Cartooning on climate change: Young artists rise to the challenge

Cartoon contest top prize winners with British Council director and chief guest (all front row) and four judges (all back row) at awards ceremony, Colombo 6 March 2010

Man-made climate change is a complex planetary phenomenon. It has multiple causes and effects – not all of it immediately evident. Different areas of the world are going to be impacted differently and unevenly. Human response to the climate challenge has been patchy, and is mired in so much denial, rhetoric and political posturing.

So how do we capture this multiplicity in visual forms? Photographers go for the evidence and authenticity. Film makers work on both current impacts and future scenarios. What about cartoonists – who have to do their visual metaphors in a limited space that is static and two-dimensional? How much of climate change’s nuance and complexity can they really grasp and convey?

The short answer is: a great deal. On this blog, I’ve written that when it comes to cartoons, less is definitely more. Take, for example, many millions of printed words and probably thousands of minutes of airtime generated around the (over-hyped and under-performing) Copenhagen climate conference in Dec 2009. As I noted in blog posts on 17 Dec, 18 Dec and 21 Dec 2009, it was assorted cartoonists from around the world who summed it all up in a few perceptive strokes. This is why I keep saying that when it comes to commenting on our topsy-turvy times, no one can beat cartoonists for their economy of words.

In late 2009, the British Council and the Ken Sprague Fund of UK organised a cartoon contest on climate change which was open to all Lankan citizens from 18 to 35 years. They offered attractive prizes for anyone who could be ‘seriously funny’ about this global crisis. The participants could submit entries under 6 themes: drought and water shortage; deforestation and rain forest destruction; melting of the ice caps; role of industry in polluting the atmosphere; devastation of our seas and disappearance of marine life; and climate change in an urban environment.

Some 400 entries were received from 175 contestants (each person could submit up to 5 entries) – which surprised and delighted the organisers. During the past few weeks, I have been involved in judging these cartoons to select the top winners and commended entries. Joining me in this enjoyable task were nationally recognised professional cartoonist Wasantha Siriwardena and environmentalist Nimal Perera. We worked with a British counterpart, top cartoonist Michal Boncza Ozdowski.

Michal Boncza Ozdowski (L) and Wasantha Siriwardena conducting cartoon workshop

The winners were announced, with awards and certificates, on 6 March 2010. It coincided with a half-day workshop on cartooning conducted by Michal and Wasantha. The chief guest at the ceremony was Camillus Perera, the seniormost Lankan cartoonist still professionally active.

As national judges, we looked at close to 200 cartoon entries that conformed with the contest’s published rules for eligibility. Since comparative ranking of creative works is never easy, we first agreed on four criteria for assessing the very diverse entries: cartoon value and humour; subject relevance to climate change (defined broadly); how effectively the climate related message was being communicated; and clarity and artistic merit of the entry.

Our initial judging coincided with the climate circus in Copenhagen, when we narrowed it down to a shortlist of 40 entries. We then individually scored these cartoons for each of our four criteria. We sometimes had to discuss and demarcate how far the scope of the contest could stretch. For example, when is an entry a good work of art but not a cartoon (more like a poster)? And what are the acceptable limits in the thematic or subject coverage of a vast topic like climate change?

The British Council later shared the full shortlist with Michal Ozdowski, who provided his own rankings and comments. We met again in February 2010 to discuss and reconcile our rankings — and found that our separately done rankings broadly agreed! (Note: During this entire judging process, the identity of artists was withheld and we only knew each entry by a number. In fact, we judges discovered the names only on the day of the awards ceremony, to which all shortlisted contestants were invited.)

Additionally, Michal kindly offered crisp comments about the top three winners, which became citations at the awards ceremony. So here are the winners of climate change cartoon contest 2009:

First prize: Welcome to the North Pole! By by Shamanthi Rajasingham

First prize winning climate cartoon - by Shamanthi Rajasingham

Citation for first prize: It is uncomplicated – a great advantage when satirising. Its composition is strong and imaginative, the draughtsmanship confident.

Second Prize: “I pray for water, not nectar” by Dileepa Dolawatte

Second prize winning climate cartoon by Dileepa Dolawatte

Citation for second prize: Apart from the vibrant and highly accomplished draughtsmanship, it lampoons brilliantly the fairy’s naivety – a funny eye-opener. Incorporates very cleverly traditional beliefs and myths. Here we are truly past the dodgy miracles stage in the climate change battles…

Third Prize: Theme – Drought and water shortage, by W M D Nishani

Third prize winning climate cartoon by W M D Nishani

Citation for third prize: An eloquent, if over-didactic, strip cartoon – could be quite effective in women’s publications. Coherent draughtsmanship catalogues effectively the woes of a ‘get-rich-quick’ development.

See all the highly commended and commended entries on the British Council website.

Media melee at Copenhagen: Chasing a hazy story in a crazy conference?

Polite or dodgy? Did anything more than this happen in Copenhagen?

What happens when over 3,500 journalists from all over the world roam around a two-week long UN conference that saw plenty of loud bickering and hot air in the name of saving the planet from global warming? Well, the media pack adds to the noise levels and hot air, for sure — and they are not above bickering themselves.

