Arts & Culture

‘What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and sustainability?’

4 min read

The planet is frying, species are dying, and Al Gore is still gaining weight. In the face of Earth’s decline, is anything funny?

Even on Earth Day — an April celebration of the environment since 1970 — humor traditionally has had little place. There’s always more oh-oh than ho-ho.

Maybe CERtoons will help. They are Harvard-made, homemade cartoons that explore the lighter side of global warming, oil addiction, energy waste, and tailpipe emissions. The acronym CER stands for Campus Emissions Reduction.

This is the sixth annual CERtoons competition, sponsored this year by Harvard’s new Office for Sustainability (OFS). Eligible to win donated prizes are Harvard undergraduates and staffers at the University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).

The three 2009 winning CERtoons were announced last week (April 23) at the Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub in the basement of Memorial Hall. They were chosen from 40-plus entrants and 15 finalists.

Crowding around the free french fries, cheese cubes, and crudités were contestants in a related contest: an eco-competition in which fast-greening University buildings vie for a top spot.

Contest organizer was Brandon Geller ’08, who directs the undergraduate resource efficiency program at OFS, designed to encourage environmental action on a personal scale.

Entrants this year ranged freely over the environment’s big issues, he said.

In her third-place entry, Meicheng Shi ’10 took on the internal combustion engine with “Harvard revamps the Quad shuttle.” Instead of powering buses, Shi’s cartoon offers, Why not harness freshmen to an old-fashioned coach?

Second-place winners Molly O’Laughlin ’11 and Veronica Shi ’11 gave an old public service ad a new twist with “Cracked up.” It’s a cartoon of two egglike planets — the second frying sunny-side up. “This is your Earth,” the punch line reads. “This is your Earth on CO2.”

Greenhouse gases tickled first-place winners Kathrine Casillas ’11 and Scott Levin-Gesundheit ’11. In “John Harvard kicks the habit,” they picture a shady guy, topcoat thrown open, sidling up to John Harvard, who is seated (of course) in the Yard. Inside the topcoat is a tempting display of coal and oil. “No way, man,” Harvard says. “I’m clean.”

This year’s 15 finalists in the CERtoons contest will travel campus-wide as an art show of sorts. For now, they are still on display in the corridor outside the Queen’s Head.

Sixteen buildings were in the competition for the greenest (out of about 150 in the FAS real estate footprint). Taking honorable mention were the Jefferson and Lyman buildings used by the Physics Department. Building manager Stuart McNeil was cited for the first LED lab, scrap metal recycling, and annual cuts in energy usage — despite the fact that science buildings require up to eight times more energy than office buildings.

In third place was last year’s winner, William James Hall. Building manager Herbert Fuller — retiring this year — drew mention, along with FAS “eco-citizen Celeste Beck. Their bragging points included composting on all 15 floors and updated, water-efficient bathrooms.

Second place went to 51 Brattle St., which houses Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education. Drawing praise were building manager Patrick Shea and key Green Team supporters Linda Cross, Martin Leape, and Charles Allen.

In first place in the FAS contest was University Hall, the Charles Bulfinch-designed landmark of white granite, a fixture in Harvard Yard since it was finished in 1815.

But its modern touches won out, many of them directed by building manager Maureen McCarthy.

Those included regular energy audits, bathrooms remodeled to cut water use, new temperature set points designed to save energy, and a buildingwide e-mail system delivering green news, designed by University Hall executive assistant Johannah Shinner.