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The Daily Need

The life and death of climate legislation, in graphic form

What if legendary comic book writer Alan Moore were to take up the cause of climate change? Might President Obama appear at first a savior, only to be unmasked, along with his fellow Democrats, as weak and ineffectual? Would Tea Party members be portrayed not as ordinary citizens but as zombies? And would the story end on an ominous note, full of uncertainty and existential despair?

We’ll probably never know what that comic would look like. But should Moore and his most notable collaborator, Dave Gibbons, decide to reunite for a contemporary update to their classic series “Watchmen,” they might take their cues from David Roberts and Thomas Pitilli, the duo behind a new six-page comic strip detailing the short life and gritty death of the landmark climate change bill in Congress last year.

Roberts, a reporter for the environmental magazine Grist, which published the comic, and Pitilli, a freelance illustrator, trace the long, sordid arc of the climate bill negotiations — back-room deals and all — in six short pages, mostly by boiling the story down to key plot points (the passage of the bill in the House, the rise of the Tea Party, the chaos in the Senate). And yet there are also plenty of long-forgotten details, including the release in February 2010 of a landmark Pentagon report which found for the first time that climate change poses significant threats to national security.

In a phone interview from Portland, Ore., Pitilli said the goal of the comic strip was to make climate change, a notoriously dry topic, interesting to people beyond the environmental community. The medium, Pitilli said, allowed him to be tongue-in-cheek rather than “preachy,” something environmentalists are often accused of being, and didn’t require special knowledge of science or a passion for politics. “I think sometimes the best way to approach a serious topic like that, especially in comic book form, is to be playful,” Pitilli said.

Of course, not everyone will agree that Republicans and the Tea Party are the villains — specifically, the undead villains — in this story. Then again, Democrats don’t exactly shine as the heroes, either. Obama evolves quickly from a president promising change to a politician fearful of his critics. And senators are seen as players in a circus, whose stonewalling withstands even the most convincing arguments for action. Leaders are revealed as cowards, and heroes do not to exist — which is probably not too far from how Moore himself would see it.

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