At least, that’s the report from Copenhagen, where the UN climate conference COP15 ended on Dec 18 with a watered down, disappointing something called the Copenhagen Accord.

Darryl D'Monte

I’ve just read an interesting report filed from the Ground Zero of that half-event by my Indian friend (and senior journalist turned climate columnist) Darryl D’Monte.

He says: “The media in Copenhagen has been an unmanageable and unruly lot. There are some 3,500 of us covering the summit, most having come this week, and journalists – once again, the electronic media – don’t think twice about carrying on conversations at the loudest decibel levels, turning the room into a virtual Tower of Babel. The TV crews in particular are like packs of wolves. They station themselves at every available nook and corner where some VIP may enter and exit and try to get that exclusive byte as he or she makes an appearance“.

Read the full story at InfoChange India:
Media melee at Copenhagen, By Darryl D’Monte

Was it a non-event, half event or what?

Climate cartoons: When less is definitely more!

While politicians, scientists and activists were jostling in Copenhagen at the crucial climate conference, I spent a few hours this week laughing my head off about climate change.

That’s when I judged the Sri Lanka entries for the cartoon contest on climate change, organised by the British Council and the Ken Sprague Fund of UK.

Joining me on this enjoyable challenge were professional cartoonist Wasantha Siriwardena and environmentalist Nimal Perera. We started off with close to 150 entries – many of them good, and some excellent – and ended up with a shortlist or 30 or so of the best.

That’s all I can say about it for now, since the final selection of winners will only be made in January 2010. In the meantime, I’ve been looking at many climate related cartoons inspired by the Copenhagen conference. Here are some that particularly appealed to me…

Last chance, by Erl

CLIMATE SUMMIT OF COPENHAGEN! by ismail dogan

copenhagen 09 logo - by samir abdl-fatah ramahi

by David Horsey

by uber

Please Help the World: The call to Copenhagen climate conference

Earlier this week, United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009 (COP15) in Copenhagen opened with an apocalyptic video showing the world torn asunder from a variety of disasters.

As one reviewer wrote: “The portrayal sought to play up on the fears of the world should a worst case scenario develop from global warming. The entire video is reminiscent of the recent disaster movie blockbuster, 2012 that was released in movie theatres in recent months.

I haven’t yet seen 2012, now showing in a theatre close to me, so I can’t comment on the comparison. But here’s the video, now playing on COP15 channel on YouTube:

In the video, a child goes to sleep peacefully but wakes to find herself in a desert wasteland. As she sets out to explore, the very land on which she stands begins to crack open and she flees. The girl doesn’t make it far before she looks up to see the world’s largest tornado tearing a city apart and flood waters approaching. The child leaps to a tree branch as the waters overtake her and she screams. It is then that she wakes from what is only a dream and decides to make a home video saying, “Please help the world.”

Will the bickering and myopic leaders of the world heed this call? We shall know in the next few days.

Meanwhile, here are the credits for this film:
Director: Mikkel Blaabjerg Poulsen
Producers: Stefan Fjeldmark and Marie Peuliche
Cinematographer: Dan Laustsen
Production designer: Peter de Neergaard
Editor: Morten Giese
Composer: Davide Rossi
Sound design: Carl Plesner
Production company: Zentropa RamBuk
Advisory consultants: Mogens Holbøll, Bysted A/S and Christian Søndergaard, Attention Film ApS.

For some comparisons, here is the official trailer for 2012:

Little strokes make big pictures: Covering climate change in South Asian media

Given the surfeit of media stories on climate in the build-up to the Copenhagen climate conference (7-18 Dec 2009), it would appear that journalists have little or no difficulty in covering this literally hot topic, right?

Wrong. The planet is warming, but not all editors and other media gate-keepers have yet warmed up to the topic. (We might even say: some are thawing more slowly than glaciers these days!).

“While environment is fast becoming a trendy topic, environmental journalists say they are finding it increasingly difficult to sell their stories to editors. This is a confounding trend in the news media, given the increasing confusion – and resultant calls for clarity – about scientific data for climate change in the run up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The experts, however, say the trick is to repackage the story alluringly.”

Zofeen T Ebrahim

This is the thrust of an article just written by the experienced Pakistani journalist and blogger Zofeen T. Ebrahim on Dawn.com. In Little strokes make big pictures, she probes the challenges that South Asian journalists continue to face in reporting and analysing on climate change in their mainstream media.

Zofeen, who was with me at the recent IFEJ congress in New Delhi a few weeks ago, quotes me in her article: “Nalaka Gunawardene, a senior award-winning science writer from Sri Lanka, recalls that his mentor, Tarzie Vittachi, once advised that ‘ordinary people live and work in the day-to -day weather. Most can’t relate to long-term climate. It’s our job, as journalists, to make those links clear.’ Of course, three decades ago, well before climate change was a hot topic, Vittachi was speaking metaphorically. But the words have great import today.”

She also quotes South Asian colleagues like Kunda Dixit, Joydeep Gupta, Nirmal Ghosh and Aroosa Masroor Khan (all men, although they are among the finest in the profession :)).

