Conceptual artist Hannah Rothstein has always been worried about global warming and climate change, but her concerns increased relatively recently.
“With the current political climate it came to a head,” Rothstein say. “I’m worried what the world will look like in 30 years. It’s a one-way street with a lot of issues I care about. If we don’t start making positive changes, we can’t go back.”
Her concern, combined with her love of the outdoors, motivated her to recreate iconic national parks posters, but based on how they would look in 2050 affected by climate change.
The resulting posters make you do a double take, as they are familiar yet not. Waters have receded, trees are dead, and animals are missing.
Rothstein researched how each of the seven parks she re-designed would be impacted by climate change by studying each park’s official website, reading news articles and digging into scientific studies.
“Doing this research I was so scared. It was a powerful motivator,” she says. “I’m scared about what could happen and will happen very soon. We don’t know how our water will be or our air will be or if pine trees (in the Southwest) will exist. It’s all coming very soon.”
Much of what she found surprised her, but most shocking personally was the pine beetle infestation in her home park of Yosemite.
“I went to Yosemite in March for a friend’s birthday and saw about 30 percent of the trees were brown. Before, maybe, I thought they died because they were just old. Now I know it’s probably because of the infestation.”
For each poster, she lists the potential realities of climate change versus the amazing wonders. It’s “scarce drinking water” and “dying mangroves” in Everglades National Park and “species die-off” and “wildfires” in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Because people often think that climate change won’t have an impact in their lifetime, Rothstein chose 2050 as her timeline in hopes of changing that perception.
“I wanted the effect of climate change to be very real,” she says. “Sometimes we talk about it in such an abstract way and I wanted to show how close it is.”
Rothstein says she grew up going to national parks and loves going to them now. She goes to Yosemite most often, but travels to the parks throughout California and the Southwest and is heading to Glacier National Park in Montana this summer.
“They are special places to me and it’s my religion, really, going out into nature,” she says. “The vast wilderness we have here is something special.”
Rothstein is selling limited-edition prints and donating a portion of proceeds to climate-focused organizations including the National Resources Defense Council and the National Parks Conservation Association. She’s hoping to get her work into natural history museums and nature centers and is turning them into paintings.
“The response has been phenomenal. I’ve been excited to see how meaningful it has been to people. Generally sadness is the most overwhelming emotion, but I also hope they are inspired to change,” she says.
“Obviously these images are very sad and I’m aware of that, but I want people to remember that it is possible to create the positive change we need. We need to find the energy and gusto to fight, because it is possible. But we need to start acting now.”