In this guest post, Robert R. Janes, Founder and Co-Chair of the Coalition, writes more about climate change and museums and the founding of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice …
We have now passed the milestone level of 400 parts per million of climate-warming carbon in the atmosphere… for the first time in human existence – without even an outcry by the citizenry. The 400ppm threshold is a dire wake-up call, and our profound, global challenge is to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, in order to forestall the worst impacts of climate disruption. Judging by the results so far, we are failing miserably.
Why is the museum community reluctant to address this issue? I suggest that it lies in the claim of “neutrality,” There is a widely-held belief that museums must protect their neutrality, lest they fall prey to bias and special interest groups. The unspoken argument is that museums cannot risk doing anything that might alienate their audiences or sponsors, real or potential.
This claim of neutrality has conspired to create a magical belief that is now the stock-in-trade of most museum workers. This belief is that museums may abstain from addressing societal issues and aspirations, because they have complex histories and unique missions which absolve them from greater accountability.
Three Reasons to Challenge Neutrality
Why should museum workers part company with the time-honoured protection of neutrality?
- The first reason is that each of us is a sentient being on planet earth, and each of us has a personal responsibility to confront the reality of climate change and protect the planet upon which we depend.
- Second, we know as museum workers that education is a core mission of museums, but what sort of education is appropriate and necessary now? What we actually need are museums that identify and challenge the myths and misperceptions that threaten us – such as the false belief that continuous economic growth and consumption can continue.
- The third reason for rejecting neutrality is that each of us is part of a family – a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, parent or grandparent. With this in mind,
“…for how long would we like our family to continue? If the next generation matters to us, and the children born to it do as well, then what about their children’s children?” 
Unique Characteristics of Museums
In addition to their larger view of time, museums are uniquely qualified to embrace climate change and other critical issues, because of several unique characteristics:
- 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 some of the most free and creative work environments in the world.
In short, there are no other organizations with this singular combination of historical consciousness, sense of place, public accessibility, and unprecedented public trust.
How, then, can these precious qualities translate into concrete action? Here are three simple initiatives:
- Tell stories and educate – Museums tell the stories of the natural and cultural world – tell your visitors how climate change and disruption came to be.
- Second, with unbridled consumption as the cause of climate change, it is imperative that we reduce our individual consumption. Museums can readily assist with this task through information, dialogue and advocacy.
- A third initiative is to develop an Advocacy Policy for your museum, to help nurture and strengthen a broader vision. This policy would delineate what issues are important and how your museum will respond when confronted with moral and civic challenges, such as climate change.
This leads me to one unavoidable conclusion. Individual museum efforts to address climate change are laudable and essential, but they are not enough. Nothing less than a global museum movement is now required, and the resources of the world’s 55,000 museums must not only be mobilized – they must also be anchored in a new story.
A New Story
We all agree that museums exist to tell stories—about people, communities, and nations — but who is telling the story of the twenty-first century? Corporations and governments are, but it is the story of ceaseless economic growth. The rhetoric is agonizingly familiar and destructive – consumption means happiness; economic inequality is unavoidable, and rampant environmental damage is regrettable. Although we know that this story is false, it is the predominate story in our public lives and it defines our common future. This story, however, is destroying the planet upon which we depend.
Humanity needs a new story; museums need a new story.
We must move beyond the doomed economy of industrial growth to the recognition that the connection between individuals, communities, and nature is the key to our well-being. It is incumbent on all museums to help envision and create this new narrative with their communities – using their unique skills and perspectives.
These issues and the thinking behind them lead to the formation of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice.
 Romm, J. “Into the Valley of Death Rode the 600, Into the Valley of 400 PPM Rode the 7 Billion.” Available online: http://thinkprogress.org/author/joe/ – May 5, 2013
 Janes, R.R. (2009) Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance or Collapse? London and New York: Routledge, p.59.
 McKenzie, B. Next after MuseumNext, The Learning Planet Blog. Available online: https://thelearningplanet.wordpress.com/
 Museum 2.0 “Does Your Museum Have An Advocacy Policy?” Available online; http ://museumtwo.blogspot.ca/2016/01/does-your-institution-have-advocacy.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+museumtwo+(Museum+2.0) – January 16, 2016
 Korten, D. (2014) “Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth.” Presentation at the Praxis Peace Institute Conference, San Francisco, California, October 7, p. 2. Available online: http://livingeconomiesforum.org/sites/files/pdfs/David%20Korten%20Praxis%20Peace%20Oct%207%202014%20for%20distribution.pdf
 Korten, D. (2014) “Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth.” Presentation at the Praxis Peace Institute Conference, San Francisco, California, October 7, p.4.Available online: http://livingeconomiesforum.org/sites/files/pdfs/David%20Korten%20Praxis%20Peace%20Oct%207%202014%20for%20distribution.pdf
Robert R. Janes is Founder and Co-Chair of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice. He is also an independent scholar and served as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship from 2003 to 2014, and 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 their communities.