August 3, 2010
PG: Your book with Derrick Jensen, As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial, would be of particular interest to Planet Green readers. What would you hope a budding environmentalist might learn from reading this graphic novel?
SM: Derrick and I decided to create this book after discussing Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. We agreed that the film presented the problem of global warming in a compelling, appropriately urgent way. But when it came time to guide people to action, it was worse than inadequate—it was misleading. Gore’s list of “10 Things You Can Do” (and countless other lists like it) directs the audience’s attention away from the source of the problem, industrialization, and it attempts to convince us to blame ourselves instead. It asserts that if we modify our behavior as “consumers” (change our light bulbs, adjust our thermostats), then we can save the planet. This is a lie. What this list didn’t show was the math. We did. If every person in the United States did everything that Al Gore recommends at the end of the film, there would be a one-time reduction of CO2 emissions of 21%. Obviously that’s not going to put much of a dent in the problem. More importantly, it leaves the worst polluters, big corporations, off the hook. Exxon-Mobil alone is responsible for 5% of all global CO2 emissions. The US military consumes 395,000 barrels of oil a day. Do you think dismantling that might be more effective than obsessing about not leaving our refrigerator doors open? Yet the latter is what we are told to focus on. We are told, over and over, that the only power we have is over our own lifestyles, and specifically as “consumers”—how very conveeeeenient for those who profit from the murder of our planet and then profit again from selling us “green” products.
PG: So, we’re often manipulated into acting against our own interests and the interests of our eco-system?
SM: Most of us care about the Earth’s health, understand that our own well-being and lives depend upon it, and would like to live in a non-destructive way. No one but profit-oriented sociopaths can enjoy the fact that 120 species are going extinct each day, and that our environment is getting thoroughly trashed. We live under a system that functions by converting living beings into commodities, for the profit of a few. Yet we are told that the environmental crisis is our fault because we consume too much as individuals (at the same time, everything about this economy—its media, its reward systems—push us to consume more and more). We created As the World Burns to help readers see that solutions are not to be found in our individual consumer choices, but instead can only be achieved by fighting against, defeating and dismantling the industrial capitalist system.
PG: Do you feel your message is more easily accessible via the characters you’ve created?
SM: I do. This was my primary concern when I created them. Bitter medicine goes down easier with sugar, so I made the characters as cute as possible, and the jokes amusing, the colors appealing. I know my message is pretty radical and can be difficult to accept (especially for those just beginning to explore the issues), and so I’m careful not to put any additional obstacles in the way, stylistically. I want readers to feel welcomed by my cartoons as soon as they see them, and encouraged to be open to what they’re saying.
PG: Your art and activism seem practically synonymous.
SM: The content of my cartoons is absolutely determined by my work as an activist. Without that experience, I would know much less about how the system works or how to combat it. The purpose of my work is to expose the crimes of the system in a way that’s accessible to readers, and to use ridicule to inspire contempt for those who run things. I think if we can laugh at those in power, we will fear them less, which makes us stronger about fighting back. The stories I tell in my comics, the points I make, are all intended to help inspire resistance, to help people who are on that path to make sense of things, and to cheer them on. Resistance and revolution are at the core of my life’s purpose. Art is merely a means, one way I have found that I can help further this objective. I have recently (especially after the Gulf oil spill), been increasing my work in other areas too. I will do whatever it takes, anything I am capable of and more, to help stop the planet from being killed and to eliminate this murderous system of exploitation.