Back in February I had the chance to sit down and chat with Ashlee Mikkelsen, a graduate student at Oregon State who studies the northern spotted owl. With my co-host, Lilian Padgett-Cobb, we talked live on KBVR about the path to graduate school, the benefits of telling people your life goals, and just how much you can learn about an owl from a single feather. You can find my full write-up here, and you can hear the interview via our podcast on iTunes.
On Sunday, March 17, Maggie Exton and I sat down with Charles Camacho to talk mathematics, graduate school, and life lessons on the weekly radio show Inspiration Dissemination. The link below will take you to the blog post I wrote about Charles’ work. The interview will appear on the ID podcast in the very near future.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Arctic climate change over the last four years. Much of that has been specific to my graduate school research on the atmospheric boundary layer in the Arctic and thus fairly technical, but recently I started reading two books that compile perspectives from North American Arctic communities: SIKU: Knowing Our Ice and The Earth is Faster Now. These books provide a lot of context that I think is missing in mainstream climate coverage. Elders and hunters in the far north have noticed changes in weather, animals, ice, and plants, and the particularities show a strong regional character. My hope is to eventually bring some of that to light through comics. Many books have been and continue to be written about this; I don’t aspire to make a complete portrayal of Arctic climate change, but I hope to be able to highlight perspectives that have gone unseen, as well as make some of the science clearer.
Sea ice graph from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
I drew this on 11×14 illustration board using Micron, Pentel Pocket Brush, and a Pilot 62. I prepared the digital version using Pixelmator Pro.
This last September I drove north with my friend Ben Lewis to hike and camp in the North Cascades. It was my first time to visit North Cascades National Park, and as is essentially always the case when I visit a park, I couldn’t visit nearly as many locations as I wanted to. Guess I’ll have to go back at some point (sigh).
This comic also represents another first–my first full-page hand-drawn comic. I’ve been making collage comics as half of That’s Not Math since August 2017, and I’ve made various single-panel gag comics through the years. But I’ve been wanting to get started with narrative nonfiction comics for a long time now. I’ve been putting off making a comic with thoughts of needing to write a great script, needing to learn better drawing techniques, etc., but realized that what really needs to happen is to just make comics. So here we go into a brave new world of comics!
On December 9th, Adrian Gallo and I interviewed Holly Horan on the show Inspiration Dissemination. Holly is doing amazing work at the intersection of human health and anthropology in her studies of maternal health and stress in Puerto Rico. She has spent about a year and a half on the island (divided among a few trips), interviewing 80+ people in what is now the largest-ever study to measure perceived and biological maternal stress during and after pregnancy in Puerto Rico. Her time in Puerto Rico coincided with the Zika outbreak and, on a later trip, with the arrival of Hurricane Maria. I wrote a post giving more details about her work over at Inspiration Dissemination, and you can listen to our interview with her on iTunes here.
I love graphic novels. That being said, I read a lot of graphic novels that end up being disappointing. The format has a lot of potential for transformative storytelling (see Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” for more on that topic), but often depth of exposition is sacrificed in favor of clear imagery and ease of reading. And it makes sense – creating a page of comics can take a lot longer than a page of prose, unless the art style is particularly sparse or sloppy. When the topic is a scientific one, as with other public-aimed science writing, it is tempting for authors to simplify a topic beyond the truth. Philippe Squarzoni’s 2014 effort yields to neither temptation.
The book consists of over 450 pages of beautiful, sparse black-and-white artwork in a documentary style. Serene nature imagery paired with the author’s internal conflict about how to personally respond to the growing climate imagery sets the scene. Interviews often are a series of talking heads, like watching an interview in a television documentary, and expositions of scientific or economic considerations are paired to great effect with classic advertisements (rendered in pen and ink). For example, after a discussion of the consequences of rampant consumerism, we see an 80’s Isuzu ad paired with the text:
“Climate change is also a symptom of a breakdown of solidarity, a sign of collective selfishness. Ironic hedonists, trained by free downloads. Reckless and thoughtless consumerism. The rise in global warming reflects the rise of our desires, and of our indifference to the threat the world is facing. The rise of insignificance. And because we are innocent and heartless, because we think the climate crisis is only out there someplace else, but because it is inside us, we don’t notice a thing.”
The book is long, and, like the scientific consensus on global warming, the story is a depressing one. It is hard to see a way that our society can so fundamentally change from our profit-driven and ecologically careless approach. Because of the length of the book, and perhaps because it can sometimes be a bit repetitive, it does take some effort to finish the book. But the effort is worth it.
You can see a sampler of the contents of the book on Issuu, courtesy the publisher.