Simon Stephens, Issue 115/07, p4, 01.07.2015
Museums take on climate change issues
The impact of climate change has been growing in importance for some time, but the issue of how we care for our planet seems to be reaching a tipping point.

Leading industrial nations recently agreed to cut greenhouse gases byphasing out fossil fuels by the end of the century and even the pope is calling for changes in lifestyles and energy consumption to avert the “unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem”.

For museums and galleries, the issue has two main strands: how far they should reduce their own impact on the planet and how they should communicate the effects of climate change to the public through displays, exhibitions and other activities.

Reducing their carbon footprint fits quite well with the resilience agenda, in that lower energy bills can make institutions more financially stable, although upfront costs to achieve this can be high.

For museums with lots of overseas visitors, there is also the issue of global tourism and the impact this has on the environment. Questions are being raised about how much longer the continued growth in international tourist numbers is sustainable – there were more than one billion global travellers in 2013.

Some in the sector are also debating how museums should communicate climate change to the public (see p11).

This is a sensitive and sometimes controversial issue, but institutions such as the Manchester Museum are leading the way in the sector in connecting the public and scientists with natural history collections, and exploring how museums can contribute to environmental sustainability.

The museum recently held a two-day conference that looked at whether museums could and should promote environmental awareness and pro-environmental behaviour.

And museums with all kinds of collections, not just natural history, can raise awareness of the dangers in climate change and highlight some of the solutions.

Climate change is widely recognised as the greatest challenge that humanity faces. But it is a complex issue that will need concerted and coordinated global action to address. Despite the challenges, surely most of us accept that doing nothing is not an option. Museums have the opportunity to play an important role in making that change happen.

Simon Stephens, editor, Museums Journal