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For this Canadian cartoonist, art is a way to process climate anxiety

In this week's issue of our environment newsletter, we interview a Canadian cartoonist who is using art to address climate anxiety, and examine how wildfire smoke is affecting wedding photography.

Also: How wildfire smoke is affecting wedding photography

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This week:

  • For this Canadian cartoonist, art is a way to process climate anxiety
  • The shipping emissions dilemma
  • It's like smoke on your wedding day: How the wedding industry is working around wildfires

For this Canadian cartoonist, art is a way to process climate anxiety

Several panels of a comic about climate change.

This year, for the first time in its more than 50-year history, the beloved Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa didn't open.

Since its inaugural season in 1971, the famous canal-turned-rink has welcomed Ottawans and other visitors every year, offering a skating route of nearly eight kilometres through the heart of the capital. But this year, temperatures were higher than average, making the world's largest natural outdoor rink unsafe for skating.

For writer and illustrator Rosemary Mosco, who grew up near Ottawa's Dow's Lake, the news was an emotional blow.

"Skating was a huge part of my childhood and it was something we were all really proud of," Mosco, 42, said in a recent interview. "We'd have skating parties…. It was just such a big part of my year and my culture."

To deal with her disappointment, the cartoonist and naturalist channelled her feelings into art. In "The Future Is on Thin Ice," a comic recently published on the cartooning website The Nib, Mosco drew on the loss and her loving memories of the skateway: the feeling of biting into a pastry in the icy wind; skating on a grey day where she couldn't tell where the ice ended and the sky began; and writing her initials in freshly fallen snow with her high school boyfriend.

Mosco said it's "important" to "tie climate change to these really specific personal impacts."

Alhough she acknowledged that the closing of the skateway wasn't a life-threatening event like the 2021 fires in Lytton, B.C., it was an opportunity to talk about how millions of people are experiencing the fallout of a changing climate.

"It's vulnerable and scary to talk about things that are emotional and personal," Mosco said. "But this is just one of those things that really resonated with me, so I thought maybe other people would want to hear it."

Mosco's colourful cartoons, which often depict birds and other wildlife, have appeared in the New York Times and on PBS. She's also written and illustrated books for children and adults. Her subject matter varies, ranging from pigeon watching to tracing the history of misinformation spread by the fossil fuel industry.

4) In a moment of peak sadness and rage, fueled by a nonstop metal playlist, I made this comic about climate change and fossil fuel misinformation<a href="https://t.co/lznj3WhMDq">https://t.co/lznj3WhMDq</a> <a href="https://t.co/tqNNEA3k2I">pic.twitter.com/tqNNEA3k2I</a>

&mdash;@RosemaryMosco

Mosco said every comic is driven by science. She said she reads "zillions" of science articles to verify her facts.

"It's really important for me to be accurate," she said. "And it's funny because I'll have some little throwaway joke, but I've read five papers to make sure that it works."

While the science in her work is often rigorous, the emotional element is just as important.

"It's probably a mix between trying to distil the science into something that makes sense in a cartoon format, which is really sort of limiting in terms of the space and the number of words, and then also trying to convey the right emotions because [sometimes] I'll get really angry [about climate change] and I feel like there's a time and a place for expressing that," she said.

A close-up of a woman in glasses.

As a child, Mosco gravitated to newspaper comics. A nature lover from the get-go, she found herself particularly drawn to Calvin and Hobbes, the daily strip by U.S. cartoonist Bill Watterson.

"I was so jealous of [Calvin's] wagon hill or whatever he had out back where he could just go and ride down the hill in this cool wagon and be in the woods."

Many of Mosco's comics aren't climate-related at all — some are just funny nature cartoons, like one that describes how her phone autocorrects certain birds' names. Regardless of the kind of art she makes, Mosco said it's important for her to connect with the environment in a personal way and not leave readers frustrated, as can often happen when talk turns to climate change.

"Our gut instinct is to yell at people" to care about the planet more, Mosco said. "But what I find interesting is that we know from surveys that most people are concerned about climate change. They're really, really worried. So telling them to worry isn't going to help.

"I think I have a lot of different goals [with my art], but for the most part, my goal is to connect with people and make them feel empowered," she said. "I want to let people know that they're not alone."

Rukhsar Ali


Old issues of What on Earth? are here. The CBC News climate page is here.

Check out our radio show and podcast. This week, we're headed to Quebec, to hear how citizens are pushing to protect corridors of habit — for the benefit of wildlife, and people, as the planet warms. What On Earth airs on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET, 11:30 a.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador. Subscribe on your favourite podcast app or hear it on demand at CBC Listen.

Watch the CBC video series Planet Wonder featuring our colleague Johanna Wagstaffe here.


Reader feedback

D. Schmidt:

"The recent article 'Is travelling by cargo ship a low-emissions alternative to flying?' suggests passage on unused crew quarters of a cargo ship is low-emissions, compared to air travel. The same false logic could be applied to booking an unsold seat on an airliner (they're going anyway). The truth is that both air travel and cargo ships are high-emissions. When we give airlines or cargo ships our dollars, we are enabling them to create emissions and therefore we are also complicit in these emissions. The only way to cut emissions is to fly less, and use cargo ships less, either for shipping stuff or for shipping yourself. Incidentally, cargo ships could halve their emissions and cut costs by slowing down, but our demand for cheap overseas products has them going full speed."

