Finding '101 Funny Things About Global Warming' Is it possible to laugh about global climate change? New Yorker cartoonist Sidney Harris thinks so. Harris and his New Yorker colleagues have collaborated on a collection of cartoons that find the humor lurking behind impending environmental doom.
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Finding '101 Funny Things About Global Warming'

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Finding '101 Funny Things About Global Warming'

Finding '101 Funny Things About Global Warming'

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JOE PALCA, host:

From NPR News, this TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Joe Palca.

Up next, has all this talk of more fierce hurricanes and runaway levels of CO2 in the atmosphere got you down, wishing you had some more upbeat news about the environment to share? Well, you're in luck, we're crossing over to the sunnier side of global warming street, a place where nuclear reactors are in the backyard and arctic icebergs bottled water for sale. Oh, that sounds great.

Joining us now with the lighter side of global warming is my guest, Sidney Harris. He's a freelance cartoonist in New Haven, Connecticut, and one of the creators of "101 Funny Things About Global Warming," published this month by Bloomsbury USA. He joins me here in the SCIENCE FRIDAY studio in New York. Welcome back to the program, Mr. Harris.

Mr. SIDNEY HARRIS (Freelance Cartoonist; Author, "101 Funny Things About Global Warming"): Oh, thank you, Joe. Nice being here.

PALCA: And if you want to join us to ask Sidney Harris some questions - and actually, at some point, if you're like me, you have a long history of looking at his cartoons, so maybe if we get off the climate change topic, you maybe can bring out something that you particularly like from some other of Mr. Harris' cartoons. But anyway, you can give us a call. Our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. And you can see some of the cartoons we're going to be talking about at our Web site, www.sciencefriday.com.

So, global warming, how did you pick this one?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, actually, I didn't pick it.

PALCA: You didn't.

Mr. HARRIS: I was going to do a book of science cartoons.

PALCA: Uh-huh.

Mr. HARRIS: And with an agent, David Kuhn, who came up with a great idea of doing a global warming book.

PALCA: So what are some of your favorites?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, I have one that - well, first of all, let me mention that I knew or know all the cartoonists in the book, except one…

PALCA: Uh-huh.

Mr. HARRIS: …who is an English man, Ed McLachlan.

PALCA: Uh-huh.

Mr. HARRIS: I knew his work and I took a chance and wrote to him and then subsequently spoke to him. We kept faxing. He doesn't do e-mail.

PALCA: So how did you decide who to include? I mean, these were your…

Mr. HARRIS: Well, there…

PALCA: …pals, but also people that you admired?

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah, that's a combination of people like most everyone I know, not everyone I know, but people I do know and Ed McLachlan.

PALCA: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

Mr. HARRIS: And you mentioned a favorite cartoon, and one of the best in the book is one of his about this man who's - well, it's a great detailed drawing that he did…

PALCA: Uh-huh.

Mr. HARRIS: …of an English country house, two women in the bay window talking, there's a greenhouse out back, and this demented man is crawling on hands and knees - with a knife and fork in his hands.

PALCA: I see. I got you.

Mr. HARRIS: His tongue hanging out because a hedgehog has been run over and he will - he's a vegetarian and he's dying to eat that hedgehog whose tongue is also hanging out.

PALCA: Yes, and been…

Mr. HARRIS: And it's such a wonderful piece of work.

PALCA: And so why does this strike you as global climate change-related? Because I was trying to think…

Mr. HARRIS: Oh.

PALCA: …I mean, this is sort of a…

Mr. HARRIS: Well, this is about vegetarianism.

PALCA: Oh, vegetarianism.

Mr. HARRIS: These are all connected, I think, even - one of my guidelines was Al Gore's book.

PALCA: Uh-huh.

Mr. HARRIS: And he has things about vegetarianism and vegetarianism in it.

PALCA: It…

Mr. HARRIS: And I thought if it was in the book, it's okay for this book.

PALCA: Is there something - okay, so, was it harder to come up with funny things to say about climate change or was that fairly straightforward?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, as I told the agent early on, originally this was going to be a book only of my work…

PALCA: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HARRIS: …but he wanted it in a hurry because deadlines and timely subjects, they want to get them quickly, in a hurry, and book publishing is like eight months or so.

PALCA: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HARRIS: And I told him that - as far as I know, and I know all these people, they don't really do stuff on the subject, but we'll do our best. And it was a little bit like pulling teeth getting work from some of the people because I knew they didn't do too much on the subject. I was able to do it because I do a lot of science and…

PALCA: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HARRIS: …and had a backlog of some and revised some, and did a lot of new stuff.

