With the youngest members of society demanding, loud and clear, to stop anthropogenic climate change, public debate on planetary environmental crisis is resurgent. Older activists wonder why the well-founded warnings pronounced in the 1970s were soon forgotten, except for the echoes that emerge at intervals in the wake of natural or man-made catastrophes. The steady effort of ecologists (a kind of basso continuo) acting in private associations and in the framework of the United Nations to establish clear worldwide policies is usually acknowledged only for short periods of time around spectacular actions, conventions, and intergovernmental negotiations.
In recognition of the difficulties in making environmentalist concerns and actions popular, artists, historians, philosophers, and critics have grouped together around the Environmental Humanities, a flourishing discipline that strives to overcome the divide between the “two cultures.”
Considering that the extraction of petroleum has a huge environmental impact and the use of fossil fuels is one of the main causes of global warming, my project aims to spotlight the rhetorical strategies that have been applied to enter the carbon era, with a side glance at the aesthetics recently deployed to exit it. The search for the most effective instruments to convince the population to support ecology has its historical parallel—and mirror image—in the mobilization of support for mass motorization in Western societies after World War II.
My research aims to reveal the emotional investment that accompanied the expansion of the oil industry in Western Europe, as documented in particular sources of the 1950s and 1960s: the staff and customer magazines of the largest oil companies active in Europe. The popularization of science and technology was supported in such media by essays, photography, and the fine arts. This project discusses case studies of intellectuals and artists who did not simply deliver reports and illustrations of the oil industry but offered praise or critical views of the profound changes caused to the environment and society by oil extraction and mass motorization.