Today’s Guest Post is by Robert R. Janes, Founder and Co-Chair of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice. Dr. Janes is an independent scholar and past editor-in-chief of the Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship from 2003 to 2014.
Over the next few days, as we leave 2020 and enter 2021, we’ll be highlighting articles from a special issue on ‘Museums and Climate Action’ published as Volume 35, Issue #6 of the journal Museum Management and Curatorship. Many thanks to both the Journal and the authors for allowing free access to this work.
I write this commentary as a messenger – an impatient and bewildered messenger. Impatient because it has now been 41 years of ignoring the scientific warnings about global warming and its consequences – 41 years since scientists from 50 nations met at the First World Climate Conference in Geneva in 1979 (Ripple et al. 2020). I am also bewildered by the lack of civil and political resolve to address this crisis. It is incomprehensible. How can governments worldwide defer to scientists on the COVID-19 pandemic while ignoring the scientific consensus on the catastrophic consequences of global warming? Do we have to wait for the moment when daily life, as we know it, is no longer viable?
For reasons that remain unclear, the international museum community has not yet had a forthright conversation about the climate crisis, including the role and responsibilities of museums, which would lead to concerted action. In addition to their deep view of time, museums are eminently qualified to address climate change for a variety of reasons. They are grounded in their communities and are expressions of locality; they are a bridge between science and culture; they bear witness by assembling evidence and knowledge, and making things known; they are seed banks of sustainable living practices that have guided our species for millennia; they are skilled at making learning accessible, engaging and fun, and last, they are some of the most free and creative work environments in the world. Despite their unique capacities, it is unclear what will spark the heightened consciousness needed to make climate action a priority in the museum community.
The purpose of this commentary is to set the stage for the articles that follow. In so doing, I wish to focus your attention on the direness of the climate crisis, raise awareness, and examine the inertia that hinders the museum community as a force for good. As well, I suggest ways that members of the museum community can work to mobilize that force. As the authors in this themed issue demonstrate, both courage and creativity are hallmarks of the innovative approaches we must all embrace to address the climate crisis. I submit, however, that the influence, capacity, and ability of museums to confront the climate crisis remain largely dormant, awaiting some undefined moment in the future when understanding aligns with action. We are rapidly running out of time for this convergence.
Read more here.
Robert R. Janes is the Founder and Co-Chair of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice. Dr. Janes is an independent scholar and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship from 2003 to 2014. He is also a visiting research fellow at the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester (United Kingdom). He has worked in and around museums for over 40 years as an executive, consultant, editor, author, board member, archaeologist, instructor, volunteer, and philanthropist. Janes has devoted his career to championing museums as important social institutions that are capable of making a difference in the lives of individuals and heir communities. His latest book is Museum Activism with Richard Sandell (Routledge 2019)