Cartoon: Climate Change and the Politics of Personal Purity

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Wow, this one took forever to make.

It didn’t take long because of the drawing  —  the cross-hatching on the large figure took a little while, but on the whole this was an easy one to draw  —   but because of the scripting. What you’re looking at now is the third rewrite of the script. (This cartoon began life as a cartoon about corporate tax breaks!).

And to make it worse, for each of the first two scripts, it took me a while to figure out that I needed to toss out the script and rewrite  —  and I used that little while to start drawing the strip, drawings that then had to be thrown out too. The cutting room floor isn’t just for movies!

But that’s how it goes sometimes. I hope you like the final result.

Artistically, the main thing that excited me about this was the chance to play with scale. In my head, I’m imagining people scrolling down… and down… and down… and I think that could be a neat effect.

A lot of people engage in what I think of as “the politics of personal purity.” They have a lot of concern for the purity of what they consume: Is it locally sourced? Am I drinking the correct water? Is the bank I use doing unjust foreclosures? Does this movie have an actor with the wrong political opinions?

Maybe in some cases the politics of personal purity makes sense. But global warming is too big to be addressed by individual consumer choices.

Dealing with (or, perhaps more realistically, mitigating the effects of) global warming has to be done collectively, or it won’t be done at all. There’s nothing wrong with choosing not to use bottled water, but our actions as individuals are too small to address global warming.

Quoting Aaron Huertos of the Union of Concerned Scientists:

 Rick Heede… a geographer… has done the careful work of figuring out how much of the carbon in our atmosphere can be traced back to the coal and oil that companies have extracted from the Earth.

The numbers are head-turning: Two thirds of all industrial carbon emissions come from just 90 institutions. Several of those institutions, including Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, and Conoco Phillips, have extracted more carbon from the Earth than most countries.

As Heede put it, the heads of these institutions could fit comfortably in a Greyhound bus. And if you’ve been paying attention to the climate debate, you know that many of these same companies have spent decades deceiving the public and policy makers about science — practices that disturbingly continue to this day, despite the scientific risks of climate change becoming ever starker.

Global warming is arguably the single most important crisis we face. But our big institutions  —  our government and our corporations  —  have failed to take this as seriously as we need to. I think it’s fine to take the bus, or to bike (I do both these things), but what matters much more is electing politicians who will treat Global Warming with the urgency it requires.

Anyhow, that’s what I was trying to get across in this cartoon. I hope it worked!



This is a five-panel cartoons; four ordinary sized panels at top, and an enormously tall final panel.


We see a close-up of a woman with kinky hair, wearing a dark collared polo shirt, speaking intently, hands raised to about the height of her chin.

POLO SHIRT: Whenever I do something that contributes to global warming, I imagine smoke rising off me, fouling the atmosphere.


The “camera” has zoomed out a little, and we now see that Polo Shirt is talking to a woman with dark short hair, a black tank top, and glasses. The woman with glasses has a friendly expression.

GLASSES: That’s now how climate change works.

POLO SHIRT: I know! But picturing it that way keeps me motivated.


The “camera” has backed out a bit more, and we can now a large shiny black object at the right side of the panel.  Polo Shirt is checking off points on her fingers.

GLASSES: So what sort of things do you do?

POLO SHIRT: I take pubic transit, I never drink bottled water, stuff like that.


The “camera” has backed up still more. Polo Shirt has spread her arms apart, palms out, as she talks. To the right, we can now see more of the large dark object, which reaches up past the top of the panel, taller than the two characters.


This is a very tall panel,. The “camera” has backed WAY up. The two women talking are now very tiny; we can see that the huge object next to them was a shiny black shoe. The shoe, which is approximately the same height as the women, is worn by a businessman. He’s wearing a dark three piece suit and towering above the two women like a skyscraper. The businessman is looking blankly out, holding a bottle of water in one hand and a briefcase in the other. Smoke rises from the suitcase and the water bottle, filling the air around the businessman’s head completely.

Polo Shirt is continuing to talk, and hasn’t noticed the giant businessman. Glasses is leaning back and looking up, beginning to notice the businessman.

POLO SHIRT: The most important thing we can do is clean up our own lives. There’s no better way to fight global warming.

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