PALCA: But these are all new. They've not appeared anywhere before.

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah. Yeah. This is all new stuff.

PALCA: Because I was surprised- I mean, Gahan Wilson, did I say that right? Is that how he says his name?

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah.

PALCA: I didn't realize that he was still doing - I mean, I may be I just have been out of the loop for a while, but he's still doing cartooning.

Mr. HARRIS: Yes. I see him almost every week.

PALCA: Wow.

Mr. HARRIS: He comes in through New Yorker, and he's still doing it.

PALCA: Cool. And one of the things that you've got in here, which I think - well, there's a series of caricatures of - or drawings, cartoons of famous people with some wild sayings associated with them. For example, there's a woman who's saying, forest and rangelands have grown like a cancer. And that's Gale Norton, the U.S. secretary of the - former U.S. secretary of interior. And then there's another one; it isn't pollution that's harming the environment, it's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it. And that one's Dan Quayle…

Mr. HARRIS: Dan Quayle.

PALCA: …the U.S. vice president or former.

Mr. HARRIS: Yes.

PALCA: Did these people really say these things?

Mr. HARRIS: I hope so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARRIS: I used two sources. One was there are various Web sites of actual quotes where they - you can look up quotes…

PALCA: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HARRIS: And you can look up political quotes, and there they are in numerous subjects, and several of these were from these Web sites, so I'm just hoping they're accurate. And the other work was books of quotations. And one that I actually referred to was called "Foolish Words: The Most Stupid Things Ever Said or Ever Spoken." And Dan Quayle's was in that book along with Lee Iacocca's, who…

PALCA: Yeah.

Mr. HARRIS: …he said, how much clean air do people need?

PALCA: Ah, there's another one here from Dick Cheney. It says conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it's not a sufficient basis for a sound comprehensive energy policy.

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah. That was on one of those Web sites.

PALCA: Yeah. Yeah. So I have to say - I don't know if this is - if it's fair to note this, but it seems like most of the people that you are taking these quotes from are generally on the right side of the political spectrum.

Mr. HARRIS: They're almost all Republicans. I was hoping to find a Democrat. The editors asked me to come up with a Democrat. I looked up Democratic - conservative Democrats and I came up with nothing. The closest I got was - we have this Al Gore page that Tom Hackman did. It's not the same as one of those crazy quotes, but he's - he did a fictional piece of Al Gore doing a rap song about the environment…

PALCA: Yeah.

Mr. HARRIS: …with a couple of go-go girls. And it's a wonderful page. It was like pulling teeth to get Tom to do it. He's a real artist and maybe temperamental, but he turned out a great page and I love it.

PALCA: We're talking with Sidney Harris about his new book - Sidney Harris and colleague. We're talking to Sidney Harris about the book he wrote with colleagues or drew with colleagues called "101 Funny Things About Global Warming."

And if you'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK.

The one that - the one or the ones that really I liked a lot is - this is a very - I'm not sure I know or recognize Lorenz, is that…

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah.

PALCA: I'm reading that right?

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah.

PALCA: So he's a kind of a lawyer sitting around - sitting at a table with law books behind him and there's a family sitting behind and they're obviously - some of them are concerned and sad and others look very angry. And the lawyer is reading from the will and it says, the cash assets go to his alma mater, but the carbon credits are divided equally among the family. Yeah.

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah. Lee turned out a lot of great stuff and I was glad to have his stuff. He had been cartoon editor at New Yorker for 25 years so that's how famous he is. I didn't know his name - alas.

PALCA: So…

Mr. HARRIS: I didn't know.

PALCA: No. Well, you know the funny thing is there was this book that came out a couple of years ago of the - all the New Yorker cartoons that were ever…

Mr. HARRIS: Yes.

PALCA: …ever done.

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah.

PALCA: And I actually - I talked to the editor of that book and some of the cartoonists came in for that…

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah.

PALCA: …for another TALK OF THE NATION show. It's a little tricky to talk about cartoons on the radio because you want to say, look at this one. But there is a great history of poking fun at things through cartooning.

Mr. HARRIS: I guess there is…

PALCA: I guess...

Mr. HARRIS: …going back to Daumier probably.

PALCA: Yeah. What were you - when did you start doing this?

