Friday, March 27, 2009

Understanding climate change – the museum view

With Earth Hour upon us for another year (and what a fantastic ‘ground up’ project that is proving to be), all eyes are on Copenhagen, and whether the world can pull us back from the brink. I liked Prince Charles’ identification of the 100 months that we have to sort this out or it will be too late, as it makes it all very here and now

The role museums can play in educating the public on the issues of climate change is major, both because they are seen as trusted providers of information, and because by their very nature they can draw on years of research knowledge to set current data in context. The Australian Museum continues to lead debate on the issues from the effect of climate change on the Barrier Reef to how species are adapting to changes in heat. One of the most pressing issues is how low lying Pacific islands cope with rising sea levels, one immediate example being Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas). On the basis that it is inevitable that such a country whose average height above sea level is 3 metres, will succumb to the waves, and that therefore the entire population (c100,000 people) will need to be relocated, it is vital that museums take a role to document an entire society and culture, before it literally dies out. There are various cultural mapping projects being considered by bodies such as the Australian Museum to allow this to happen.
But at the end of the day, these so called ‘primitive’ societies are proving to be so much more in tune with the planet than our developed world. Kirk Huffman, writing in the latest edition of the Australian Museum’s members Explore Magazine reminds us of how had we listened to these traditional cultures we might not be in the mess we are in. He cites the North American Cree tribal elder, Wolf Robe, speaking in 1909 , ‘Only when the last tree has died and the last river poisoned, and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money”.

With the joint mess of human induced climate change and financial melt down upon us, never has a truer word been spoken.

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