Unseen Text: Climate Change
Text Type: Comic Strip
Guiding Question: How does the relationship between image and text support the writer’s argument?
In many ways, the Language and Literature course relates more closely to Theory of Knowledge than any other subject. This text has a definite ToK feel to it. While the topic of the text is Climate Change, careful reading reveals the author is interested in the way some people jump to conclusions based on their own perception and have a habit of denying other, more compelling, evidence. Always read the text carefully and, when approaching multimodal texts like comic strips, be careful not to ignore the words. The guiding question for this text reminds you to treat words and images equally and the sample response below shares analysis comments between visual and textual elements. Of course, this response is just one of many possible ways of analysing this text; your own approach will be equally valid should you always argue your ideas with reference to the text.
The title of this extract is ‘Climate Change’ and the date of publication is 2012; an important date as it is around this time that a name-change occurred when speaking about climate change. Previously it had been called ‘global warming,’ but this terminology was abandoned as too many people liked to say that, in many places, the weather seemed to be turning colder. Unfortunately, this was increasingly used by climate deniers to shut down a critical debate: how should human populations and societies act in the face of a rapidly changing climate? People who read this text are likely to be interested in science (the text comes from a longer work called ‘Science Tales: Lies, Hoaxes and Scams’), although the text does not contain any jargon or scientific terms that would put off casual readers. The form of the text, a comic strip, is also likely to widen its appeal.
The text cautions the reader against relying only on the evidence of their eyes when drawing conclusions about climate change. The text boxes in the tenth-twelfth panels make a point that our human scale is ‘tiny’ and that ‘in order to get any real understanding of the planet’s climate, you have to look at weather systems globally over a long period of time.’ This line introduces a contrast between the viewpoint of individual people (‘tiny’) and a larger ‘global’ scale; so accompanying this are frequent images of people and the Earth. Images of the Earth are sometimes small, as if the viewer is far away, zoom down to the planet’s surface (the human scale), then back out to space again. Similarly, locations in the text range from ‘England’ to ‘Russia’ to ‘Greenland and the Antarctic,’ sometimes jumping from place to place in adjacent panels. These shifting perspectives match the writer’s argument: that our own perspective is limited, and we have to make an imaginative ‘shift’ in order to think properly about a complex phenomenon like climate change.
The turning point of the piece is in the ninth and tenth panels, after hot and cold weather events have been described, where the writer says, ‘the truth is that neither of these events can be used to prove the case either way.’ The words ‘truth’ and ‘prove’ in this panel belong to a lexical field of ‘knowledge’ that run through the whole text. Other words from this lexical field are ‘evidence’, ‘scientists’, ‘cited’, ‘understanding’, and ‘information.’ The text is full of facts and statistics, presented in neutral way; for example, ‘there has been a consistent global surface temperature rise since the 1880s’ and ‘in the last 650,000 years there has been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat.’ In this way the text emphasises the importance of research that can discover facts and truths hidden to the naked eye or which lie buried in the past. One of the most powerful statements Cunningham makes is that ‘the evidence for rapid climate change is compelling.’ It is notable that he did not begin his cartoon strip with this statement; in fact, he waited until the eighteenth panel to reveal his personal opinion! In this way, the structure of the text mirrors the writer’s key point: he wants the reader to come to conclusions only after careful consideration of available evidence and thinking critically about the source of their information.
People who refuse to understand their own perspective is limited and their opinions are not facts are particularly lampooned by the text. In the nineteenth and twentieth panels, the narrator stands in an ocean explaining that ‘global sea levels have risen about 17 centimetres in the last century, a rate of increase that has doubled in the last decade.’ Between the two panels the sea level rises until it covers the man and he is speaking underwater. These panels poke fun at the kind of person who is so blinded by their prejudices that they refuse to acknowledge evidence staring them in the face; the kind of person who would drown rather than admit they are wrong about climate change.
In some ways, a cartoon strip is the best way for a writer to make this point. Simplification is a convention of comic art; therefore the form of the text matches the criticism that Cunningham makes about people who simplify complex issues. The second and third panels illustrate this point perfectly. The accompanying text boxes explains that ‘the northern half of Europe experienced its coldest winter since 1981-1982’ and that ‘this for many showed that global warming was nonsense.’ The picture accompanying the second text shows a man gesturing somewhat angrily at a grinning snowman, while presumably explaining to a child that ‘global warming’ can’t be real because it’s snowing. The picture pokes fun at the simplistic statements of people who deny climate change even though the evidence – personified as a grinning snowman – is literally staring him in the face.
Stylistically, the artist uses an interesting mix of simple, cartoonish caricatures and almost photorealistic drawings. This contrast can be seen clearly in the last two panels, which both feature a sweltering sun: the first is drawn with circular swirls; the second is a close up of the surface of a boiling, roiling sun. Once again, the accompanying captions criticise a simplistic understanding of the issue, explaining that ‘two of the warmest years’ have occurred in a time of ‘solar output decline.’ The juxtaposition of realistic and simplistic art encourages the reader to question what is real and what is fake – our own perceptions, or the evidence of facts and statistics.
In conclusion the writer makes a compelling argument about the limitations of an individual person’s perspective and how we should be careful to not rely only on the evidence of our eyes. The comic strip is a perfect way to do this, as the form allows the writer to play with time and place, switching perspective, altering scale and jumping from place to place between panels. Simplification is used ironically as a way of illustrating the danger of holding simple opinions and ignoring the evidence of science and research – especially if it doesn’t happen to match a person’s personal beliefs.
Categories:Paper 1 Analysis