Every Friday (except when I forget) I’ll post something ‘cultural’ about climate change. To kick that off, here’s an email interview with Andrew Dana Hudson (own website)(no relation) on his WW2-themed climate posters.
Could you say a little about your work
I’m primarily a science fiction writer, and much of my work falls in or around the “climate fiction” or “solarpunk” genre buckets. My (cowritten) story “Sunshine State” won the Imagination and Climate Futures Climate Fiction Contest in 2016, and my story “Mend and Make Do” was runner up in the Kaleidoscope Health Writing the Future Contest in 2017. Links to some of my other work are on my website. My stories often seek to envision the lived experiences coming in our climate-changed world, and the struggle to make good choices that can navigate our civilization through the sustainability crisis. I study at Arizona State University in the School of Sustainability, where my research involves using fiction to illustrate scientifically-modeled climate scenarios. I also research sci-fi narratives about artificial intelligence as part of the Policy Futures project at the Center for Science and the Imagination.
Talk about the world war 2 theme posters a bit – where did the impetus come from, which one(s) are your favourite. Is there any downside to using ‘war’ imagery for talking about the climate struggle, in your opinion
These posters were for a class I took on Designing for Public Participation in Science, which dealt in part with some of the ethical and political complications in science. In its self-skepticism and political disengagement, science has allowed climate change to be defined by a vocabulary that enables inaction. Every other sphere of our society is complicit in this error as well. This speculative artifact shows us an alternate approach, and asks us whether the window for such a mobilization has passed or may still be possible, through a Green New Deal or other big acts of dynamic government.
I am not a visual artist or a designer by training, but I enjoyed playing a bit in the strangely familiar medium of propaganda. I looked up actual posters from the world war eras, from America and elsewhere, and edited them to promote new slogans and ideas. I wanted to explore the problem of how we talk about climate change as something in the future, that we should get around to dealing with eventually. I was somewhat inspired by this talk by fellow traveller m1k3y. Climate change is not something that is coming, a cancer we might get if we don’t stop smoking one of these days. Rather a meteor made of oil crashed into the earth 100 years ago, and the impacts have been worsening ever since. We must mobilize at a massive scale to contain the damage, just as we do when fires or floods ravage our homes.
The posters are meant to take the audience into an alternate history in which climate change was framed in a very different way. Imagine if the discovery of the climate-changing effects of carbon dioxide by Guy Stewart Callendar were better understood (including by Callendar) and taken seriously, particularly by America. Instead of decades of denial and delay, driven by business interests and the psychological difficulty of making costly investments to prevent a vague, remote calamity, America saw the climate disaster as already present, requiring urgent remedy. The nation sprung into action in a style reminiscent of our idealized memories of mass mobilization during the world wars, instituting a green draft, national service, and aggressive curtailing of polluting industry. 100 years later (perhaps in an alternate 2060) the imaginary Guy Steward Callendar Memorial Museum of the Climate hosts a small exhibition of the vibrant propaganda that drove citizen engagement in this mobilization.
Five posters explore varied elements of this mobilization. Citizens are encouraged to enlist in national environmental service, to labor to fix more carbon in the soil soil, to leave oil in the ground, to report smoke and emissions to authorities, and to organize their neighborhoods. These collective and productive actions are meant to contrast with the many ways we are told to respond to climate change by altering our individual consumption (changing our light bulbs, eating less meat, driving less). They do not frame their demands as acts of prevention, but rather containment, cleanup, protection and prohibition.
My favorite is probably “If you see stacks…” Greenhouse gasses should be contained by heavily regulating industry at the point of extraction and production, not by passing the buck to consumers, making us all feel vaguely guilty for leaving the lights on. Viewing it as a lifestyle choice only benefits the wealthy capitalists who profit by passing the true costs of their business on to the working class. A ban on carbon-intensive industry is a policy choice that makes a great deal of sense, but feels extremely remote in our present politics, so I wanted the audience to inhabit a world in which that was the case.
And yes, there are significant problems with framing all this mobilization as a future world war—World War C—even if that is the scale of action the problem requires. War is a terrible scourge on humanity and the planet, inherently unsustainable. For the average person, a world with a hostile climate but no militaries or large scale violence might be preferable to one with a pristine environment but ongoing war. And of course there is every chance that climate change will breed conflict and strife—in fact it already is. A WWC that is because of climate change rather than against climate change is probably one of the worst case scenarios.
But war also distorts wildly in our collective memories, producing idealized nostalgias that are very potent material to work with as a creative. I wanted to use the cartoonish memories we have of the world wars to show us how the future might remember our struggles of today.
Perhaps the biggest problem with harkening back to WW1/2 is that these were wars amongst nations, whereas the climate crisis is really a class war. Many of the old posters I looked at were about promoting labor peace for the sake of the war effort, asking workers and bosses to put aside their differences and keep up productivity. But our present situation demands the opposite approach, because the enemy is not another nation but the global capitalist system itself and the wealthy individuals and companies that make short term profits off the planet’s long term ruin.
Who are some other climate-inspired/relevant artists that you admire?
I’m not an expert on climate-minded visual arts at all, but in the fiction world I’ve been quite influenced by the climate fiction and adjacent work of Paolo Bacigalupi, Kim Stanley Robinson, Malka Older, NK Jemisin, Omar el Akkad, many others. Science fiction is very vibrant on these topics lately, and literary writers are getting in on the climate game. My hope, however, is that the genre will be remembered as activating on these matters, rather than escapist. I would hate these posters and my fiction to be read by my grand children as utopian could’ve-beens that rub salt in their solastalgic wounds.