Mr. HARRIS: I've been doing this, apparently, all my life, I think. I never had a job. And I now have - old enough to have grandchildren so that's all I've ever done. And I just had a knack for it, I guess. I was able to like funny ideas and try to draw and persisted.

PALCA: But why science?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, it's not the only thing I do.

PALCA: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HARRIS: I've had more cartoons in Playboy than in many other magazines.

PALCA: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HARRIS: But science is an endless supply of raw material, this conversation you had with Venter a little a while ago…

PALCA: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HARRIS: …you can get many cartoons out of that, I think.

PALCA: So give me an example. Why - what would be a cartoon that would come to mind after I talked with - I was - earlier in the program, I was talking with Craig Venter about creating this artificial chromosome. And how would you make a cartoon about that?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, I don't do them that quickly, but…

PALCA: All right. But you have an idea, okay.

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah.

PALCA: I'm not going to make you design it.

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah. I read the article in the Times today…

PALCA: Uh-huh.

Mr. HARRIS: …about the little pieces that he put together…

PALCA: Uh-huh.

Mr. HARRIS: …and I guess, you could start drawing(ph) all sorts of strange creatures with those little pieces…

PALCA: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HARRIS: …referring to his technique. But you kind of fictionalize it a bit, I guess, and make something weird come out.

PALCA: Yeah. And is that the idea, is to find something that is unexpected or is it just funny to look at or does it have some combination?

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah. I hope it has some meaning when I do them. I often get some feedback from scientists who think I know a lot more about science than I do. So I guess, I somehow have a knack for just getting through the subject without really knowing how the scientists had reached those conclusions.

PALCA: Well, let's see what our listeners have to say and I'll take the call now from Justin(ph) in Detroit, Michigan. Justin, welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

JUSTIN (Caller): Hey. How are you guys doing today?

PALCA: Good.

JUSTIN: I've been wanting to ask the guest speaker today, what is your ideas on why there is such a large split between people who think that global warming is an issue and then those who think it's just a, I guess, a left-wing political scheme or something? Is it lack of information to the masses? Is it political? Is it religious? Or, I guess - well, what's your ideas on that?

PALCA: Okay. Thanks, Justin.

JUSTIN: Sure.

Mr. HARRIS: Well, I get the impression it's political, as I said before that I tried to find some Democrats saying these crazy things and I couldn't find any. And I have a feeling it's sort of a bandwagon effect that the Democrats started out with this and Al Gore made a big thing about it, so it's very difficult for a Republican or a conservative to agree with him. But other than that, it's quite puzzling. I don't know why scientific idea had to become political.

PALCA: Does it help in the humor that there is this political schism or does that not make any difference?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, it helped in coming up with these crazy quotes of these people and saying things that Rush Limbaugh or whatever his name is, Limbaugh says...

PALCA: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HARRIS: …and there was just all these raw material from - but it just happened to be Republicans, I don't know. The closest thing to an independent was Lee Iacocca. I guess, even Margaret Thatcher's in the book and she's quite a conservative also.

PALCA: Okay. We're talking again with doctor - not doctor - Mr. Sidney Harris.

Mr. HARRIS: Not doctor.

PALCA: Not doctor. Again, there's this temptation because of the subject material. But maybe, again, maybe I've seen most of your cartoons in laboratories so I think of you that way. But anyway, we're talking to Sidney Harris. He's a cartoonist. And his new book is "101 Funny Things About Global Warming."

And we're taking your calls at 800-989-8255.

I'm Joe Palca, and this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's take another call now from Randy(ph) in Milford, Ohio. Randy, welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

RANDY (Caller): How are you?

PALCA: Good.

RANDY: I just - I heard that you didn't have any Democratic quotes, so I figured I'd give you one. It would be Al Gore standing up saying, he invented global warming, so he invented the Internet also.

Mr. HARRIS: I see. All right. Where did he ever say that? I have no - I never came across that.

RANDY: It's just a thing that floats around quite a bit that he had mentioned he had blipped(ph) and studied and invented the Internet.

PALCA: Right. No, I know that. There was a time - yeah, the Internet was a well-known statement. I know he was…

RANDY: Right. Well, the comical piece is that, you know, he admitted global warming also kind of play on words a little bit.

Mr. HARRIS: Well, it could be.

PALCA: Riffing off that. So, do you ever take - thanks for that call, Randy. Do you ever take ideas from other people?

Mr. HARRIS: No. No. Fortunately, I'm able to do them. I did a couple at my - my son gave me a few when he was a teenager and my daughter gave me one.

