively new genre that explores humans in relationship to Climate Change. Many books we read were post-apocalyptic, some interrogating what we would do were there a war between Canada and the US over water. Other books we read were theoretical, and some were novels, like Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Plan. The books that inspired me most, however, were the plethora of graphic novels we read, especially one called Climate Changed by Phillipe Squarzoni. The cool thing about being a precocious sixth year student was that I was brave enough to ask my professor, Robert Rouse, whether I could write a graphic novel instead of a thesis paper. He was incredibly supportive and encouraged me to do so. I wrote a series of four comics that explored how humans see themselves in relation to climate change, particularly Liberal humans from the developed world. Irony is the main tool I use to critique modern liberalism’s approach to solving the climate crisis. My project turns the criticism on people like ourselves, ourselves being the liberal, “woke”, conscious public who cares about the environment. I will share the whole series on this blog, but will start with the one that makes me laugh, and hopefully you too! I must say, after completing my graphic novel, I was left with more questions than answers, but am now able to look much more critically at my place in the world, as well as climate issues, and I hope you will too!

In the developed world, it is easy to scoff at developing countries and their lack of climate action. I really ran up against this in Asia. However, it is more important, I believe, to look inward and examine the issues with the way we think about climate change. Along with each comic, I write a description outlining my main points. What I learned in writing a graphic novel over writing an essay, is that what you’re trying to argue or tell your audience is expressed so differently in art! In an essay you tell people your argument, but in a graphic novel you must SHOW them. What a blessing to have such a cool project in my final year of university. I hope you enjoy!

November 29th 2016: Pipeline Peril

This comic features two Liberal Arts students from UBC who consider themselves socially progressive environmentalists, and who react predictably negatively to Justin Trudeau’s November 29th approval of the Kinder Morgan and Enbridge pipelines. The main theme of this piece explores the irony surrounding the public’s dislike of pipelines because pipelines are not seen as “green” initiatives. However, while the socially progressive public loves to complain about pipelines, we often fail to realize that pipelines and fossil fuels are necessary for our way of life. My comic interrogates how to be a concious protestor while also consuming carbon and taking part in the infinitely expanding carbon based economy that sustains our lives. The comic asks questions like: can we truly be conscious consumers? Will all climate action integrally carry the scent of human hyprocrisy? Does clicking “attend” on a protest event mean one is doing their part? Or is it a facade to allow ourselves to FEEL like we’re making a difference? Is #hashtagforclimatechange actually more harmful than helpful? Ultimately, the characters’ contentedness with “doing their parts” and taking part in trendy climate action leaves them rather blind to the harsh and morbid realities of our climate situation.

This comic uses Roy Scranton’s theory that in order to properly tackle climate change, our civilation must “die” (from Learning to Die in the Anthropocene…a fascinating read!). By death, Scranton means the end of carbon consumption as the basis for all economic gain and production; as well as the end of the human mindset that believes expansion is infinite (we can never make too much money, produce enough, expand enough, develop enough). The characters in my comic are anti-pipeline, yet they consume fossil fuels just like everyone else, because our society would not function without carbon production and emissions. For example, the characters drive their car to the protest. It’s small hyprocrisies like these that lead to harder questions like: how can we balance carbon production with climate action? These questions are much harder to answer than signs that state NO PIPELINE!

The comic also challenges what we believe is green, raising the concept of “greenwashing” (making acts appear “green”, and making us think we’re doing our part, when really greenwashing is a marketing strategy). After growing fatigued at the protest, the characters head to an organic vegan cafe, sounds good right? They believe the food they’re consuming is ethical because it’s organic and meat free, yet they fail to realize the environmental consequences of their avocado toast and tropical fruit smoothie. Those ingredients require a large amount of carbon to get from the tropics to to Vancouver. Ironically, a diet that includes local, ethical meat would probably be more efficient at lowering one’s carbon footprint, yet eating meat is commonly viewed as an environmental sin.

As well as pointing out environmentalist hypocrisy, the comic also questions the promises of politicians. Belief in the importance of climate action is slowly becoming the norm in Canada. We are at the point where claiming one “believes” in the science of climate change is becoming more acceptable than claiming one doesn’t (side note: science doesn’t care whether you BELIEVE in it or not. It just is. – Neil Degrasse Tyson). Justin Trudeau ran on an anti-pipeline campaign, however, once he took office, the realities of balancing the economy and world demand for fossil fuels necessitated he break his promise. Justin Trudeau serves as an example that interrogates idealism in terms of climate action, and pairs it with the current reality of holding political office. Also questioned, is our current trend of electing politicians from moderate parties, like the Liberal party. Perhaps, as Naomi Oreskes suggests in The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future, we need to elect extreme, more authoritarian governments to make real changes that lead us away from fossil fuels. A problem that politicians face is the prospect of re-election; authoritarianism leaves the question of re-election behind.

One of my favourite professors, Arlene Sindelar, always said that good work and research always leads to more questions. My comic raises so many! I think it is so important to constantly question our black and white thoughts, and critically look at ourselves. We are facing global catastrophe with climate change, and my comic suggests that larger changes than being vegetarian, or “feeling” green are required.

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If you have any questions, or comments, I would love to hear them! Enjoy 🙂

2 thoughts on “Graphic Novel: Chapters of Climate Irony

  1. Great work Kendall you provided some great insights into the differences between our cultures view of waste and developing nations.
    I work at the recycling plant and although recycling does reuse material, in the process plenty doesn’t make it and is labeled refuse. Not too mention the fact we export the vast majority of material across the Pacific.
    As well you highlight the need for extreme change, “death” and I agree in order to die faster we require a hardline, multi-tiered leadership in place to facilitate rapid green changes.
    China’s doing it in their industry level solar boom, they’re paving the way for divergence from fossil fuels. Also I like how you mention how doing your green part is largely a marketing ploy.
    Great read and funny comic, thank you Kendall!

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    1. Dude, Ben, thanks so much for this insightful comment! You totally get it. Recyling is so conflicting, it’s our solution to a problem, when really the PROBLEM is what needs to be eliminated…sooo much plastic. It’s also so easy to just be comforted by all these “green” things that we have…like lack of trash, recycling, etc. It leaves us feeling good about our individual efforts and ignoring the real polluters…like big corporations. That’s what greenwashing does, big companies actually use it so that people feel good on a small level and don’t question them..like hey you can recycle this coke can! But look at how much polluting the Coca Cola corporation does on a grand scale?? And the death of our way of life is a scary concept that so many don’t realize…I didn’t either before I took my course. You should read Climate Changed, I can lend it to you when I see you. Such a trippy, life changing read- and it’s graphic, so many pictures. So fun.

      Like

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