Now Ohman — the cartoonist at the Oregonian in Portland before moving to Sacramento in 2013 — uses his editorial perch to call out climate-change deniers and anti-science politicians as unprecedented fires ravage the terrain he knows so well. “I feel an obligation,” he says, “to cover this.”
In one recent cartoon, he depicts President Trump benefiting from technology throughout his career, yet only supporting science when the motives are self-serving. In another Ohman illustration, timed to Trump’s brief stop earlier this week in California, the president calls climate change a hoax yet can’t see the governor for the burning trees.
“It’s emotionally devastating on every level,” the Pulitzer-winning artist says. “I have many friends and family members affected by all of it, particularly in Oregon — entire towns wiped out, and the death toll is vastly understated.” Wildfires in the West have burned more than 5 million acres this season, killing at least 35 people, according to reports, as millions continue to face serious air-quality health risks.
Throughout the region, some prominent political cartoonists are also drawing commentary on the fires through a personal lens.
“Friends and family up and down the coast who have been sequestered because of covid-19 are now locked indoors because hazardous smoke fills the air,” says David Horsey, the Seattle Times cartoonist who previously worked at the Los Angeles Times. “The usual September of blue skies and sunshine has been obscured by ashy air and the smell of burned forests.”
Horsey said he views the region’s future through how it will affect his adult children — a son in the Bay Area, and a daughter in Seattle who has a 2-year-old child. In one recent cartoon by Horsey, global warming teams up with human carelessness for “bigger, hotter fire seasons.”
“The fires will come back, year after year,” the Pulitzer-winner said. “I can only hope that enlightened leadership will find ways to mitigate the even worse tragedies to come by taking bold action to put the brakes on the burning of fossil fuels.”
Several California-born cartoonists have been reflecting on their ties to the state, which inform their art.
“It’s hard to describe how much I love the physical beauty of my home state,” said Steve Breen, the Pulitzer-winning cartoonist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I’ve backpacked in the Sierras. I’ve taken my kids on camping trips in the state and national forests and [taken] long walks through the redwoods. It’s incredibly sad to see so much destruction.
“People should help the most vulnerable and essential workers, like farmworkers and firefighters and first-responders,” said Lalo Alcaraz, the San Diego-born syndicated cartoonist whose art has highlighted the plight of farm laborers working in the dangerously smoky conditions.
“This current situation is like the covid-19 pandemic,” said Alcaraz, a Pulitzer finalist this year. “It has exposed big faults in our society.”
Mark Fiore, who draws for the Bay Area station KQED, said political leaders such as Trump and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) “bear a huge responsibility to keep our nation and the world from turning into an awful hellscape.”
“A couple of weeks ago, I would have thought that sentence silly hyperbole, but after waking up to a Martian sky and ash raining down, it is unfortunately all too real,” said Fiore, the Pulitzer-winning political animator who this week published a one-minute cartoon skewering politicians who deny science, evidence and empirical truth.
“While I do cartoons that have a definite public-service angle, I am also now even more motivated to call out the scoundrels who have led us down this road. Yes, I’m looking at you, fossil-fuel industry and your political puppets,” Fiore said. “We are living on the leading edge of the repercussions of climate change, and I’m not very optimistic.”