PALCA: But you gave ideas to these other cartoonists, yeah?

Mr. HARRIS: Oh, no.

PALCA: No. You just said do something funny?

Mr. HARRIS: Oh, yeah. They all did their own work. Yeah. Absolutely. Other than, just urging them on saying, you've got to give me some stuff. Some of them - as I say, it was difficult because subjects that people don't do, I think, mainly because there are few outlets for this type of material in publishing. And we're all profit-driven, we freelance and we are not doing this just for our own amusement.

PALCA: Okay. Let's take another call now and go to Rachel(ph) in - is it in Duluth, Minnesota? Duluth.

RACHEL (Caller): That's right. Yes.

PALCA: Oh, well. Welcome to the program.

RACHEL: Hi. Thanks. I love your show. It's my first time on. I'm a family practice doctor and I had a patient who was dying of emphysema. I'd followed her for years. And I was sitting at her bedside. She was on 100 percent oxygen gasping for breath and I said, well, I just wish that you'd been able to stop smoking sooner. And she said, between breaths, oh, smoking didn't cause this. I said, no? What was it? And she said, acid rain.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RACHEL: Her kids - their kids got a big kick out of this because it was typical - pretty typical of their mom. And of course, we all know there was a secretary of the interior said something about if you see them on trees, you'd seen them all.

Mr. HARRIS: I think that was Bush.

RACHEL: It was a secretary of the interior - some…

Mr. HARRIS: really?

RACHEL: …back in the late Jurassic period. I can't remember now.

Mr. HARRIS: Oh, okay. The late Jurassic. Okay.

RACHEL: When I was younger.

PALCA: Yeah. Exactly. It's an affliction we're all beginning to feel a little bit now.

RACHEL: Yeah. I think so. Anyway, I'm enjoying this show. Thank you so much.

PALCA: Okay. Rachel, thanks very much.

We have some people who are following today's show on Second Life. And I have a note here from Izzie Tyroff(ph), who says my - I don't know if I said that right - my favorite juncture of SCIENCE FRIDAY and humor - science and humor was the Far Side exhibit at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Did you ever go to that? Or do you know Gary Larson?

Mr. HARRIS: Of course, I know him and I've never seen that.

PALCA: Have you seen any of his cartoons?

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah. I've seen some.

PALCA: Do they amuse you?

Mr. HARRIS: They're very good. Yeah.

PALCA: Well, why do you like him?

Mr. HARRIS: I got the feeling from what I'd heard, he used to seem like cartoons and wrote in scientist magazine…

PALCA: Uh-huh.

Mr. HARRIS: …and was submitting cartoons to the magazine.

PALCA: Uh-huh.

Mr. HARRIS: But that's about as far as my influence went. But he really went off in his own direction and they were very crazy and funny.

PALCA: Yeah.

Mr. HARRIS: The one thing he did that I never did was he always would have animals eating people and killing people.

PALCA: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HARRIS: I just never went in for that. I guess they do it. I might in fact done a little bit, but he had it all the time. The animals were very dangerous.

PALCA: All right. I think we have time for one more quick call. So let's go to Ralph(ph) in Ermingham(ph), Michigan. Did I say that right?

RALPH (Caller): Birmingham.

PALCA: Birmingham, okay. Welcome to the show.

RALPH: Thank you. I just - this is directed to Mr. Harris regarding the previous question about why has global warming become so political? I submit that it's because the oil industry, the electric power industry and the coal industry and the auto industry, to some extent, have contributed a lot of money to the Republican Party because doing anything about global warming would -they perceived that it would cost them a lot of money. I'll take my answer off the air.

PALCA: Okay. Okay. Ralph, thanks. How much to say about that?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, it could be very well be but I can't prove that.

PALCA: Okay. Well, that's where we have to leave it, I'm afraid. Sidney Harris, thank you very much for coming in today.

Mr. HARRIS: Well, thank you, Joe.

PALCA: He's a freelance cartoonist and his new book is called "101 Funny Things About Global Warming."

If you'd like to write to us, please send your letters to SCIENCE FRIDAY, 4 West 43rd St, Room 306, New York, New York 10036. you can e-mail us, the address is, scifi@npr.org. Check out sciencefriday.com for more information and links to today's program. You can listen to past editions of SCIENCE FRIDAY online or take them with you as a podcast. And check out SCIENCE FRIDAY's Kid Connection - free curriculum materials for teaching science using SCIENCE FRIDAY.

For NPR News in New York, I'm Joe Palca.

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