Climate experts worry: The urgency of climate change has not been communicated to the public. The increasingly dire warnings and increasingly ferocious extreme weather events seem to have caused only a shrug.
Perhaps this is not surprising: the scale of the climate crisis seems to be too large, far beyond our control. In many ways, simply shutting down is a rational response.
Faced with news fatigue and its byproducts of apathy, visual artists are turning to other methods to spread climate awareness of news reporting failures.
“I’m trying to show that while these things are complex and very important, it’s easier to understand if you understand the context,” says German cartoonist Céline Keller. “It’s a lot easier to explain a topic if we tell a story. If you look at it, the story is there.”
Graphic novels and comics are proving to be important tools in the climate evangelist’s arsenal.Science Fiction from Dark Horse Comics moving earth Philip Squazoni climate changean all-in-one crash course on the topic, something for everyone.
Keller just posted Dawn of ECT, a self-published cartoon dealing with the extremely complex Energy Charter Treaty. In the West, dealing with such an important topic in the form of a comic may seem a little unconventional. But in Keller’s view, the more complex the issue, the more valuable the graphic art form is; she believes that narrative imagery has a way of breaking through headlines and things social media can no longer do.
“In this day and age, one scandal after another, it’s important to arrange things according to their history. I think comics are a great fit for that,” she told me. “It helps to have activists and the community get up to speed on a topic through comics rather than a bunch of articles.”
exist Dawn of ECT, Keller tells the story of an international agreement so obscure that most mass media avoid discussing it. Yet the ECT is important: It enables companies such as oil companies to sue countries in secret courts for billions of dollars in damages, often in response to government attempts to pass climate legislation — for example, when Italy sought to ban maritime operations nearby Its coastline when drilling.
Legal advocacy groups such as ClientEarth have called on the EU to drop ECT, saying it jeopardizes Europe’s climate goals. Yamina Saheb, a whistleblower and climate researcher who originally worked at the agency overseeing the ECT, described it as an “ecological genocide treaty.”
In Keller’s version of the ECT story, the heroine, who is the personification of the European Green Deal, exclaims “either we kill the treaty or the treaty will kill us” as zombified monsters representing energy companies loom overhead. Corporate lawyers in the guise of mafia-style hooligans explain how they can have a chilling effect on climate action by using a mechanism called the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism to challenge any decisions affecting investment in the energy sector.
The complexity of the subject didn’t stop Keller from illustrating it. In fact, it appeals to her.
“It’s stressful, but exciting,” she said. “I like to dig into something and try to figure out how to make it a story.” Dawn of ECTKeller says, is “I’ve pieced together research and a few articles in the hope of composing a story that appeals to you.”
This isn’t the first time Keller has tackled complex climate topics: In 2021, she released climate delay discourse, the comic was adapted from the influential academic paper of the same name. The study looks at the shift in the fossil fuel industry’s climate strategy, from simply denying the existence of climate change to introducing delayed strategies designed to justify climate inaction. The comic edition offers a visually stunning breakdown of the report’s main takeaways, telling the story of how the oil industry and complicit politicians are doing all they can to prevent meaningful change.
Although widely ignored by the mass media, climate delay discourse Making waves among scholars and activists with college and high school climate educators use comics Help explain why climate inaction persists.
45-year-old freelance artist and animator Keller is self-taught. “I did apply to art school, but no one wanted me,” she said. She dabbled in theology for a while, but “realized that this was not the place a queer person was supposed to be.” She found connecting pictures to information a useful memory aid and a way to organize her thoughts. Then, the story of rising seas threatening Miami sparked a shift, and she became involved with the climate activist group Extinction Rebellion.
“A few years ago, I still thought tech billionaires and their fear of the singularity was the biggest threat. I knew very little about climate change,” she recalls. She revealed she has another film about Elon Musk, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson and “Social Darwinism…on my nerves.”
As for her influence, Keller named Jessica Abel, out of line, a graphic novel about radio and podcasting, by Swedish illustrator Liv Strömquist. She is also heavily influenced by American author Mary Annaïse Heglar and investigative journalist Amy Westervelt, who pioneered narrative podcasts in the climate field, taking the form of nonfiction true crime and applying it to the fossil fuel industry.
Keller believes that, like podcasts, comics can help lay audiences access otherwise challenging topics in a way that doesn’t seem like hard work. But she also found that academics responded positively to having their work reflected in visual media.
“I don’t write for a special audience,” she said. “But aside from activists and curious people, I think comics can be a great way for academics to give an overview of their field or to communicate with other academics who might be inclined to read something other than a paper in their spare time. Disciplinary research becomes interesting.”
Still, Keller understood her core mission as something more practical.
“I hope to inspire action,” she said. “Understanding the problem is the first and most important step in taking action. I hope more creative people start thinking about how to use accessible Information needed in the fight for climate justice and human rights.
“We have to keep going because no fight is going to be short or easy.”