climate change design

Riding with Hitler

Ride_with_hitlerI read about this poster yesterday, and I was curious and looked it up. It’s all over the internet, so the chances are you’ve seen it before. It’s a public information poster from the US during the Second World War, encouraging people not to waste fuel by driving alone.

As public information posters go, it doesn’t pull its punches, but I was more interested in the modern parallels. In age of climate change, we urgently need these kinds of messages to be filtering through to the general public. Awareness of energy conservation and CO2 emissions needs to take a massive step up. We need positive peer pressure to make it normal to save energy and cut carbon wherever we can – including car sharing.

What struck me about the poster is how useful it is to have a villain with a face. In a war situation, everyone knows who the enemy is, they’re personified and easy to identify. (Easy to demonise too of course, and plenty of propaganda is based around justifying war that way) The contrast with climate change is stark. The enemy is an invisible gas. The damage done is in slow motion, over decades.

As Adrian Monck and Mike Hanley say in their book Crunch Time, “our adaptive strategies make us peculiarly ill suited to mobilising to tackle environmental issues. The war on terror can be personalised with names and faces – ‘bad guys’ – the war on global warming can’t.”


  1. I’ll allow it. The first step in igniting change is social marketing. May be a little harsh in this ad, but after 80 years it’s had time to ferment.

    If you take a snarky stance that may call out the individual themselves you are trying to change behaviors in you won’t get through to them. For example, depicting a mom driving a Hummer in the ‘burbs driving alone and feeling lonely wouldn’t be as effective pulling her strings of funding terrorists over her own kids by the choices she’s making.

    1. Yes, I don’t want to hold up this poster as a model for what we should do. I think it’s striking partly because it is so stark in its message. Maybe the war made that acceptable, perhaps people were more ready to take commands. I don’t think that approach would really fly today.

  2. At the risk of proving Godwin’s Law, today you may be riding with the corporation.

    “Along the way, in the process of attempting different forms of economics from capitalism to communism, we have managed to pollute and contaminate our own environment to the extent of causing environmental change to the point of quite possible catastrophe for people around the world. Neither the capitalist system nor the communist system – nor the various fascist systems attempted in such as Germany, Spain and Italy – lived up to their promises. Communist and fascist systems became infamous for mass murder. The Western capitalist was less murderous. Overall, capitalism was able to produce a much larger middle class of people between rich and poor, and has gained precedence due to making safe and secure life possible for more people. But, it’s various methods over the past 100 years left millions of people to suffer and die more indirectly than outright murder. Those people were dismissed as relatively unimportant, mostly left to die from deprivation rather than outright execution. In all systems, some rationale was created to either dismiss people and leave them to die, or, kill people outright. In the end, for the victims, the result was identical.

    In that context of disposing of people, by all economic systems, and with capitalism having become predominant, financial profit came to rule the day. Profit, the bottom line, was master of all else. People and the environment we live in were secondary considerations. The vehicle of Western capitalism was, and is, corporations.”

    (From the Economics for Ecology conference in Sumy 2009)

    1. ” In the end, for the victims, the result was identical.” In the end everybody dies.

      Lets get some sense. Before capitalism the vast majority of people on this planet lived poor deprived lives and died in that state. Now that can’t be the fault of capitalism, since it didn’t exist then. Then capitalism comes along and lifts some (an every increasing percentage) of people out of that poverty. Yet the people who have yet to be lifted are still dying in those pre existing conditions of poverty, and that is capitalism’s fault?

      3 people are dying of cancer, I invent a drug to cure that cancer but only have enough for two people right now. Is the death of the third person now my fault?

  3. Even back then the real horror surrounding the Nazis was drastically underestimated. But thoughts that came to mind:

    – did this campaign actually work? Was it effective? Did it induce changed behavior? It strikes me as rather pushy, even for war time propaganda. It works by inducing guilt, outcasting individuals. My experience is that people don’t like to be placed under this kind of pressure.

    And I was distracted by:

    – how the heck did he keep his hat on his head?

