ISBN 978 0 9557156 0 0. Written by Hugh Montgomery, illustrated by Matt Murphy and published by Genie Publishing in 2007. What a great idea! Throw together some corporate sponsorship into a project to teach 7 to 11 year olds about Global Warming – and what they can do about it. Get a whole committee together of teachers, scientists, artists and designers to create a slick and professional pack of teaching aids to be made available to every child in Britain. Their intent was to “educate, encourage, enthuse and empower children”. There are lesson plans, a short film, slides and a web site. But then…. This book could have been everything you would wish for but the result was a terribly “old-school” environmentalism book designed to scare seven shades of shit our of small children and give them nightmares. Sometimes a good graphic novel can become a cult symbol. Just think of the influence that Raymond Briggs bought about with his books? Remember “Fungus the Bogeyman”, remember “The Snowman”, remember “When the Wind Blows”? The Graphic Novel came of age and children could learn about the most fantastic fantasy to the most horrid nightmare. You really can make this sort of thing work. The Genie is off by a wide mark.
So what is this all about? Well, you get a 44 page softback book in large A4-ish format which contains a children’s story about Climate Change. The story has a grandfather telling his grandson the story of planet earth from its creation through to its demise from run-away climate change. On each page the boys asks if mankind acted to change the course of events. At each step the old man has to disappoint the child. Unrealistically the boy keeps saying “Oh dear”. The artwork is ruinously grim – the stuff nightmares are made of – utterly devoid of charm. The foot of each page has a small section on the “reality” of the science (although nothing here that an average skeptic couldn’t easily shrug off – it is hardly compelling) and there is a section on what children and adults can do to reduce their carbon footprints. However the latter is often just a platitude or throw-away remark. Pretty standard fare. Towards the rear of the book – just as you are starting to wish for a happy ending – the book takes a nose-dive into a bottomless pit of dark cynicism where it turns on politicians with venom and contempt. Its conclusion? It is all caused by one big word: “GREED”. One might prefer “The Age of Stupid” to this Marxism-today-style rant. It is completely inappropriate for children of any age-group. You laugh at the hideous naivety of it all. This could have been a chance to create an entertaining work for children that was informative, a little scary, but ultimately positive. We have to show children that the “good times” their parent had are now over but the future holds out for even better prospects – they’ll just be very different form the ones their parents’ have come to expect. Let them Transition to a post-carbon world. Tell them that fossil-fuels are finite and they can create a new normality. Do not tell them that they have to make the “planet safe”. The planet is just fine thankyou. Mankind is not. The very language of this book will make you cringe. An example: “There’s only one Earth. Love it. Save it.” and how about “Adults are destroying your world”? Talk about a horse designed by committee. This is a camel with one eye and three legs. What were they thinking? We know how to get through to kids. We know how to talk about Climate Change. We know how to Transition. We know how to build a compelling case. This book falls down on all counts.
This is not the end of the story. You can go and visit www.projectgenie.org.uk to see how it has been taken up by the Charity the “Global Cool Foundation”. They do offer downloadable Lesson Plans and other materials on Climate Change. Judging by the quotes from Gordon Brown, Boris Johnson, teachers and children they have got some good support. Apparently 140 schools took it up. We are surprised it was this many. What is more interesting is that they are working on a parallel project called “Global Cool” that aims to use the Cultural Dynamic research from the Institute for Public Policy Research which studied ways of getting Climate Change messages over to the sub-group called “Now People”. We are familiar with the IPPR Report (called “Consumer Power”) and believe it is an important insight because the Now People have such a powerful effect upon how the rest of the general population behave. More importantly the IPPR Report would recommend approaching the problem from completely the opposite angle adopted by “Genie”. So as soon as they join these two dots together (and maybe seek help from the Transition Network) the better. We wish to thank Dave Hampton – the Carbon Coach (www.carboncoach.com) – for the review copy.