Spreading the word about climate change and carbon taxes – with cartoons

CCL member Zeeshan Hasan writes about creating successful cartoon for kids…about carbon tax

In the beginning of 2016, I was living in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

I had been reading books about climate change for a number of years and and had written articles about it in local newspapers (available on my blog). My brother Zahin and I were both shareholders of Deepto TV, a local cable TV channel, and were thinking about how to spread the word about climate change and the need to implement carbon taxes to stop it.

My brother had previously founded and run ToonBangla, a Bangladeshi animation studio which had produced a short film, Attack Of The Mutant Killer Chickens, before shutting it down a few years earlier. However, he knew that the senior animator, Mohammad Shihab Uddin, was still in Dhaka doing freelance work. He proposed that we work on a short animated film to teach schoolchildren in Bangladesh about climate change and carbon taxes.

After thinking about it for a while, I suggested that we adapt the story of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The basic problem was communicating that everyone had to change many things about their lives, and governments especially had to change their policies around fossil fuel use and taxation.

Dickens’ story successfully managed to show how Ebenezer Scrooge could change himself as a result of meeting the ghosts of Christmas; we came up with a similar story in which a young boy in Bangladesh, Ratul, would be shown visions by a supernatural figure whom we called Old Man Wind. As a result of these visions he would become a climate change activist and participate in a global movement to stop climate change.

We worked with Deepto TV screenwriters for almost a year editing various drafts of the screenplay. There was a lot of information to convey, as we couldn’t assume any prior knowledge on the part of our audience, and had to cover the basic science of how burning coal, oil and gas produced carbon dioxide which trapped the sun’s heat and warmed the planet.

The protagonist Ratul was shown terrible visions of a future where southern districts of Bangladesh were flooded by rising sea levels, and northern districts were desertified as melting Himalayan glaciers cut off the water supply on which the country’s rivers depended. We mentioned carbon taxes as the solution to the problem, although the details of specific policies like ‘carbon fee and dividend’ seemed too complex to deal with in an animated film for children.

Once we had finalized the script by the end of 2016, we made a contract with the director, Mohammad Shihabuddin, and also with Cycore, a 3D animation studio in Dhaka which would produce the animation. This took about two and a half years. Halfway through, at the end of 2017, I moved to London with my family. Work on the film was finally completed in the summer of 2019, and after broadcasting it first in Bangladesh on Deepto TV we decided to release it on YouTube in December of 2019.

Since then, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Almost 900,000 people have watched it so far from around the world, which is remarkable for a foreign language film with sub-titles. Had we known that there would be so much interest from abroad, we might have considered a dubbed English version. That is still possible, but it turns out that it’s very difficult to find English speaking actors in Bangladesh.

One valid criticism that I often hear is that we shouldn’t have shown the protagonist Ratul flying in a plane at the end of the film. This was simply an overlooked detail in the script; by the time we realised the mistake, the animation had been produced and it would have simply cost too much time and money to change it. So we ended up keeping it in. If anyone asks, I simply ask them to consider the possibility that planes in the future will be powered by thorium-powered nuclear reactors rather than fossil fuels.