by Zeeshan Hasan
French cartoonist Philippe Squarzoni has taken on the huge task of trying to convey the complexity of climate science and the global emergency that it implies in the form of his autobiographical/documentary graphic novel, Climate Changed. Hopefully this will enable the general public, which does not always seem inclined to wade through dense texts on scientific topics, to get a better appreciation of the challenges of global warming.
The book starts with the author contemplating the difficulties of tackling the subject of global warming in comic book form; unlike most comic book stories, it’s a scientific phenomenon without the conventional beginning and end of most stories. His solution is to place a fairly detailed exposition of climate science in the context of an autobiography. The end result is illuminating. It serves to remind the reader that climate change is not just happening to the globe. It’s happening to all of us, since we all live on this planet that is rapidly heating up, and is already presenting us with real consequences in the form of record high temperatures, droughts and deadlier storms. His visit to his childhood home and his observation of how much smaller and different it seems as an adult illustrates that the comfortable planet we knew even a few decades ago is gone forever; the climate has changed, and it’s now a new, more dangerous world that we live in.
As a low-lying country which is both densely populated and incredibly vulnerable to sea level rise, Bangladesh gets two mentions in the book. Squarzoni quotes climatologist and World Bank economist Stephane Hallegatte: with ‘a rise in sea level of a little over 3 feet (1 metre)… numerous densely populated coastal regions such as the Ganges and Nile deltas could be flooded. Millions of people will be driven out, and agricultural production will be severely affected. 20% of Bangladesh could be flooded.’ Bangladesh comes up again when Hallegatte discusses the potential effect of millions of climate refugees on the international arena: ‘If 20 million people leave Bangladesh and head for India, what do we do?… What will the India and Bangladesh of 2060 be like? Will tensions between them have eased? Or will they be at war?’. Even in Bangladesh, such critical long-term concerns are rarely addressed in the short-term daily news cycle.
Unfortunately, the effects of climate change will be felt disproportionately by the poor; this is made clear by Squarzoni’s account of the severe flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans in 2005. The wealthier sections of the city all evacuated upon hearing storm warnings a day in advance. The poor had no means to escape, and had to survive for days on the roofs of their submerged houses with most of the city being flooded with up to 23 feet of water. 30,000 people took shelter above the flood waters in the city stadium, until being finally evacuated by the government to the surrounding states. Desperate people started looting shops for supplies, with the result that a curfew was imposed; US soldiers freshly returned from Iraq were called in with orders from the state governor to shoot to kill. Total deaths numbered 1293, and 2 million were displaced; hundreds of thousands for over a year. Immense numbers were left in financial ruin with no means of rebuilding their flood-damaged homes. All this in the richest country in the world. The question arises as to how poorer countries would deal with similar storms and floods, which will grow more common everywhere as global warming adds heat and power to storm systems. How will wealthy countries treat poor countries suffering from climate change, which has been caused primarily by the carbon emissions of the rich? Will rich countries treat poor countries any better than they treat the poorest of their own citizens?
‘So, how to end this book?’ Squarzoni asks as he draws to a close. He observes that so far humanity has failed to deal with the existential threat of climate change by curbing fossil fuel use, and thus nearly closes on a pessimistic note; but as he says, ‘The story isn’t over’. Everything depends on how successfully we the public are able to lobby governments of the world to act over the next decade (which according to the 2018 International Panel on Climate Change report is all the time we have left to make severe cuts to fossil fuel use and thus prevent catastrophic climate change of over 1.5C).