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OWL’S HOOTS No. 12: A TIME FOR ACTION

December 8th, 2009

Hoots No. 12 – 8 December 2009: Global Climate Change and Museum Advocacy

In some recent commentary on challenges facing museums over the next several decades, the issue of controversy and advocacy has been mentioned. For instance, over at Museum 3.0 in the Forum  a post by Lynda Kelly reports item 5 of the nine big themes  for 2010 identified by Australian Museum director Frank Howarth as “Increasing our advocacy: taking a stance on things that matter”.

It should not be thought that museums have not been dealing with controversy or been concerned with advocacy though sometimes that advocacy has been rather muted and some controversial issues have been avoided.

Lynda Kelly has posted a very useful brief commentary on this subject  and referenced an article “Museum Authority Up for Grabs: The Latest Thing, or Following a Long Trend Line?” by Daniel Spock, Director of the Minnesota History Center Museum program in the Fall 2009 issue of the journal Exhibitionist (p 6-10).

Global climate change is considered by many people to be the major issue confronting human society and the environment though in recent months people in some countries such as the US have put the issue at the bottom of their list of concerns. In this situation museums have the credibility and the responsibility to place in publicly accessible places information which is credible and authoritative.

If museums are concerned about advocacy then this issue – global climate change – is something to communicate about right now.

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The Monday 7 December issue of the Sydney Morning Herald contained an article by Deborah Smith referring to a document on climate change put together by Brett Parris who is a Research Fellow at Monash University and Chief Economist for World Vision Australia.

Entitled “University tackles sceptics’ arguments“ it commenced, “As World leaders gather in Copenhagen, efforts to undermine public confidence in the science of climate change have intensified. Sceptics have recently gained traction by exaggerating uncertainties in the research”.

Parris’ full document addresses 21 common objections to the arguments put forward in support of the proposition that global climate change is occurring and that it is due to activity of humans, principally through industrialization and the emissions of CO2. From my reading of documents at realclimate.org and other articles and presentations I would conclude that Parris’ document is as good a summary of the arguments and the evidence and an excellent refutation of the claims of others as I have seen.

One of the major parts of Parris’ document concerns the economic impacts of action to mitigate the effects of climate change. He points out that such action would have an impact of about 0.1 or 0.2 percent decline in income growth compared with “business as usual” (not taking account of an negative impact of climate change which is very important); this translates to a delay of four months or so by 2050 in reaching a certain target level.

(A video of a talk at the “One Just World” Forum in Melbourne 30 July 2008 by Brett Paris can be seen on YouTube (Part 1 and Part 2).

At the end of the document, Parris quotes Nobel prize-winner in economics Paul Krugman: “Writing after the vote on the Waxman-Markey climate change bill in the US Congress, Krugman considered the implications of unmitigated climate change for the US economy and for future generations. He concluded that continued denial of the link between anthropogenic greenhouse gases and climate change, with the aim of thwarting action to reduce emissions, was a form of treason:

“So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement. But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases. And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason “treason against the planet.”

Museums, especially natural history museums have concern for the natural environment and the future of the planet and life on it as a major focus of their endeavours. Whilst objectivity is often promoted as an important feature of the communications of museums, integrity must never be compromised. That includes a responsibility to communicate the latest understandings based on the best scientific research.

The document prepared by Brett Parris is a comprehensive summary of what is known about global climate change and its consequences. The issue of how the threat is to be mitigated is a different matter. But at least as Parris shows various alternative suggestions that climate change is not occurring or that it is caused by factors other than human activity cannot be supported on the evidence. And neither can the assertion that addressing the threat will cause economic disruption of great magnitude!

Over at New Matilda an item entitled “The Global Copenhagen Editorial” published December 7 reports that “On Monday more than 50 newspapers across the world published a common editorial calling for global action on climate change” but you won’t read it in Australia

“The following editorial was published on Monday by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. Most of the newspapers featured it on their front page. But you won’t read it in Australia. According to a report in the Guardian, “The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, pulled out [of the joint initiative] at a late stage after the election of climate change sceptic Tony Abbott as leader of the opposition Liberal party recast the country’s debate on green issues.”

The editorial begins, “Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

“Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.”

So what will your museum do?

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