Change the system to save the climate

Climate Changed: A personal journey through the science
By Philippe Squarzoni
Abrams ComicArts, 2014

A comic book about climate change is a pretty unusual thing to attempt, but French author Philippe Squarzoni pulls it off surprisingly well across nearly 500 pages.

The idea to write such a book came to Squarzoni while writing another one about French President Jacques Chirac. As he came around to analysing his environmental record, the topic of climate change loomed large and became the focus of his next work.

Originally published in French in 2012 under the title Saison Brun (Brown Season), and later translated into English, the title is a reference to the indecisiveness of decision-makers regarding policies to combat global warming.

One of the positive features of this book for an English-speaking audience is an insight into European thinking and acceptance of climate science, through its extensive interviews with a variety of experts on climate science and related socioeconomic issues.

The first main section of the book deals with the science of climate change and a breakdown of the main greenhouse gases: water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, among others. Then there is a discussion on the formation and purpose of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This section benefits from extended interviews with IPCC lead authors Jean Jouzel and Hervé Le Treut.

Another section looks at the major sources of greenhouse gas production: electricity, manufacturing, transport, heating and agriculture. The imbalance between the cumulative contributions of rich and poor countries is vast. The 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster is used as an example to show the class divide in who bears the brunt of the worst impacts.

These heavy doses of scientific reality are interspersed with Squarzoni's personal reflections on the scale of the problem and his own consumption patterns that contribute to it. Concepts such as climate inertia, tipping points and mass extinctions are discussed.

Squarzoni uses scenes from his favourite films as backdrops to his interior monologue. For a few years he refused international travel but eventually concluded that “changing all by yourself does nothing”.

The book rounds out with a strong section containing interviews with Le Monde journalist Herve Kempf, economist and environmentalist Geneviève Azam and others critiquing “green capitalism” and explaining the need to synthesise the differing concerns of ecological and social movements. The scale of the change needed to our global economic system is huge but necessary and ultimately possible if we act decisively in this decade.

Climate Changed is a bold attempt, in a highly readable graphic format, to communicate the science, politics and personal impacts of what is arguably humanity’s greatest existential threat.

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