    – I am reminded that seatbelts are a relatively recent innovation…

    My idea actually is that we should try to approach the facts, even if in an incomplete and iterative way. Propaganda ought to be countered by facts. The recent Fox Fauxpas about solar energy in Germany and the US is an example. It was so idiotic that it even went viral in the net (see for example: Unfortunately many things are much less clear. But I am not a fan of propaganda. In the case of Hitler it is easy, Hitler = evil, but when we talk about “systems” or “ideologies” etc. it quickly becomes rather muddy. Capitalism vs. fascism? Arguably fascist Germany was a capitalist state. And arguably the so-called communist Soviet Union was a fascist state, too. I am not entirely sure if there ever was a truly communist or socialist state on Earth. The Jesuit State in South America was an attempt, as far as I can tell. And modern day northern and north western European countries are more “socialist” (in the idealist sense) than any officially self proclaimed “socialist”or “communist” state ever was. In my own country – the very same country which once was usurped by perhaps the worst dictator of all time – article twenty of the constitution reads:

    “Article 20
    [Constitutional principles – Right of resistance]

    (1) The Federal Republic of Germany is a democratic and social federal state.

    So there is no discussion. Even our conservatives and libertarians are “social”, since they are bound by the constitution.

    A few years ago Article 20 was ammended:

    “Article 20a
    [Protection of the natural foundations of life and animals]

    Mindful also of its responsibility toward future generations, the state shall protect the natural foundations of life and animals by legislation and, in accordance with law and justice, by executive and judicial action, all within the framework of the constitutional order.”

    So here we have one of the large industrial, democratic and capitalist nations with social principles and sustainability in its very constitution. It was hard work to get it in there, but for me it shows that change, indeed, is possible. It only requires patience. Reality, naturally, still lacks behind, but it is a long process. And a messy one. Yet – we have come a long way. I’d say that counts for Europe at large. As flawed and annoying as the EU may be in many respects, it nevertheless is a dramatic achievement for a continent that more or less has been in a perpetual state of war for Millenia.

    Historically it should also be noted that large scale warfare developed parallel to trade, capitalism and industrial development. There was and is a notoriously tight connection between war and financial interests. I keep repeating the ever same Goethe quote in this context. For me he marvelously described the inner nature of free wheeling laissez faire capitalism, the so called “free market”. You wonder WHAT and never HOW.:

    Mephistopheles (in FAUST):

    The ocean’s freedom frees the mind
    There all thought is left behind!
    You only need a handy grip,
    You catch a fish, or take a ship,
    And once you’re lord of all three,
    The fourth one’s tackled easily:
    The fifth one’s in an evil plight,
    You have the might, and so the right.
    You wonder what, and never how.
    I know a little of navigation:
    War, trade, and piracy, allow,
    As three in one, no separation.

    1. Nice, I didn’t know Germany had those clauses in the constitution. Like you say, I’m sure it took a long fight to get them there. Perhaps, when Britain finally gets round to writing a proper constitution, we can learn from that.

    2. Trade, capitalism and industrial development allowed large scale organisation and larger human populations. Therefore the wherewithal was available for larger scale warfare. That does not mean that trade, capitalism and industrial development caused the warfare. Humanity has been killing each other for its entire history, just as we grow more developed we had better abilities to do so on a greater scale. No other form of human organisation has been any less violent than capitalism. In fact the one change has been that humanity has been becoming less violent over the last centuries. I won’t make the correlation equals causation mistake you do, so I won’t say capitalism caused that, but you can’t say it makes things worse.The human hand is evolved to make a better fist, to the detriment of tool use. That tells us which is more important in evolutionary terms.

  4. Hey, I saw this on Living Simply Free’s post –

    It’s a great point. People seem to like short term problems with someone to blame. I suppose the leaders of corporate giants like Shell and Exxon Mobil could be vilified with some justification, and that might lead to wider action. But it is a huge over simplification to place blame on a few individuals… When really it is the whole system that is to blame. It’s interesting to draw parallels with war propaganda. Propaganda has a bad name, but perhaps we need some more of the stuff? It seems to be ”fine” to manipulate the masses to be mindless consumers so why not to be caring Earth stewards?…

  5. People are far too selfish and self centred nowadays, that propaganda like that wont work. The only way to force people out of their car and onto public transport or bicycling is to hit them in their pockets. City congestion charge either needs to be really high or a total ban on the private car through the city centre. Car tax (VED) needs to be raised for private vehicles too. The VED at the moment doesn’t cover anywhere near the cost to the country of the filth that motorised vehicles give out.

    Roads should be designed to force cars to detour around the outside of local streets and high streets, yet make it easier, shorter and quicker to cycle.

    It’s about time motorists became the 3rd class citizens and fitted in where it doesn’t affect pedestrians and bicyclists instead of the other way around. All the time motorists are treated like royalty and their every whim attended to, as it is now, we are going to get nowhere in cleaning up the filth we have to live with and breath in.

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