Conversation with the author: New graphic novel peers into climate change through an insect’s perspective

“A potent, educational work…”Kirkus Review

“Once upon a time there were humans. They disappeared in 2150. Here’s how it happened…”

It’s not every day we have the opportunity to read a graphic novel about conservation. Deadly Harvest, The End of Mankind is a rare gem tackling catastrophic climate change in a theoretical human-induced Armageddon world as told through the eyes of a surviving insect complete with intricate, imaginative drawings. My favorite chapter is Insect Rodeo where author Thomas C. Ramey inserts a bit of humor highlighting the fact that we battle insects that have adapted and survived for millions of years, with harsh chemicals that ultimately poison the land and water on which we depend. It’s this cleverness and wit that will have you eagerly flipping through 130 pages on this otherwise depressing topic.

insect rodeo graphic from tom ramey's deadly harvest

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down and talk with author Mr. Ramey, who is an authority on global risk management about his latest book and why he created it. 

Q: Your book is titled Deadly Harvest The End of Mankind. That sounds absolutely final. Do you think there is still an opportunity for us to recover our fate or has too much irreparable damage been done? 

A: The bad news is that a lot of damage has been done:  the melting of mountain glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, the acidification of the ocean, the extinction of large numbers of species, the depletion of major aquifers around the world, to name a few. To what extent this is all irreparable will have to be answered over the next multiple generations of mankind. The extinction of species and the rising sea level is irreversible.

Some form of recovery in many areas is possible, but only with immediate, resolute action.  Examples are re-generation of our forests, aggressive management of fisheries, accelerated use of renewable energy technologies, protection of earth’s species and their domains, a revolution in global irrigation techniques and soil management, and elimination of policies that encourage destruction and approaches to what, scientifically, we know works.

And, of course, what I have not mentioned is the historically high number of displaced people on the move due to climate change and civil conflict, which are intertwined. How we as humans come to grip with this huge planetary destabilizing factor will have a lot to do with our survival as a species.

illustration from tom ramey's graphic novel deadly harvest

Q: The narrator of your story is an insect – the survivor of all things except, perhaps, man. Tell us about some of the changes you have witnessed in your travels in your own lifetime. What led you to create this graphic novel?

A: First, in my professional world, I saw the dramatic increases in frequency and severity of weather events over the past several decades.  Second, in my travels, I saw other changes personally. I’ve been flying over the Amazon Basin at least twice a year for twenty years, and before that, with frequency, since the early 1970’s. The disappearance of the forest, as a steady, unrelenting process, has been striking. I’ve also experienced, over several decades, the crushing air pollution in China and India, seen the impact of palm oil production in Indonesia, salt water intrusion in the Mekong Delta, and walked the now frequently flooded streets of Miami. These are all extraordinary changes.

In addition, I’ve become alarmed at the absurdity of the science deniers, but equally concerned about the absence of impassioned urgency in some quarters from those who accept that we, as mankind, are changing our planet. Time is not our friend. So, I set out to create, in a very accessible format (the graphic novel), the breadth and drama of the events that are linked together as a result of our changing climate, the destruction of biodiversity and the link to warfare.

The insect as a narrator was chosen because insects have survived all the extinctions for over 400 million years and number at least 30 million species, making up easily 80 percent of creatures on earth. Man is one species, and has done this damage to the planet in just 300 years. 

illustration from tom ramey's graphic novel deadly harvest

Q: The illustrations in your book are mesmerizing and incredibly detailed. Share a bit about your process in creating this impressive work. How long did it take to create each page? What came first, the story or the graphics?

A: The book, including research, illustrations and final design, took two and a half years.  The really detailed drawings can take weeks, whereas the more cartoonish ones may only take a day or less.  They are all thought out and outlined in pencil before I do the final pen and ink drawing.  Pen and ink is not forgiving.

The story was, more or less, in my head before I started drawing. Once I started drawing, the story line and the drawings fed one another. The research, which kept opening up new revelations, connections, and data was critical. My goal was to make this material as accessible and revealing as possible. 

Q: Tom, you are an authority on global risk management. Help us connect the dots between insurance claims and climate change.

A: People and businesses buy insurance to protect their assets. The trends and risks posed by the weather and other climate related events are what insurance companies try to anticipate and price into their products. The more unstable the environment, the more difficult the task.

Globally, since 1950, the frequency of weather related catastrophes has increased six-fold.  Floods that would historically occur every 20 years are now happening every 4 to 6 years. In the U.S. alone, in the past 12 months, we have had seven, one-in-one thousand years weather events. Twenty five years ago, just one of these would have been extremely rare over a span of several years.  Now, they have become common.

Today, financial rating agencies, e.g. A.M. Best, Standard and Poor's, actuaries, weather modeling companies, and financial analysts, all of whom have depended on precedent to predict the future are now having to project into the future the impact of climate change because of the speed of change, versus letting the past be the predictor. The past doesn’t work anymore. The greatest unpredictable risk insurers face today is global climate change.

illustration from tom ramey's graphic novel deadly harvest

Q: Your book forewarns that with people “locked inside their respective echo chambers, particularly on social media.” How would you recommend we stay aware of the big picture and use our social power to find solutions?

A: First, the world and our country desperately needs leaders who are grounded in reality and pragmatic solutions rather than self-serving demagoguery. Second, we need to use social media for the access it provides to multiple resources and creditable data in a way never before available, rather than adhering to one silo and betting everything on that conviction. Third, we need more emphasis and investment in education, inspiring people to read and to act on facts with a concern for the greater good.  

Tom Ramey is a former IFAW Board Chair and has generously designated all profits he receives from book sales to IFAW. This graphic novel will make a great gift, conversation starter or coffee table book. Order your copies on Amazon today. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and as an added bonus, you can feel good knowing that you are helping animals at the same time.


All images ©Thomas C. Ramey

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