Everyone knew — and we all still know … We know that if we don’t act to reduce emissions, we risk the collapse of our civilization. We also know that, without a gargantuan intervention, whatever happens will be worse for our children, worse yet for their children, and even worse still for their children’s children, whose lives, our actions have demonstrated, mean nothing to us.Nathaniel Rich, Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change. The New York Times Magazine. August 1, 2018
February 22, 2021
I write to you as a colleague and a messenger, with a message that I am certain is also weighing heavily on your work and personal lives. I am bewildered by the lack of civil and political resolve to address the climate crisis which is clearly upon us – it is incomprehensible.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned us that we have just 10 years left to limit the catastrophic impacts of climate change. To limit our world to 1.5 degrees warming, carbon pollution will have to be cut by 45% by 2030 and come down to zero by 2050. How can governments worldwide defer to scientists on the COVID-19 pandemic while ignoring the scientific consensus on the catastrophic consequences of global warming?
What are museums to do?
Denial or indifference are not helpful, as Canadians are awakening to the immorality of government/corporate complicity in their climate crisis denial. This growing public concern is a rare opportunity for museums to act as key civic and intellectual resources in confronting the climate crisis. The world is home to over 55,000 museums and all museums have unique qualities which enable them to address the climate crisis:
- they are expressions of community and locality;
- they are a bridge between science and culture;
- they bear witness by assembling evidence based on knowledge and they make things known;
- they are seed banks of sustainable living practices that have guided our species for millennia; and
- they are some of the most free and creative work environments in the world.
In short, museums and galleries are uniquely qualified to help mitigate the climate crisis and adapt to it, based on their singular combination of historical consciousness, sense of place, long-term stewardship, knowledge base, public accessibility, and unprecedented public trust.
They are also civil society spaces where substantive issues can be aired, discussed, and acted upon. No social institutions have a deeper sense of time than museums and galleries, which by their very nature are predisposed to exercise their larger view of time as stewards of the biosphere.
I call upon each of you as leaders of the Canadian museum community
… to put these unique qualities to work in combating the climate crisis and its implications for the collapse of our way of life. I urge each of you to publicly acknowledge the climate crisis in your own museum or gallery and commit to addressing it in keeping with your own circumstances. There are numerous ways to honour this commitment in your climate crisis declaration, including:
- Supporting the climate strikes and action – especially by youth
- Informing the public in your role as trusted mediators of culture, science, and technology
- Transforming your museum/gallery by committing to become emissions neutral by 2050
- Raising awareness in your networks of the need for immediate climate action
There are abundant museum resources readily available with which to confront the climate crisis, from information on best practices to global networks. The museum community can no longer delay in combating the intensification of climate change and its impact on the biosphere. This will require courage and foresight – qualities which are familiar to each of you. It is time to honour the public trust that museums have been gifted.
What are we waiting for?
Robert R. Janes, Founder, Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice, Canmore, Alberta, Canada
I welcome your responses in Comments below or at r.pjanes (at) telus.net
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)