The WPA-era posters advertising American National Parks are classic graphic design. Inspired by the present-day government’s policies on climate change, artist Hannah Rothstein decided to reimagine the iconic images with an eye toward how the parks might be affected over the next 30 years.
The result is a striking series called National Parks 2050. The digital posters (which Rothstein is also turning into paintings) are based on both original WPA posters and contemporary versions in the style of the WPA posters by the artist Ranger Doug. Rothstein chose six of these posters that show the glorious beauty of the national parks, and then reinterpreted them with an eye toward a future wracked by climate change. The resulting works show America’s natural beauty ravaged by drought, forest fires, pollution, and flooding.
“The posters are such powerful iconic images,” Rothstein says. “They felt like the right vehicle to portray change with because it’s representative of the greatness of America, and the images are very familiar to people.”
Rothstein’s images are portentous. The poster of the Great Smoky Mountains depicts a wildfire, while the poster of Mount McKinley National Park shows a harsh, dry landscape with an animal skull in the foreground. The lake in Crater Lake has run dry. The Everglades are depicted as a polluted swamp. The poster of Yellowstone no longer has a geyser, since Rothstein learned that the geysers will erupt less frequently as groundwater becomes more scarce. Instead, a hunger-ridden bear patrols a dark landscape.
Especially when placed next to the original images, Rothstein’s posters are an alarming reminder of what could befall the country’s most prized natural landscapes if we do nothing to prevent the ravages of climate change. “It’s a one way street with no U-turns,” Rothstein says. “We do need to act on it now.”
Rothstein chose images that represented national parks across the country, intending to show the natural beauty in many people’s backyards that is now under threat. Her final images were informed by research on how the climate is changing in each particular ecosystem. She says many of the parks’ websites have sections dedicated to climate change, but she also looked at news articles and research on how extreme weather and rising temperatures could affect the environment–though she acknowledges that the posters show the most drastic version of the future. “It is very dark and dramatic, but I felt like that was necessary to make an immediate impact on people,” she says. “I didn’t make any of it up unfortunately.”
The works are shown side by side for comparison’s sake on her website, and her posters are available for purchase. She also has one original painting of the California Redwoods poster completed so far, with plans to duplicate the rest of the posters as paintings as well. She will donate 25% of proceeds to climate-related organizations, and 40% of any pay-what-you-want support for her work collected up until Earth Day.