Her conclusion: environmental stories may still be a hard sell in many media outlets, but committed journalists have found ways to market their stories first within their organisations, and then to their respective audiences. That is some good news as the crucial climate talks open in the cool climes of Copenhagen.

Read the full article: Little strokes make big pictures, by Zofeen T Ebrahim

Zofeen T. Ebrahim is a Karachi-based independent journalist and has been writing for IPS since April 2003. She also writes for Women’s Feature Service, IRIN and Indo Asian News Service. The stories she has covered include human rights, specially pertaining to women and children, health and how development impacts environment.

Copenhagen: ‘Fourteen days to seal history’s judgment on this generation’

Today, 7 December 2009, the latest UN-FCCC climate negotiations begin in Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s not just another environmental conference – this one can make or break the future of our world.

Recognising this, 56 newspapers from 45 countries across the world have up with common editorial and demanded that world leaders put aside their differences and step up to seal the deal. The text was drafted by a Guardian team during more than a month of consultations with editors from more than 20 of the papers involved. Like the Guardian most of the newspapers have taken the unusual step of featuring the editorial on their front page.

It’s indeed rare for the world’s cacophonous media to agree on such nuance and detail, but uncommon unity is indeed what we need to ensure a common, shared future.

At Moving Images, we add our own modest echo to this call by reproducing the editorial in full, as is:

One World, One Climate, One Editorial...


Copenhagen climate change conference: ‘Fourteen days to seal history’s judgment on this generation’


This editorial calling for action from world leaders on climate change is published today by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages.

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June’s UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: “We can go into extra time but we can’t afford a replay.”

At the deal’s heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world’s biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of “exported emissions” so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than “old Europe”, must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature”.

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

Viterbo Memorandum by Greenaccord: Time to act on climate crisis is NOW!

Renaissance period Domus La Quercia, venue of Greenaccord 2009 forum

“We know the climate is changing, probably as a result of humanity’s pollution; species are disappearing fast; deforestation is rampant; over-fishing is rife; water shortages are increasing; resource consumption is growing and so is the world’s population.

“…If this catastrophe unfolds, historians will look back and ask how that was allowed to happen with so little media debate. They may wonder what stories journalists were telling while the world was transformed around them.”

Those words are not new. In fact, they were part of the statement of concern issued at the end of the First International Media Forum organised by Greenaccord of Italy and held in Rapolano, Siena, Italy, in late 2003. I was one of 100+ journalists from all over the world who signed that original “Green Accord” for Journalists.

This year’s internationally acclaimed British climate film The Age of Stupid is based on a similar premise. This ambitious drama-documentary-animation hybrid features an old man living in the climate devastated world of 2055 AD, watching the ‘archive’ news footage from 2008 — and asking: “Why didn’t we stop climate change while we had the chance?”

The 7th Greenaccord international forum, held in the central Italian city of Viterbo from 25 – 29 November 2009, has just ended calling upon world leaders to “draw a road map being a binding agreement for a total de-carbonization of world economy before 2050”.

Addressed to the UN climate conference opening in Copenhagen in a few days’ time, the forum’s final document – called the Viterbo Memorandum – urged that no more time be lost.

The Greenaccord forum’s theme this year was ‘Climate is changing: stories, facts and people’. Over five days, some 130 of us from 55 countries – drawn from all continents – stayed at the historic residence of Domus La Quercia in Viterbo, discussing and debating about the challenges faces by our warming planet, and how we as communicators can make a difference. It is what I recently called the Ultimate Race between education and catastrophe.

The Viterbo Memorandum pledged: “On their own side, they (journalists and scientists) vow to cooperate in order to spread correct information on the risk related to climate change and to make aware the public opinion on the need of individual contribution to the solution of problems by modifying their own life style.”

The Memorandum is to be delivered in early December 2009 to Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the Nobel Peace Prize winning Chairman of the UN’s climate panel, the IPCC.

Professor Andrea Masullo, President of Greenaccord’s Scientific Committee, said: “I don’t want our children and grandchildren, in 2050, finding themselves on a planet inhabited by more than 9 billion people and devastated by climate change, re-reading the scientific reports of today…to ask themselves what we were thinking and why we did not do anything when everything that was going to happen was clear.”

He added: ”In recent years the changes are progressing much faster than expected in the fourth IPCC report. Nevertheless, it seems that Copenhagen will not come again to a final agreement. Many governments feel they can take initiatives costly and complicated the current economic crisis. ”

Launched in 2003, the Greenaccord Forums have emerged as one of the largest annual gatherings of environmental journalists, broadcasters and activists at global level. As an organisation, Greenaccord aims to be an international “virtual table” open to all professionals in information and communication who want to deepen understanding about environment and its protection with their work.

I have been returning to Greenaccord’s annual forums the first one in 2003 – and always return with my knowledge updated and friendships renewed. This year was no exception.

Photos courtesy Yu-Tzu Chiu and Greenaccord

Nalaka Gunawardene at Greenaccord 2009 - Photo by Yu-Tzu Chiu