Monday, February 13, 2012

Archaeology and climate change

IIC (the International Institute for Conservation) has been pushing the line that climate change will effect collections just as much as buildings for some time. I helped organize their first dialogue on the issue at the IIC Congress in London in 2008 (Climate Change and Museum Collections), most memorable to me as the occasion when Nicholas Serota of the Tate pronounced that he expected visitors to have to wear overcoats in the Tate in winter as they no longer would be keeping the Tate toasty just for visitor comfort.

Three weeks ago IIC ran another dialogue in conjunction with University College, London looking at the issue of preservation of archaeology in a time of climate change. It was facilitated by Dr May Cassar, Professor of Sustainable Heritage at UCL, and a guru in this area. The two dialogue respondents were Andrew Curry, an archaeological journalist and Wouter Gheyle, a practising archaeologist.

A range of sites were discussed by the two of them where rising seal levels and changing weather patterns are threatening insitu archaeology, including:
You get the picture, and this is of course incremental, whereas Hurricane Katrina in 2005 washed away an estimated 1000 archaeological sites in one fell swoop.

Following the presentations by Curry and Gheyle there was an opportunity for open dialogue, and there was the inevitable question as to whether global warming is anything new in the history of the planet. As Curry responded there have always been natural weather changes that happen over thousands of years. But what we are seeing now is much faster and more destructive, and therein lies the problem. Weather patterns are becoming more extreme and unfamiliar. Some moderately hot places are becoming deserts and others where moderate rain used to fall, are now experiencing torrential rain and flooding.

As Australia experiences a wet, wet summer with extensive and damaging flooding, the climate change deniers are claiming they are right and there is no global warming evident in this part of the world. In reality it is precisely because the planet is warming up that we are getting these extreme weather patterns.

It’s an issue that is effecting us all, like it or not, and we in the conservation world need to start prioritising what we can save.

Check out the dialogue online.

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director

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