Political cartoons in America have influenced public opinion since they first appeared in newspapers during the colonial era. They offer readers a chance to reflect deeply on contemporary social issues in a clever and amusing way, making thorny and sometimes divisive subjects easier to understand.
In today’s political climate, cartoons tackle everything from gender equality to presidential elections. But if there’s one issue that’s quite well explained by political cartoons, albeit in a rather satirical manner, it’s probably the subject of climate change.
Climate change cartoons reveal the common misconceptions and truths of climate science in a few simple images and words. They provide a commentary on the social power structures restricting climate action and highlight the uncomfortable impacts of climate change.
In this article, we’ve put together a list of the 8 best cartoons to fight climate change. These cartoons show how much of a negative impact human activity and corporate greed can have on the environment.
- People tend to take climate change more seriously when they experience climate impacts themselves.
- Carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels accumulate in the atmosphere. Over time, they trap heat that causes global average temperatures to rise, which then gets absorbed by the ocean.
- Many climate change skeptics and deniers refuse to promote climate action over concerns that climate solutions, such as green taxes, could become costly for the economy.
Does anyone listen to science?
The most frustrating thing about the current debate on climate change is probably the widespread neglect of climate science. As depicted in this cartoon by John Kudelka, scientists have been warning us about the impacts of climate change for decades, only for the warnings to fall on deaf ears.
This might be partly due to a growing lack of trust in experts. It may also be influenced by people’s perception and interpretation of extreme weather events and daily weather patterns. Surveys and polls suggest that many people do not see climate change as a pressing matter while others consider climate change to simply be part of a natural process.
It’s clear that informing people about climate change will continue to be difficult, as this cartoon shows. But through better public engagement, the use of hard facts, and cooperation with political leaders, it may be possible to help more people accept that climate change has real consequences for our future.
Seeing is believing
John Auchter, Michigan Radio
For some of us, accepting that climate change is real comes about the hard way. Only when we experience the destruction caused by climate change personally do we begin to admit that the scientific evidence on climate change is not a hoax, like the man in this cartoon has.
The fact that a personal experience of climate impacts increases a person’s belief in man-made climate change is becoming widespread. Researchers studying Americans’ attitudes towards climate change have discovered that only a third of Americans believe that climate change will harm them and their families.
The findings also suggest that people personally affected by flooding and storms tend to be more concerned with climate change than others. Others living in “safer places” often view climate change as a distant problem that is not theirs to solve. To make climate change more relevant to more Americans, the researchers suggest that climate issues should be put into the local context and made personally relevant.
Climate change progression
Mike Keefe, Denver Post
As dark as this cartoon may be, it brings home the point that climate change will become progressively worse if nothing is done about it. Many parts of the world are already experiencing rising sea levels and acidic seawater. And the root cause of these disasters is our reliance on fossil fuels.
Carbon dioxide emitted from the burning of fossil fuels gets added to the atmosphere, 30 percent of which then gets absorbed by our oceans. As the carbon dioxide dissolves, it reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid. This acid makes seawater so corrosive that many marine organisms, from corals to shellfish, may become unable to build their skeletons and shells.
If left unresolved, ocean acidification could destroy entire marine habitats. Limiting carbon emissions is the first step we need to take to reduce ocean acidification and help oceans keep the Earth’s carbon cycled balanced.
A grim future for fishing
The bleakness of this cartoon is a poignant reminder of our impact on the climate. Human activity has led to a rapid rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, which are in turn causing average global temperatures to increase. The result? Our oceans are heating up and becoming more acidic.
The waters around America are so warm now that the coastal waters off California and Washington are no longer teeming with salmon and orcas. Studies estimate that rising sea temperatures have reduced fish populations in some areas by 15 to 35 percent over eight decades.
Warm waters contain less oxygen, which can drive fish away from their natural habitats. Fish may also experience stunted growth and impaired reproduction in warm oceans. Over time, the supply of seafood in our coastal waters may dwindle down to unsustainable levels as in the cartoon above. Protecting our oceans from climate change is the only way we can keep marine life, and ourselves, from catastrophe.
The most dangerous animals
Drew Sheneman, The Star-Ledger
This cartoon by Drew Sheneman makes excellent use of the element of surprise, sneaking up on readers with real examples of Australia’s most dangerous wildlife (as per the cartoon’s title) before hitting them with a big reality check.
There’s probably no denying that humans, the culprits of climate change, have caused more damage to the planet than any other animal. Human activity, through agriculture, mining, and urban development, has caused massive habitat loss. We’ve exploited the natural environment for our own development and ended up polluting rivers, oceans, and the air.
It’s believed that human activity has put almost a million animal species under threat of extinction. And since the 1500s, our quest for resources has led to the extinction of at least 680 vertebrate species.
As long as we continue to expand our population centers and increase our reliance on fossil fuels, we will continue to put other animal species at risk.
Fossil Fuel, Inc.
Morin Toons’ caricature of a fossil fuel executive roasting the planet on a stick simply conveys how strong of a grasp the oil and gas industry has on our future.
Since the Industrial Revolution, our reliance on fossil fuels has caused everything from climate change to air and water pollution. Fossil fuels power our cars, heavy industries, and electricity grids. They produce enormous amounts of carbon dioxide when burned.
Data collected by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) suggests that the burning of fossil fuels for energy and transportation in the United States accounts for 75 percent of our carbon emissions. And every new ton of greenhouse gas emissions brings the country closer to exceeding its carbon budget, which could get exhausted within the next 15 years if carbon emissions are not reduced.
But even with this data, fossil fuel corporations continue to extract more oil, gas, and coal reserves than the nation can afford to burn. To effectively fight climate change, it’s crucial that oil and gas companies reduce their operations immediately.
Shareholders come first
Shareholders by Tom Moro
This humble-looking cartoon by Tom Moro puts the reader in a dystopian future where profits prevailed over the health of the planet. Simple yet powerful, it shows the reader how corporate politics (and greed) can get in the way of climate action.
It’s often said that shareholders are the true captains of industry. For most of them, corporate performance, or rather high profits, is key to their continued investment in a company. But how many of them are willing to trade short-term profits for environmental responsibility and long-term planning remains to be seen.
That said, recent news reports indicate that shareholders are becoming more serious about sustainability. The growing sentiment among some investors is that companies will need to prepare for climate change if they want to stay relevant in the coming decades. This comes as good news in the “profits vs planet” debate.
As consumers become more eco-conscious, companies that take sustainability seriously will likely be able to grow their operations faster and wider than those that don’t.
When the economy is more important
If this cartoon makes you feel hopeless for a second, you’re not alone. Among several climate change deniers and skeptics, the economy is usually considered more important than the climate. But it’s not because they don’t believe in the scientific evidence. Rather, it’s the climate solutions that they’re opposed to, according to a study from Duke University.
Many climate change deniers find it difficult to promote climate action because they consider the proposed climate solutions, such as increased taxes and regulations, to be harmful to the economy. Recent polls found that only 3 percent of the American public considers climate change to be a problem for the United States, way below job scarcity and the economy which were at the top of the list.
It’s an issue that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible. Only when most members of the public are interested in fighting climate change can climate solutions be implemented across the country.
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