As the World Burns

JANUARY 8, 2010

The cover of the latest issue of ROLLING STONE is mincing no words.  ‘YOU IDIOTS!- Meet the Planet’s Worst Enemies”.  I haven’t even started reading but can already tell there is little desire on the part of editorial to make nice to the ultra conservative flank on the current climate crisis debate. 


It’s been a rough go lately for those who have been playing John the Baptist in the desert crying about climate change- probably a more accurate term than ‘global warming’, but by no means a less dire description.   First, there was the news about the confidential emails among scientists expressing concerns over inconsistencies about actual numbers on global warming.  But, the real red meat to the deniers, were the revelations in those emails that indicated a desire to get everyone on the same page and continue presenting a united front in the debate.  While, from an ethical standpoint, this wasn’t good policy- debate should be encouraged within scientific circles- it was to a certain extent understandable.  Keeping all the ducks in line and everyone on the same page is a practice that the right wing has clearly perfected in a way the more liberal elements of any debate have not.  Dissent is not tolerated in right of center circles.  What is even less acceptable to the right is when the left of center tries to apply those tactics in their own arguments.  Appalling!  That’s dirty play!  Those of you who watched professional wrestling back in the old days on TV ( as opposed to the more coke-fueled version of the past twenty years) remember how the fair fighting good guy- usually Bruno Sammartino- would be subjected to all sorts of dirty fighting tactics and get the stuffing pounded out of him by the bad guy and often the bad guy’s manager, until, finally, Bruno could take no more and would throw a solid punch, at which point the bad guys cried “FOUL” and the referee would suddenly pay attention as well and Bruno would get disqualified.  What’s my point here?  Simply that the scientists, fearing that any inconsistency in the measurements would provide an opportunity for the deniers to claim the entire argument invalid, and bullshit, made the situation worse, at the very least gave credence to the deniers, by trying to present a false united front, purging dissenters, and, in process, seeming to be involved in a cruel, profit driven, liberal, tree hugging, hoax. 

Let’s be honest.   Because scientists are unable to be exact as to dates on when man finally became man in the millions, even billion year, process of evolution, this allows others to claim that the inconsistencies and discrepancies invalidate the evolution argument and, voila!, we have a fancy museum in Kentucky that extols Creationism and a 6000 year old planet Earth.  This would normally be an opportunity for laughs, but the truth is, in America, more people believe in angels and Adam and Eve and serpents and devils that the scientific theory of evolution. 


There are those who argue that in terms of geologic history we are experiencing a normal ebb and flow of climate change- one of those 15-20 thousand year cycles.  They completely dismiss any part man might have in accelerating, even simply altering, the current change in climate conditions.  It’s all BS they say.  Coal burning plants?  Don’t worry, that stuff just goes into the atmosphere and settles in the oceans, not on our back yards.  The oceans are great toilet bowls flushing out the impurities.  Only where do the oceans flush to?  Space?  Judging by the gradual destruction that is happening to the coral reefs- an important part of the aquatic food and life chain, a result of a rise in ocean temperature, the pollution is not just going away quietly.  Or maybe those dying, browning, coral reefs are a liberal, tree hugging, hoax as well.   One other point to consider, among many, is that even assuming the validity of cyclical climate change as an argument, the last time we had a great shift, the planet did not have 7 billion human beings rushing to grab what’s left of clean water, fuel and other resources.  You could probably fit the entire human population of 20,000 years ago into New York City.  The species we belong to is the surviving species in the evolutionary race that included quite a few other offshoots of apes.  The rest died out, for any number of reasons.  If we are willing to feel comfortable with the notion of a massive purging of the present population of the planet, a serious bloodletting, due to the shifts in climate over the next 50-75 years, then go for it.  (See RSMagazine for a fun read:  http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/16956300/the_prophet_of_climate_change_james_lovelock).  The brutal and merciless grab for what’s left should be an awesome spectacle to watch.  For the most part, neither you or I or many of the deniers will be around to see it.  We’ll be gone and any validation of present arguments will be a pyrrhic victory at best.  There won’t be any afterlife to search Sean Hannity or Rush Limberger out and punch them in their faces. 


Being a grandparent for the past two years I’ve been feeling particularly unsettled by all this twisting of the climate change argument.  All the absolutism.  All the smug certainty- on all sides (I use the term ‘on all sides’ to demonstrate my desire to be ‘fair and balanced’).  The desire to win the argument , to dismiss and crush the opposing view being paramount over any attempt to see the bigger, longer term, picture.  I think more often than not that the world our kids, and even more so our grandkids, will inherit will be a far more difficult place to maneuver through than the mess we currently are watching turn to shit.


Ugh.  That was a long preamble to discussing the making of my illustration in the current issue of RS.  This one didn’t follow the general way of working to an image, unusual in that we were working with a general notion of the theme, but no concrete copy, which promised to be good when published.  Originally it was thought that the article would focus on certain politicians who aid and abet the mega billion dollar dirty industries and have led the charge to thwart any serious climate legislation.   Most, probably all, the politicians were considered unrecognizable to the general reader, unless maybe they represented their home state.  After a couple of sketches, where I focused on Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a particularly loathsome character, a former Marine (unfortunately), hostile anti-environmentalist, who I swear was the model for Stephen Lang’s general in the current movie AVATAR, we abandoned that direction toward specific people and played with more general characterizations.  However the seed of a early sketch of a submerged Washington Capitol building surrounded by submerged smoke stacks, with Inhofe playing Gene Kelly in SINGING IN THE ACID RAIN, became the choice of setting where we kicked around a few more ideas.   My personal favorite, with Congressional types represented by, mostly, elephants and a donkey ( I would have preferred to add more donkeys as the Democrats have shown themselves to be very complicit in scuttling any meaningful legislation and I feel no love for the party at this stage of the game- see also health care reform) and a business type floating comfortably and unconcerned in pool rafts around a ruined and flooded landscape containing the elements from the earlier sketches.  There was a little more wiggle room to get the finish completed, happily the pen and ink were in synch, I was in the longed for zone during the drawing part, and the illustration turned out very successful.   We were all quite pleased.  Once again a great team effort.  Thanks to Steve Charny, Will Dana, et al.  I remain truly grateful for the working conditions that so epitomize ROLLING STONE. 


The design changed to a spread so the sketch was adjusted. I kind of liked it more horizontal, anyway. The panorama allowed for a greater emphasis on a doomed environment.
With what little info we had we also toyed with an image focusing on Congressional anti-environmentalists entrenching themselves around the Capitol protecting the dirty industries. Inhofe would have been one with others decided on later. Obviously didn't need to worry.
I thought that we could play off the notion of 'deniers' and have the members of Congress sunning themselves in a flooded landscapes using elements from earlier sketches. Was going to keep that polar bear in one way or the other.
A quick break on the part of editorial to consider portraying Obama as a fireman being thwarted by congressional and business types. I could have done this one and make it work handsomely had this image been decided on but I'm glad we didn't. I'd seen the fireman image too many times before as a solution to ideas. I was hoping for the blissful ignorance (or stupidity- which is willful ignorance) from the previous sketch as the visual and was silently pleased when the decision to go with the deluge was made.