To provide some context on the connection between slower speeds and carbon emissions, studies have found that "a 10 per cent speed reduction across the global shipping fleet could result in a 13 per cent reduction in overall GHG emissions from the shipping industry."

Write us at whatonearth@cbc.ca. Have a compelling personal story about climate change you want to share with CBC News? Pitch a First Person column here.

Also: With the anniversary of post-tropical storm Fiona fast approaching, CBC P.E.I. is looking for Islanders who want to share their personal journey around climate change and climate anxiety. Get in touch at whatonearth@cbc.ca.


The Big Picture: The shipping emissions dilemma

A container ship in port.

Speaking of ships, there is increasing interest in the pollution they produce — and not only CO2.

In 2020, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) imposed limits on the sulphur content of marine fuels. Sulphur oxides — found in the exhaust from ship engines that burn sulphur-rich marine fuel — harm human health and contribute to the acidification of water. Because of the IMO decree, shipping companies have been forced to rely on lower-sulphur fuels. The result is that global emissions of sulphur dioxides have dropped by about 10 per cent.

But this seemingly positive shift has had an unappealing consequence. The high sulphur content in ship exhaust has actually counteracted some of the warming coming from greenhouse gases. Conversely, lowering the sulphur content has reduced this effect, giving a boost to warming.

An analysis done by the advocacy group Carbon Brief suggests that the sulphur rules could lead to increased global warming — around 0.05 C by 2050, or the equivalent of approximately two additional years of emissions.


Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web


It's like smoke on your wedding day: How the wedding industry is working around wildfires

A wife and groom pose for a wedding photo, with smoky skies in the background.

Planning an outdoor wedding can be notoriously unpredictable, as any number of factors can make or break the big day: the temperature, the wind, the dreaded possibility of rain and, lately, wildfire smoke.

This year, smoke is an increasingly frequent problem couples have to contend with. And with Canada already breaking records in 2023 for the area of land burned,the $5-billion wedding industry has had to scramble.

"First, COVID basically decimates the event industry, and now we finally get back up and we're dealing with forest fires," said Erica Irwin, a wedding planner in Ottawa who's been in the business for 15 years.

"Tent weddings in general make me nervous because there's only so much we can do to mitigate any kind of risks or mitigate any kind of weather. But I think now especially … a major piece of it will be tracking when forest fires are the worst and really staying away from outdoor weddings then."

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre reported last week that 76,129 square kilometres of forest and other land had burned since Jan. 1. That exceeds the previous record set in 1989 of 75,596 square kilometres, according to the National Forestry Database.

Last Wednesday, Environment Canada released air quality statements for parts of the Northwest Territories and every province outside Atlantic Canada, including huge sections of Ontario and Quebec.

On the online forum Reddit, the "wedding planning" category has been peppered with tips, advice and panicked questions about how to plan for smoke on both sides of the border.

"Is there any hope?" asked one Redditor earlier in June, noting that they have family with breathing conditions.

"My dream wedding is tomorrow and is outdoors. We have 200 guests coming,"wrote another person in Philadelphia, noting "the smoke is bad."

In Toronto, one person tweeted, "The air quality in Toronto due to the wildfires is gonna be so bad this whole week, including my wedding day which sounds so selfish but I'm just [sad]."

Valerie Guerrera, a wedding planner in Montreal, told CBC News that air quality is something wedding planners and couples will likely need to think about even more moving forward.

"It's nature. You can't really control it," she said. "Always have a plan B."

When looking at wedding venues, Guerrera suggests that couples always make sure there's an indoor option, just in case. And they should make sure they actually like the look of the indoor option, she said, so they won't be disappointed if the wedding gets moved or photos need to be taken inside.

For couples with their hearts set on an outdoor venue, Guerrera suggests they try picturing how it would look on a smoky or cloudy day. "The lighting could affect everything," she said.

In general, she says her clients have been more reluctant to plan outdoor weddings and pictures because of the wildfire smoke and noted people are booking more indoor venues moving forward.

"They're already scared of what will happen if there's more wildfires."

Ottawa wedding photographer Laine Gustafson told CBC News she has had to postpone multiple portrait sessions because of the health impacts of the wildfire smoke. But she also notes that when air quality allows, smoky photos can still be memorable.

"We always encourage our couples to embrace whatever conditions arise during their wedding or engagement session," said Gustafson, who took the photo above. "It's more authentic to their story, and dramatic weather can make for some of the most memorable and romantic images."

Still, the smoke has cast a pall on some celebrations. Last weekend, a couple Irwin worked with at a wedding in Montebello, Que., had a clear day for their ceremony, but were "smoked out" the next day, when they'd planned an entire roster of outdoor festivities for their guests.

During another smoky day, Irwin had to cancel a venue tour with a couple flying in from the U.S. because it wouldn't have been safe.

While wedding co-ordinators are used to making contingency plans, Irwin says unless your outdoor venue has an indoor option, there's not much to be done when smoke rolls in.

"Heat is one thing," Irwin said. "But now, to expect your guests to go out in a tent when the air quality is affected — there's really nothing for that."

Natalie Stechyson

Stay in touch!

Are there issues you'd like us to cover? Questions you want answered? Do you just want to share a kind word? We'd love to hear from you. Email us at whatonearth@cbc.ca.

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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty

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