AstroNuts Mission One: The Plant Planet

Illustrated by Steven Weinberg

“So now it’s up to you to figure a way out. You can: a) Burn less fossil fuels or b) Find another planet with air and water and plants and animals, just like Me.”

AstroNuts, Mission One: The Plant Planet! is a graphic novel science fantasy narrated by planet Earth. AstroNuts are four superpowered mutant animals: AlphaWolf, SmartHawk, LaserShark, and StinkBug. They were designed on Earth’s behalf by NNASA (or Not-NASA) scientists in 1988, around the time when the world breached the safe level of 350 ppm of global warming. Now that “you humans [have] finally crossed BIG RED LINE by putting more than 400 ppm (parts per million) of CO2 (carbon dioxide) into my beautiful atmosphere,” Earth activates AstroNuts because the climate emergency is here. Human activity has put Earth in danger of being uninhabitable and AstroNuts are sent to find another Goldilocks Planet for humans to live. Their first destination, The Plant Planet, seems perfect: with breathable air, water, and food sources. However, the planet is dominated by a single species, its ecosystem is unbalanced, and the chemical composition of its atmosphere is an explosive combination of methane and oxygen. When the plants attempt to enslave AstroNuts, StinkBug’s fart sets of a chain reaction of explosions that destroy all life on Plant Planet. As Earth comments, this is “exactly what can happen when one species takes over the planet. Like what humans are doing on me.” AstroNuts return to their secret base in Thomas Jefferson’s nose at Mount Rushmore. They will be sent on other missions in the other two books of the series.  

The Plant Planet introduces the science of human-caused global warming and connects it to larger concepts of climate change, biodiversity, and interconnectedness of all life within the larger Earth system. Placing Earth as narrator is used to offer a nonhuman perspective on the climate emergency and stress that the burning of fossil fuels and other activities that destroy Earth’s climate, ecosystems, and diverse life forms are driven by our belief in human supremacy. This worldview is exposed as silly and dangerous by AstroNuts themselves, whose behavior on the Plant Planet mirrors human behavior on Earth.

  1. AstroNuts feel superior to all other forms of life they encounter and are oblivious to how this assumed supremacy puts them in danger. Like humans on Earth, they underestimate the power of nature, the rights and intelligence of other species.
  2. Even after the AstroNuts met the plants, they ignore warning signs and embrace the promise of easy gain. Likewise, humans ignore the signs of climate emergency and focus instead on short-term profit. This is why Earth feels the need to be explicit: she says calls out those who benefit from the fossil fuel extraction and calls on all humans to wake up to the danger.
  3. The AstroNuts also ignore the fact that they barge in on someone else’s environment. Like humans on Earth, they believe everything belongs to them. To which Earth comments: “Trust me if there’s one thing I know, it’s this:  The balance of a planet is key to its survival. And existing life is key to its balance. So if you are ever exploring an unknown planet, it would be smart of you to be very careful about not messing up existing life on that planet.”

Another way that the book decenters the human is that it has no human characters. This places readers as spectators forced to consider humanity’s future and the need for balance in any planet’s ecosystems. Global warming is presented as a medical emergency on the planetary scale. “This climate fever of mine is like a very bad flu,” Earth says. “A Humans-Burning-Fossil-Fuels Flu.” Earth then shares some of the consequences of carbon emissions and global warming: extinctions of species and dangerous climate events that threaten human and nonhuman life alike. On the Plant Planet, in turn, the AstroNuts learn how coexistence of different species is needed to sustain the planet’s biochemical balance. Through the Earth-led narrative and the AstroNuts’ adventures on the Plant Planet, readers learn to appreciate the uniqueness of Earth as a planet that sustains us all. The book draws the reader in through irreverent humor, offbeat adventure, and goofy illustrations, but all these are used to help readers recognize the climate emergency. The Plant Planet! offers hope that change is possible because we can learn. It challenges our anthropocentrism and invites an ecocentric perspective. It shows how having diverse but balanced ecosystems is vital to a planet’s health, something that the Earth hopes readers will take into their own lives too. The book helps students reflect on what their relationship with the Earth really is and how they can better support it.

©2022 ClimateLit (Brynne Diggins, with later edits by Alexandra Delacruz, Kai Resler, and Marek Oziewicz)

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Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2019

Pages: 220

ISBN: 978-1452171197

Audience: Questers (8-13)

Format: Comics & Graphic Novels

Topics: Anthropocentrism, Biodiversity, Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Emissions, Climate Change, Climate Crisis, Earth System, Earth's Aliveness, Ecocentrism, Ecological Balance, Extinction, Food, Fossil Fuels, Global Warming, Goldilocks Planet, Greenhouse Gases, Human Impact, Interconnectedness, Mother Earth

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