No words necessary: The cartoonists tackle climate change

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The results of a worldwide competition are sharp, satirical – and even funny

A A A

Ever since the 1750s, when the writer, satirist, statesman and inventor Benjamin Franklin put political cartooning on the map by publishing the first cartoon of the genre in America, artists have combined their talent, wit and political beliefs to create cartoons that enrage, enlighten or simply engage the viewer.

A picture may paint a thousand words, but a cartoon provokes, protests and entertains – all at once. It is this that makes cartoonists so valuable and influential in times of crisis. Today, that crisis is climate change, and clever imagery can give new impetus to our struggle to combat global warming. The organisers of Earthworks 2008, a global cartoon competition, believe that art and humour are simple ways to get the environmental message across.

"We set up the competition to give cartoonists around the world a platform on which to express themselves," says John Renard, one of the Earthworks organisers. "We hoped that the competition would stimulate cartoonists to use their pens and wit to help combat environmental devastation and give new impetus to our desperate fight to stop global warming," he says. "After all, humour is often a valuable key in the struggle to win hearts and minds."

But despite the sharp wit that pervades the cartoons, climate change is no laughing matter for their creators. The 50 or so countries from which the 600 competition entries were sent are all suffering the effects of global warming, some more dramatically than others. Two cartoons were sent from Burma, where in May this year a cyclone tore through five regions along the western coast, killing at least 100,000 people, and leaving millions more without shelter, food, or clean water.

And although governments around the world are reluctant to suggest, officially, that the disaster in Burma is a direct result of global warming, there's little doubt that it will have added to the cyclone's destructive power.

Studies published in the journals Nature and Science have demonstrated a link between rising sea temperatures and increased wind-speed of cyclones and hurricanes, and even US-government-funded organisations such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration admit that a warming of the global climate will affect the severity of storms. "Experiencing first-hand the catastrophic effects of climate change allowed these artists to give their cartoons a special poignancy," says Renard. "And it brought home to us the burden of responsibility to do our utmost to prevent such devastation becoming more common."

But dramatic weather changes aren't the only consequences of global warming and the cartoons reflected this, with some artists focusing on species loss or coral reef degradation, others on rising seas or water wars.

Certain effects of global warming, such as shortages of food and clean water, for example, clearly resonated with cartoonists from places like Yemen and Syria, where increases in average temperatures have already exposed the population, particularly children and the elderly, to potentially life-threatening diarrhoea and malnutrition.

Predictably, water scarcity and desertification were common themes among the entries, with many images showing parched landscapes, dry oceans and dying animals. These cartoons illustrate what is already occurring in hotter parts of the world such as Africa, Australia and South America, but dwindling supplies of fresh water potentially affect everyone.

Even in Britain's supposedly wet climate, summer hosepipe bans have become routine. And, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, every continent is suffering, with water scarcity already affecting 40 per cent of the world's population.

Receiving competition entries from individuals who have had to endure the adverse effects of climate change is, you could argue, to be expected, but entries also came in from those countries most often accused of halting progress towards cutting greenhouse emissions.

There were several entries from China, the world's second biggest producer of greenhouse gases, which also continues to build, on average, one new coal-fired power plant every week and has no intention of stopping or slowing production. There were also entries from the United States, whose government has stubbornly refused to acknowledge the impact of human activity on global warming and remains one of the few countries not to have ratified the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Brazilian cartoonists, too, felt the urge to illustrate their disappointment with a government that failed to prevent the terrifying pace of deforestation in their country, where 1,250 square miles of Amazon forest were lost in the latter half of last year.

Many of the competition entries showed passion and were exceptionally well drawn, but the winner, "Coat Star" by Mikhail Zlatkovsky from Russia, held a particularly poignant message, the judges felt, showing humanity in the form of a man indecently exposing himself to a pristine universe.

"It says, 'This is the disdain we've shown our world'," says Renard. "And we felt the sleaziness was appropriate to the topic." Second prize went to Constantin Ciosu, from Romania, for his illustration of a man holding a flower being chased by hundreds of butterflies, a humorous and unusual take on the world's dwindling natural resources. Finally, "The Hand" by Tawan Chuntraskawvong, from Thailand, was chosen for its immediate impact.

The judging panel, which included cartoonists Martin Rowson and Morten Morland and Green Party principal speaker Dr Derek Wall, among others, had a tough job choosing the three winners.

"We were quite taken aback by the enormous response this year," says Renard. "And the entries were simply outstanding. Some cartoons were bitingly satirical, others outrageously funny or bitter and even fatalistic, but none were neutral or indifferent."

The panel made their choices, ultimately, on the basis of the clarity of the message. "Language should be unnecessary, the imagery should transcend the need for words," says Renard.

"And the judges felt the winning cartoons sent a message that could be understood internationally, across cultural, religious or political barriers and boundaries."

Powerful, uncompromi-sing and uncomfortable, the cartoons bring home what global warming will mean: not a Costa Brava on the south coast but desertification, widespread hunger and, ultimately, our own destruction.

But the allow us a wry smile as we interpret each artist's take on global warming. And if it's true, as George Orwell stated, that "every joke is a tiny revolution", these cartoons should get the wheel turning.



A selection of the best cartoons will go on tour over the next year, details and information on the next biennial competition will be announced on www.kenspraguefund.org. The Ken Sprague Fund was set up to commemorate the work and ideas of the cartoonist and graphic artist, Ken Sprague, who died in 2004

News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
His band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Extras
indybest 9 best steam generator irons
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Officer (HMP Brixton Mentoring Project)

£24,000 per annum pro rata (21 hours per week): Belong: Work as part of a cutt...

Construction Solicitor / Partner

Highly Competitive Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - Senior Construction Solici...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

DT teachers required for supply roles in Cambridge

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: DT teachers required ...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering