Climate scientists have long known the reality of climate change. Yet there are still many people in the world who either have no idea how climate change works, or don’t believe that it’s really happening. While there are a number of reasons for this, many scientists recognize that a big part of the problem lies in the way that we communicate science. Much of the public discourse that exists around climate change is either too technical to be useful to a broader audience, or too negative to motivate people to action.
A pair of Carnegie Mellon Chemical Engineering alumni are out to change this, with their new book series The Adventures of the Earth Defenders. Alex Bertuccio (Ph.D. ’17) and Lynn Yanyo (BS ’81) have come together, combining their entrepreneurial spirit with their passion for the environment and chemical engineering expertise in the hopes of creating positive, real-world change.
“Our simple, easy to understand book series,” says Bertuccio, “uses scientifically accurate language to encourage kids to explore and discover the science in daily life, test ideas without fear, develop solutions as a team, and learn from experimentation. The comic book format engages with early readers through middle school with role models for all ages.”
The Adventures of the Earth Defenders introduces a team of smart, scientifically minded animals from around the globe, who keep watch over the planet. In the first book in the series, the Earth Defenders discover that the weather is changing, which is negatively impacting their homes. Working together, they learn that the cause of the weather change is a humanoid named Earl, who has wrapped carbon blankets around the Earth—just one of a number of climate problems Earl causes over the course of the series.
Throughout the series, however, Earl is never depicted as a bad guy. Instead, he is meant to represent humankind in general, a common engineer, inventing things and discovering their unintended consequences. But when he learns that he has been hurting others with his inventions, he is remorseful, and clumsily tries to fix it. Together with the help of the Earth Defenders, Earl—and by extension, the children reading—learn about the many causes of climate change, and what humans can do to develop solutions.
“We chose to write the books for the kids aged nine to 13,” says Yanyo, “because we feel that it’s important to reach children at an early age about these subjects, and to encourage them to not only develop a sense of curiosity for the world around them, but also to feel comfortable learning through experimentation.”
We hope these books will reach children from all different backgrounds, races, and genders, and encourage them to pursue careers in STEM.Alex Bertuccio, ChemE Ph.D. alumnus, 2017
Bertuccio and Yanyo first met when at Carnegie Mellon in 2017, when Yanyo came back as an alum to give a seminar to the ChemE department on entrepreneurship. Afterward, she offered to meet with anyone interested in starting a business, and Bertuccio, who had been enthralled by the seminar, took her up on it. The two sat down for coffee the next day, and began to discuss a shared passion of theirs—reversing the effects of climate change. This discussion led to Tree4All, an organization that sells hearty tree saplings to encourage kids to plant trees, with the goal of removing carbon from the atmosphere.
The Earth Defenders grew out of this entrepreneurial venture. Originally, the book began as an eight-panel comic, meant to help explain to kids the importance of planting trees and how it can help combat climate change. But the stories quickly grew into their own business, as Bertuccio and Yanyo saw the power they could have in teaching the next generation how to undo the mistakes of the past.
“The first book made us think about how we can show kids and their parents that humans are capable of undoing the damage they’ve caused,” says Yanyo. “That led to the second book. Meanwhile, we loved having Earl tinker around with everyday engineering problems and learn about problem solving, and testing ideas and physics. We want to help both young readers and their parents get comfortable with the idea of failing as a way to identify problems, and learn and develop solutions.”
Now, The Adventure of the Earth Defenders have gone on three different adventures, with a fourth on the way this year, and The Calamities of Earl is its own growing series, with Earl exploring common, everyday items and helping kids understand how they work.
“While at CMU, I learned to be a much more effective communicator, both in presenting, and in writing,” says Bertuccio. “We were both inspired to write these books because we love science and engineering, and we want to help other people understand what we know, so they can appreciate the world the way we do. We also hope that these books will reach a wide range of children from all different backgrounds, races, and genders, and encourage them to explore and pursue careers in STEM.”
All of The Adventures of the Earth Defenders, as well as The Calamities of Earl, can be found on Etsy.