Milton Glaser's Climate Change Rebranding
The controversy around "It's Not Warming It's Dying" & why it matters
A logo is a powerful tool. It can convey emotion, one's beliefs, even unite individuals to a common cause. Milton Glaser knows this like the rest of us know what time Game of Thrones airs; instinctively. Thus it is no surprise that the logo for his campaign against climate change has generated so much discussion, though not all of it glowing.
Friedrich Nietzsche is attributed with the quote, “When art dresses in worn-out material it is most easily recognized as art.” This essence, it seems, is what Glaser is after. People tend to respond to what’s familiar with complacency. Something different, perhaps a little shocking, puts folks out of their comfort zone, which is exactly what the current forum on climate change is in need of, some rebranding. While others may criticize the slogan, the fact that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at record highs, around 400 parts per million which is well beyond what is considered safe for future generations, is undeniable and people need to wake up; whatever it takes.
It appears much of the criticism directed at Glaser’s latest efforts fall into two categories: first, is the problem presented by a literal translation of the slogan and second, is the backlash against the grave implications of the logo itself.
“It’s not warming.”
Well, it is. We know this. But the controversy sparked by the slogan seems to be Milton’s point; get folks talking. Subconsciously people hear “warming” and they get thoughts of cozy fires and snuggling under the sheets as the sixth ice age envelopes the world outside. The word “warming” evokes the sense that things are happening slowly, that perhaps we have time to sit around without acting. It doesn’t spark a sense of urgency. Instead, let’s have people asking questions about this dark looking, ominous mark.
Not exactly. The Earth is probably going to make it, but if the planet itself isn’t dying, we certainly are sprinting towards a mass extinction of global proportions. This is a human problem. It’s our own fault and it’s going to be up to us to prevent it. Glaser says that this, “the end of green,” is the “most extraordinary moment in human history [emphasis added].” So yes, we don’t need one more “abstract” idea of a dying planet; we need human impact. But with all the noise out there, a dramatic theme should be at the forefront and giving humanity a chance to avoid self inflicted destruction is hopefully striking enough.
I don’t know the numbers here, but I would guess that most of the people that have critiqued the campaign are generally folks already invested in the state of our environment, in the future of the planet, in humanity. They are the people who know the debate, know the facts, and thus believe there are inherent flaws in the literal interpretation of the slogan “It’s not warming. It’s dying.” However, for a neophyte of the eco/sustainable philosophy, this black, purposely bleak, simple mark might get them to take notice. And that is all Glaser wants; an acknowledgement. The flare of a thought that we need to begin thinking about this dire issue.
No campaign or argument, no matter how brilliant, is going to win over climate deniers. Their title alone signifies this impossibility. Whether it’s due to commercial interests or a hankering to ignore reality rather than deal with terrifying truths, these are not the people we need to bring to our cause.
Glaser suggests by sheer volume however, others may be swayed; even politicians. By adopting this logo on buttons and t-shirts, like so many pink and yellow ribbons before it, people display a constant reminder, not that the Earth is on its last rotation, but of a fate that is to be avoided.
So what’s wrong with some good old fatalism to shake things up?
Glaser claims we need more negativity when discussing climate change. Well, Paul Kingsnorth, an author and environmentalist, has that in spades. In a piece for NY Times Magazine, he discussed his thoughts about ecological collapse as one potentiality and the impact it had on his own life. Kingsnorth has been accused of giving up on activism while being labeled a nihilist, but, he explains, “people think we’re saying: ‘Screw it. Nothing matters.’ But in fact all we’re saying is: ‘Let’s not pretend we’re not feeling despair.’” There’s room to flex here. Let’s grieve, but then get to work.
When asked about hope, Kingsnorth said “It seems to me to be such a futile thing. What does it mean? What are we hoping for? And why are we reduced to something so desperate? Surely we only hope when we are powerless?”
Are we powerless? Absolutely not.
We don’t need to save the earth. We need to realize what’s possible; put a little green back into this sometimes overwhelmingly gloomy world. Similar to Glaser’s notion that recognizing the “disappearance of light” symbolizes a beginning point of action, Kingsnorth believes we need to accept that despair, that grief, and asks “as our eyes adjust to the darkness, what do we start to notice?”
Things that need doing. Humanity is good at getting results, we just need to acknowledge the problem; one person at a time.
To purchase the Milton Glaser “It’s not warming. It’s dying,” t-shirt