“Museums have a fundamental role in reshaping the world” – A Natural Ally Writes

Today’s Guest Post is by Éric Hébert-Daly, the National Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS)*

Not so many years ago, as a political advisor, I sat through focus group after focus group testing to see if people could understand climate change and whether or not the issue would ever play a role in people’s choices at the ballot box. Let’s just say that it was a concept that most people didn’t understand nor did it worry them.

Photo Courtesy StockVault

There were a few exceptions, but people cared more about clean water, fresh air and the things that affected them directly.

In recent years, things have started to change. It feels like the world gets it. Maybe the hurricanes, forest fires and floods are starting to impact how the world understands climate change.

And for CPAWS (the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society), climate change pushes us to think about how nature provides some natural solutions to the issue. Intact nature helps reduce emissions and it can help nature adapt to the changes.

The boreal forest in Canada is a massive carbon sink – it retains carbon and when we disturb these intact ecosystems, we release that carbon, making the climate problem even more serious. In this sense, protected areas help mitigate climate change.

Churchill - BRV 2003 - Sunset - Anne Janssen - CPAWS
Churchill Sunset. Courtesy Anne Janssen CPAWS

The impacts of a changing climate are significant to all species and they need nature to have connectivity so that they can move into climates to which they are more likely to survive. Connected protected areas help species adapt to climate change.

 When I consider what it will take to face the challenges that climate change presents to us as a human race, I know that we’re all going to need to pull in the same direction. Museums are natural allies in this regard.

Museums may have had a reputation for avoiding activism – but the issue of climate change has moved beyond what it once was.

Maple Leaf Courtesy Lori Labatt

Museums are a creative expression of communication that reaches people in ways that books, news articles and speeches cannot.  Excellent exhibits make it possible to rewire our brains, and broaden our empathy for others and for our planet. While organizations like CPAWS can lobby governments and appeal to the public to create protected areas to help face the climate crisis – we need museum story tellers to reach the hearts and minds of ordinary Canadians who haven’t been thinking about these issues.

Museums have reach. They speak to people that organizations like CPAWS cannot. CPAWS can grow its activist base among the convinced fairly easily – but we need educators like museums to go beyond the pre-disposed audiences. Museums are everywhere – and in many places where CPAWS is not.

We are members of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice because we can’t fight climate change on our own and we believe that museums have a fundamental role to play in reshaping the world.

Climate change is now officially on people’s lips in a way it has never been. Now, more than ever, we need to put it in people’s hearts.


*Éric Hébert-Daly is the National Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), a nationwide conservation not-for-profit that focuses on protecting Canada’s wildlife and wild spaces.

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  1. Joy Davis

    And museums have collections, knowledge and networks to bring to partnerships as well. At the same time, organizations like CPAWS bring insights, energy and audiences to museums. There’s lots of potential in working together. Thanks for a great piece, Eric!

  2. Robert Janes

    Thanks so much for your post, Eric, and for your valuable perspective on the importance of cross-sector collaboration. I also want to thank you for your courage and commitment in becoming a founding member of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice, even though you do not work in the museums sector. We look forward to your continued support and guidance.

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