Graphic novels depict heroes descending into darkness, fighting insidious forces, and coming out transformed—think The Walking Dead or Maus. That is exactly what readers get in Philippe Squarzoni’s Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science. It is a scientific, moral, and personal exploration of human-caused climate change. Deftly using graphic novel form, it entertains, informs, and invites us to reflective action.
The book opens by ruminating on the beginnings of great hero stories like Peter Pan and Kurosowa’s Ran. We are primed for a hero’s journey into who we are. Several years ago Squarzoni found himself writing on environmental issues including climate change and realized, sadly, that he knew little. So he read books, reports, and interviewed European scientists, energy experts, and others.
In easy-to-read but never simplistic detail, Squarzoni weaves science with metaphor. We learn the basic physics and chemistry of the greenhouse effect, the greenhouse gases and their sources, and their accumulating effects on Earth’s systems. And somehow, these topics’ explanation from the book’s comic representation of a real bearded and balding French scientist makes them quite palatable. And because pictures are at least half of a graphic novel, interesting things weave together. Iconic images like Jeep and iPhone logos, suited tobacco spokesmen and other “merchants of doubt,” appear near bar charts and graphs. They play together as both metaphors and characters that connect to who we are and who we want to be.
Squarzoni shows that if we keep on our current trajectory with fossil fuels, economic growth, and climate change, we will need five earths. We have one. The book depicts this challenge in an alarming and compelling way. The fossil fuel fed global economy is a goliath robot wearing a gas pump, shopping cart, oil drum, and other polluting conveniences. At one point, as if in a dream, Squarzoni and his wife are chased onto a rope bridge by the robot. They are forced to jump into a void. Do they have parachutes?
Of course, the real question is, do we have parachutes? Squarzoni sets about to find some. Are nuclear and renewable energy sources, techno-solutions that could save us? Are they fantasies?Something in between? What about energy conservation, reduced meat consumption, or restricting population growth? Can we take on the beliefs and actions that will both limit us and help us flourish? How fast do we need to act? Squarzoni worries we won’t meet the challenge to avoid a global calamity. But, as he says, the story is not over with him. It continues with you and me.
Read Phillippe Squarzoni’s Climate Changed. It tells an enlightening and challenging story that speaks to who we are and who we can be. By book’s end, you will be changed.
"Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science" by Phillippe Squarzoni is published by Harry N. Abrams.
Reviewer Peter Buckland works at Penn State’s Sustainability Institute and serves on the Sierra Club Moshannon group’s executive committee. He lives in State College, Pennsylvania.