The Heroes & Villains Of Climate Change & Their Fictional Alter Egos


The solar panel company 1 Block Off The Grid (1bog) is framing the renewable energy debate in terms of good guys and bad in their nifty new infographic (these guys are known for their nifty infographics), showing some of the heroes and villains of renewable energy.

That’s a snippet, follow the link to see the whole thing. In doing the hero-villain thing, 1bog is following in the footsteps of Bill McKibben, the lifelong environmental activist who has also taken this tack recently. The reason is one you know intuitively: people like a good villain. You come for Batman, but you stay for the Joker. Doing good is just a lot more exciting if you’re up against an evil madman in a quest to save humanity.

But if we’re going to make the heroes and villains of the movement into cartoon characters, why not go all the way? Each of us (some more than others) have an incredible character stock of good guys and bad guys to draw from, so instead of learning a new set of boring white guy villains, let’s just assign the heroes and villains we already have to this real-life fight to save the planet.

Hero: Michael Bloomberg. Alter Ego: Bruce Wayne

Bloomberg is a real-life climate change hero because he has led the charge on major environmental initiatives for New York City, donated a cool $50 million to the Sierra Club’s campaign to ween America off coal, and has taken steps to protect his city from the next Hurricane Sandy. He’s Bruce Wayne for being a do-gooder billionaire in Gotham. The one problem is that he looks a lot more like Alfred than Batman. Fortunately, there’s another crime-fighting mayor just across the Hudson in Cory Booker. Bloomberg is just the Bruce Wayne half, but together with Booker they form both sides of Batman.

Villain: The Koch Brothers. Alter Ego: Wario and Waluigi

David and Charles Koch own Koch Industries, which deals largely with energy, but has fingers in many pies and brings in an estimated $98 billion annually, according to Forbes in 2011. Some of that money goes to funding climate change deniers who are running for office, funding anti-environmental ballot initiatives and diverting responsibility for the hundreds of oil spills connected to Koch Industries. They are Wario and Waluigi, Mario and Luigi’s evil counterparts, because the Koch brothers are basically already evil cartoon villains. Also, it’s surprisingly hard to find pairs of brothers that are both evil (the one good/one bad narrative is just too tempting) and most evil sibling pairs I found were sexy twins, which doesn’t fit at all.

If there was only one of them, the obvious pick would be Mr. Burns.

Hero:  Tom “Daddy Greenbucks” Steyer. Alter Ego: He-Man

He-Man could be a weirdly unflattering comparison, but I needed someone who draws a clear good vs. evil boundary after reading this quote from Steyer: "The goal here is not to win. The goal here is to destroy these people." Steyer made billions in finance and is using it to destroy climate change denying political candidates. Who would you take in a fight between He-Man and the Wario & Luigi? Even one on two, you have to take He-Man, right? He’s got that sword, and the power of Grayskull, and that leopard thing.

Villain: Chris Christie. Alter Ego: Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader

Oh, Chris Christie. It didn’t have to be this way. Chris Christie belongs to a dying breed: the non-extreme Republican. He praised Obama for helping his state in a time of need, ignoring the fact that an election was around the corner. He rolled his eyes at the big push to outlaw Sharia law in the U.S. He works with Democrats on some issues. He is also thinking about running for President, which has caused him to lean to the dark side on climate change. He’s ambiguous on that one, having previously declared that he believes in man-made climate change, but then denying that climate change had anything to do with Hurricane Sandy, and he’s started to take refuge in the cavernous defense of “Who knows? I’m no scientist.” Like Anakin, the more he gets drawn in by having more power, the more evil he becomes.

Hero: Ed Markey. Alter Ego: Wolverine

Rather than stealing all of 1bog’s list, I’ll welcome the newest U.S. Senator to the fold. Markey, in case you missed it during the whirlwind of political news this week, was just elected to represent Massachusetts as a senator, and he steps in as one of the biggest environmental champs in that body. The League of Conservation Voters gave him a 100% rating as a Congressman in 2003, and ten years later he broke their GiveGreen record for receiving the most money of any candidate from their environmental fund. He is Wolverine because Markey has shunned the traditional power structure of special interests who will fund your next campaign if you cater to them. Markey has instead survived on his convictions and adamantium skeleton.

Villain: Frank Luntz. Alter Ego: The Riddler

When conservative interests need a buzzword, they turn to Luntz. He got GOP legislators to refer to Obamacare as a “government takeover,” he attempted to reframe “Orwellian” as a positive thing (irony at its finest), and he is the reason we say “climate change,” instead of the more threatening “global warming.” He’s the Riddler, except far more people fall for his tricks.

Ambiguous: Barack Obama. Alter Ego: Catwoman

President Obama made a great speech on climate change this week, and he seems to have taken it on as an issue that he will do as much as he can with. Still, his record to date has been mixed. He has made great investments in renewable energy, and introduced improved fuel efficiency standards. Fracking, however, has proven too tempting as a source of cheap energy, and Obama has let it continue unabated. The Keystone Pipeline looms as perhaps the largest binary climate-related decision of his presidency. Obama is Catwoman. Cool, sleek, plays both sides, but probably does more good than harm and will probably be good by the end of the movie.

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