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 year after year... as he showed a few days ago.
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 multilayered.
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 inhibits 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 cartoon might have merited a slightly different approach.
- The 'Molehill' should have been in the other direction, since it is distracting attention away from far more serious, difficult, and menacing climate issues.
- The figures should have been shown tumbling (tripping) over the Fiscal Molehill since that would be a far more accurate representation of the inept political gamesmanship and mendacity in 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 2: 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 post, "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.