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As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Stay in Denial


'As the World Burns,' a graphic novel.
  • 'As the World Burns,' a graphic novel.

A Graphic Novel by Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan.
Seven Stories Press

As the World Burnsspares no shame. Derrick Jensen's sharply worded satire delivers a litany of reasons — channeled through the dialog of two girls in pigtails and a one-eyed bunny — why our culture's alienation from the wild is literally paving the way to global destruction.

At the core is this: Our ecofriendly aspirations will do nothing whatsoever to save the planet.

Jensen, a prolific Crescent City writer and activist, delivers green-washing accusations that skip over the usual suspects (think Wal-Mart's 'Go Green' mantra) and points the finger directly at, well, me and you. That is, those of us who've gone solar or switched our light bulbs or like to nudge the words "green," "sustainable" and "ecofriendly" into everyday conversation, because we really care.

His protagonists bite into the futile but self-congratulating efforts of the biodegradable soapmakers, the recycling industry and the Sierra Club-esque environmentalists, among other tepid reformists. There's even the peaceful yogi character (a meditating NoCal sort of guy, exquisitely drawn by Stephanie McMillan) blissed out in his inner peace while sitting on a tree trunk, ignoring his animal friend's pleas to please do something. He's literally sitting on his ass while the world goes to hell.

Fans of An Inconvenient Truthwill recognize themselves (er, ourselves) unapologetically portrayed by a nameless pigtailed cutie I like to call Little Miss Reform. She's out to change the world, one unbleached diaper at a time, and she just loves all the save-the-world suggestions at the end of Truth.

Yet Little Miss Reform's sustainability parade is rained on when her fellow pigtailed friend (a.k.a. The Revolutionary) asks, "Did you notice that on the list from the end of that movie, all their suggestions for action have to do with individuals?"

"That's because they're things you or I could do," replies Little Miss Reform.

"But there was nothing about stopping the governments and corporations that are the main causes of the problems. Did you know that all by itself, Exxon/Mobil has released five percent of all carbon emissions put out by this culture? They're the real problems, not us."

At another point early on, The Revolutionary despondently sits alone on the page, hugging her knees to her chest and whispering to no one (maybe to you?), "We will go quietly, meekly, to the end of the world, if only you allow us to believe that buying low energy light bulbs will save us." But, aha! in the next frame she's back in form, upfront and angry and seriously intent on smashing The State. Mind you, this girl's in pigtails.

The plot does indeed thicken beyond ideological debates. Dams explode, key characters wise up, pets run free, therapists push pills, innocent bunnies get locked in eco-terrorist detention centers, evildoers do evil and the wild animals get really, really mad. There's also a parallel storyline involving an earth-destroying pact between aliens and politicians, and though this plot device leads us into the climax, overall it distracted from the story's core.

As well, while the "no compromise" philosophy delivers paradigm-shattering excitement (as when a monkeywrenching bunny busts down the vivisectionist's lab), at times there was the feeling that something ain't right (as when our protagonists start to kill, kill, kill).

But still. Literature like this isn't lip balm, meant to coat the rough edges with petroleum-based jelly just to soothe our worried souls. As the World Burns wants us to remember there was a time before lip balm, if you'll imagine, a time when we were wild and uncivilized, when we were free.

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