We are less than two weeks into the summer of 2021 and we have already seen destructive, recording-breaking heatwaves, unprecedented droughts, and tragic wildfires that have displaced entire communities – it is critical that museums, heritage organizations, and cultural professionals demand climate action now and that we all do our part to be advocates for change.
It is no longer a question of if climate disasters will impact our communities, but when. It took a mere 23 minutes from the first sign of smoke in the Village of Lytton to the fire becoming so out of control that the entire community had to be evacuated. As extreme weather becomes more and more commonplace, it becomes increasingly clear that all of our communities are mere minutes away from disaster.
We have a choice to make – do we accept living on the razor’s edge, constantly fearing disaster, or do we take action now to work on reversing the catastrophic damage we have done (and are still doing) to our planet?
The museum sector has an important role to play in creating change. While as individuals and organizations the scope of meaningful climate action seems insurmountable, cultural institutions have more power than we often give ourselves credit for. Museums, galleries, heritage sites, and science centres are among the most trusted institutions in our society. People trust museums more than newspapers, more than governments, and more than even schools. And critically, nearly 75% of people want museums to recommend action.
Museums are not neutral. Our sector enjoys a level of public trust and respect that few other institutions enjoy. It is critical that we help our communities understand the challenges we are facing and bring people together to take collective action.
To help our members take action as community climate leaders, the BC Museums Association, with the support of the Government of Canada, has launched a new project called Climate Action & Leadership for Museums (CALM). Through CALM, we will share ideas for taking action, highlight organizations demonstrating climate leadership, facilitate peer support, and develop tools and resources to empower our members. CALM will also allow the BCMA to continue its collaboration with the BC Heritage Emergency Response Network (BC HERN) to ensure that heritage professionals across the province have access to training, tools, and support in the event of emergencies.
There is no one way to be a climate leader – you can…
- Help to create community gardens and green spaces (we highly recommend watching this short video exploring the racial and transformative history of community gardens in New York City).
- Begin thinking about ways to reduce your organization’s carbon footprint (in May the Canadian Museums Association signed a resolution encouraging museums to achieve institutional net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 if at all possible, or by 2050 at the very latest).
- Use your organization’s platform to highlight climate leaders and activists in your community by partnering on grants, exhibits, and public talks.
- Think about how your collection relates to the topic of climate change – do you have items that help tell the story of our changing environment? Do you have archival records that can demonstrate change or that relate to contemporary climate issues?
- Learn more about important issues in your community and contact your local, provincial, and federal government representatives to advocate for change (for example, we suggest reading this article about Pacheedaht Nation’s stand on Fairy Creek logging blockades).
- When neighbouring Indigenous communities take a stand to protect natural heritage, be allies. Support and magnify these efforts.
- Support local companies and contractors who use sustainable and green methods.
- Work to prepare your site and train your staff to preserve your collections and protect your community during climate emergencies (BC HERN has some excellent training resources and printables to help your staff and volunteers take action.
With museums enjoying a level of public trust and support that few other institutions even come close to matching, it is our moral responsibility to use this trust in the best interest of our communities. If you are interested in taking action towards climate leadership, we encourage you to reach out to us. Through the CALM project, we would love to highlight your work, share new resources and ideas, and work together with our sector to build a brighter future.
Resources to Help You Take Climate Action:
BCMA and the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice shared examples of how fellow museum workers from BC museums are addressing climate change in their museums.
The Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice mobilizes and supports Canadian museum workers and their organizations in building public awareness, mitigation, and resilience in the face of climate change.