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EARTH BEAT | Is the Climate ready for Cartoons?

Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles admits that climate change, acid rain, consumer health, and the ozone layer may not seem like obvious sources of big guffaws. But the Pulitzer Prize winner doesn't shy away from the densest issues. Sierra chatted with him to find out why.

WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO PURSUE A TOPIC?
When I see public policy running contrary to public interest. From there, it's a matter of determining whether ignorance, dishonesty, stupidity, or self-serving behavior is behind what's going on.

ARE ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES HARD TO PARODY?
They're challenging. Not because they don't lend themselves to satire, but because the subject matter may not be getting enough regular news coverage to leverage a cartoon off of it, and because a lot of the subject matter is esoteric. Climate change was, at least early on, one of those. I would do climate cartoons over and over and get no response. An Inconvenient Truth was the pivotal point.

HOW CAN YOU MEASURE RESPONSE TO YOUR CARTOONS?
Comments on my blog pass for public discourse. Climate cartoons elicit a lively, if largely uninformed and frustrating, discussion.

HOW SO?
The opposition has become frantic. The new phenomenon is not just questioners but vehement deniers. They infest the comment section of my blog.

IS IT EASIER OR HARDER TO COVER ENVIRONMENTAL TOPICS THAN OTHER POLICY ISSUES?
I care about environmental issues, so it's not hard to do them. But it's hard to do them in a way that has an impact. Sometimes it takes more explication and text.

IN THE AGE OF THE DAILY SHOW, THE ONION, AND BLOGS, HOW HAS EDITORIAL CARTOONING CHANGED?
Now everyone is a satirist and a commenter. The monopoly is lost, but the climate is conducive to political cartooning.

CAN SATIRE DEVOLVE INTO CYNICISM?
That's always been a danger, and it's always been a debate in the cartooning community: Are you making a joke or making a point? My professional career has been premised on the idea that I can move people's points of view. Sometimes it feels like a going proposition. Other days you wonder.

WHAT'S AN UNTAPPED TOPIC FOR ENVIRONMENTAL CARTOONING?
The American diet hasn't been fully explored. People have no idea what the carbon footprint of a steak is, relative to a plate of veggies. The competition for unsophisticated thinking is fierce.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE CLIMATE CARTOON?
A nine-panel cartoon from early 2004 [see below] in which a politician spells out the cascading series of arguments for avoiding action on climate. It still holds true.


Tom Toles, Washington Post/Universal Uclick

WHAT'S YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL VICE?
I'm not a fan of a cold, dark house. I don't keep the thermostat down at 62. —interview by Reed McManus

ON THE WEB For more Toles cartoons, go to washingtonpost.com/opinions/toles.



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