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Fiscal Cliff molehill vs Climate Cliff crevice

December 31st, 2012 · 4 Comments

The Washington Post’s Tom Toles well deserved the Pulitzer Prize that he won 22 years ago. And, since then, Toles has regularly demonstrated why he should be in the running for another one year after year … as per yesterday.

As with so many other of his cartoons, Toles demonstrates the power of an excellent political cartoonist, combining imagery with a few choice words to send a message with great clarity about a complex issue. This cartoon is one of those where the message is truly multi-layered.

  • Toles is, of course, absolutely right that the “Fiscal Cliff” is a mere molehill in the face of C4: the Catastrophic Climate Chaos Cliff.
  • And, if we take this imagery to heart (drawing an imaginary line from those facing the Fiscal Cliff molehill to the edge of the climate fissure), Toles well captures how a myopic focus on the Fiscal Molehill is inhibiting discussion of and focus on climate issues.
  • Toles’ Climate Fissure is a menacing red (warming?) set of complex and, by implication, growing cracks that undermine the entire surface.  This imagery underlines how serious Climate Disruption actually is and how it threatens essentially everything about modern human civilization, in ways both predictable and uncertain in nature and timing, as an earthquake can shatter and devastate a city.
  • “Just practicing” provides both hopeful message and devastating critique.  Hopeful in the sense that this suggests the political system will move on to dealing with climate change issues with the additional experience and capability built on dealing with the Fiscal Cliff. It is also devastating since the U.S. political system has demonstrated ineptness both in creating the conditions/scenario of the Fiscal Cliff and in its inability to foster a decent path through it without creating unnecessary trauma and drama.  Sadly, the ‘devastating’ seems a more appropriate take on the experience.
  • Contemplate the corner comment “Whose Fault?”, which is a wonderful capturing of the reality that the “Climate Cliff” has multi-layers of ‘fault’. We cannot (should not) point our fingers at one thing and say ‘that is it’, there is no ‘single cause’ just as there is no single magical Silver Bullet solution.

Perhaps two elements of the Fiscal Molehill might have merited a slightly different approach.  First, perhaps the ‘molehill’ should have been in the other direction, since it is distracting attention away from far more serious, difficult, and menacing climate issues.  Secondly, perhaps the figures should have been shown tumbling (tripping) over the Fiscal Molehill since that would be a far more accurate representation of what has been and is going on in terms of dealing with the end of year deadline for ‘fixing’ the fiscal cliff.   And, having the molehill the other direction with the figures tripping over it would have added another valuable implication to the cartoon:  dealing with the “Fiscal Cliff” almost certainly will not help in addressing climate challenges since critical climate science, environmental, and clean energy programs are going to suffer fiscally — whether there is some form of bipartisan agreement to ‘solve’ the Fiscal Cliff or whether Republican intransigence pushes the nation over it.

NOTE: See Climate Bites for one collection of climate-related political cartoons. Another great climate cliff / fiscal cliff cartoon is this one from Matt Bors:

NOTE/UPDATE:  Leveraging the cartoons in this post, Joe Romm has an excellent post up What Does The Fiscal Cliff Debacle Say About Our Chances To Avoid The Far More Worrisome Climate Cliff?

The bottom line remains the same, though. We aren’t going to get serious action until we have our climate Churchill — and probably not until climate impacts get so bad that at least those in the persuadable middle start demanding action (see “What Are the Near-Term Climate Pearl Harbors? What Will Take Us from Procrastination To Action?“).

The fiscal cliff debacle primarily tells us that the recent election changed nothing for political leaders of either party. We’re stuck with the climate status quo and, unlike our various economic woes, that is a prescription for irreversible, civilization-destroying disaster:

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Tags: climate change · Global Warming · political symbols · Post Watch · Washington Post

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Michael Elliott // Jan 4, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    Hello, one thing only should have finished off this whole myth of Climate Change, that the VOSTOCK ice core which Al Gore publisised
    in his properganda film was wrong.

    Let us now show that is it not only your spelling that is off.

    That the real scientific evidence clearly shows that the increase in temperature way back was followed some 800 or more years by a increase in the CO2 content.

    And … wow … but now ‘for the rest of the story’.

    Let’s do basic.

    A 2012 study by Shakun et al. looked at temperature changes 20,000 years ago (the last glacial-interglacial transition) from around the world and added more detail to our understanding of the CO2-temperature change relationship. They found that:

    • The Earth’s orbital cycles trigger the initial warming (starting approximately 19,000 years ago), which is first reflected in the the Arctic.
    • This Arctic warming caused large amounts of ice to melt, causing large amounts of fresh water to flood into the oceans.
    • This influx of fresh water then disrupted the Atlantic Ocean circulation, in turn causing a seesawing of heat between the hemispheres. The Southern Hemisphere and its oceans warmed first, starting about 18,000 years ago.
    • The warming Southern Ocean then released CO2 into the atmosphere starting around 17,500 years ago, which in turn caused the entire planet to warm via the increased greenhouse effect.

    Overall, about 90% of the global warming occurred after the CO2 increase

    And, for a video:

    Want to try again with “real scientific evidence”?

    This should have been enough to have stopped the myth that more CO2 is bad and would cause a increase of many degrees of Celsius.

    So why has this known fact not been publisised. Instead we have a Dr. Gobbles like repertition of the words Carbon pollution from opur ignorant politicians, plus the Media, “Anything for a story”

    I rest my case.

    And are easily shown to be pandering incorrect/false talking points.

  • 2 #BigAussieHeat: Down Under sweltering // Jan 8, 2013 at 8:35 am

    […] the general US focus on the Fiscal Cliff Molehill with minimal attention to the Climate Cliff fissure, the #BigAussieHeat is going unnoticed by many in the United States. After all, it is winter and […]

  • 3 Move aside Star Wars, Mark Ruffalo calls for “Declaration of War on Climate Change” at WH site // Jan 13, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    […] It is (well past) time for the WH, Congress, ‘the Village’, the nation to move past the Fiscal Cliff molehill and work on the Climate Cliff fissure. […]

  • 4 Mark Ruffalo Calls for White House to Declare War on Climate Change | "Global Possibilities" // Jan 13, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    […] It is (well past) time for the White House, Congress, ‘the Village,’ the nation to move past the Fiscal Cliff molehill and work on the Climate Cliff fissure. […]