What can a climate museum be?

word cloud 2020-07-22 16.17.33

While we’ve been unable to deliver live activities, we’ve been thinking about what a climate museum could be – both what we could evolve into as an organisation and what museums in general could become in a time of Earth crisis. And echoing this, we have a twin vision:

  • that we become a resilient organisation with members across the UK running activations under the brand and principles of Climate Museum UK
  • that museums and all kinds of organisations are inspired to create their own museums of climate and ecology, and to use creative approaches in environmental engagement. Everyone can put an ‘eco lens on things’.

These are our principles, underpinning everything we all do as an equal collective of members:

CMUK principles

We’re still at the start of our journey, and although we have a strong sense of our ethos, there are many possible routes we could take in what we do, and how people experience us. We’re not focusing on building a single visitor attraction in one place – as this model is expensive, time-consuming and maybe not very suitable for a world in ecological crisis (given that Covid-19 has arisen as a result of ecocidal deforestation, and is probably here to stay, with other pandemics likely to be on the way). We’ll probably have to do more than we’d originally hoped in remote and digital formats.

As part of our Participatory principle (see diagram above) we say that every pop-up or event is a chance for us to listen and learn, but as we’ve had to postpone or cancel live events since early March this chance has been diminished. Therefore, we used social media to ask people:

What would you like to see a Climate Museum being and doing in these times? If you could lead a museum of climate & ecology what would you do?

Rich ideas squeezed into single tweets…

“I’d make it interactive, relevant for young kids through to adults. Showcase inspirational climate activists/movements. Emphasise ways in which to empower individuals, how they can challenge the status quo. Work with local schools, colleges & unis. Provide lots of placement opportunities.” Jessica Gordon-Calvert

“Show ways that individuals and groups can have most meaningful impact | Showcase success stories | Accessible virtual fun activities for schools & families | Make links so climate action relevant to all e.g. cost-saving, human health, wildlife | Link with other relevant orgs.” Dr Jess Tipton

“Curate public spaces to highlight the current reality and potential alternative futures. Enable people to experience these realities as part of their everyday lives. Then co-create more spaces with the people who live and work there. Repeat billions of times and change the world.” Dr David Cope

Climate justice and voice was a key theme…

“I think one of the most important things right now is to showcase different ways of resisting climate and ecological destruction: video, interviews, objects like placards and works of art. Obviously, they need to be representative: ensuring the work of Indigenous and Global South communities receive get due prominence.” Anna Orridge

“I would centre marginalised, impacted, grassroots, young and indigenous communities (and their advocates).” Laura Miller

“I fully agree with putting the experience of the billions of people in the south at core of the [museum] but do so in a real way; how many days & nights of uncomfortable extreme heat now & future in UK & other major cities, & what this actually feels like” Murray Birt

“I wouldn’t want to lead it. The leadership should be BIPOC, to ensure that their voices are front and centre of the movement rather than marginalised as they tend to be in white-led environmental movements. A climate museum in the Global North, like all environmental movements here, need to reflect the fact that the people hardest hit by the climate crisis are BIPOC. Black people have spoken about being alienated by climate movements here precisely because they do not feel included within it. In my view, any Climate museum should be putting these and the other marginalised voices of socio-economically disadvantaged people who will be worst hit by the climate crisis at the heart of their work.” Ruth Garde

…as was supporting people to take action…

“I’d like to see a focus on action to cut emissions & to adapt. I’d also engage with @UKCIP @UKCRP_SPF @MetOffice_Sci so that the consequences for the UK are clear.” @QuireArt

“I would make sure there were plenty of stories of how doing something (eg recycling glass) had lead to a positive result. I would have a children’s club but also would make sure that there were fun activities for adults too as education should be fun for all.” Maria Greenhill

“I think trying to demonstrate the cumulative impact of seemingly tiny, everyday decisions that we all make and how they snowball. People think that not recycling that one plastic bottle makes no difference but I think it’s really difficult to visualise how those decisions add up.” Meriel Royal

“I completely agree on the success stories! We don’t hear about them enough, and even for an engaged climate activist it can all feel very doom and gloom.” Jessica Gordon-Calvert

…but there were challenges to the celebration of small-scale or single actions…

“Focus equally on the problem and the solutions, and i mean big scale solutions. Anything else leads to hopelessness or complacency.” @VoidpunkXenon

“Name and shame the greatest climate criminals of the 20th and 21st centuries. And honestly, at this point microactions are just warm fuzzies. Instead of (encouraging) kids to keep recycling. Kids should leave saying “Mummy I want to stop Exxon. Let’s talk about who you’re voting for.” Teina Herzer

…to the extent of proactively supporting on-the-ground (in the soil) regenerative change…

“Crowd funding to buy small plots of land. Turn them into mini Eden Projects for education/visitors co-op food banks etc for community.” Helen Doyle

“Sustainable, self-sustaining community living.” Seamus Coyne Bailey

“Ex-situ conservation park in large area is the ultimate choice for biological and climatic preservation.” Dr Raj Shekhar Singh

“Have an outdoor display featuring different cultivars of crops, to show which ones are resilient and which ones fail.” @Iteration23

“Works of art made using sustainable/recycled materials, or can be used to power the museum building? Like a solar powered work of art.” @museummaverickblog (Instagram)

Suggestions for educational content: (which raises the question of whether a museum space is better than online content available here and now)

“I’d show the ground-breaking films #ChasingIce and #ChasingCoral  both brilliant and important documents of #ClimateChange” Alistair Siddons

“I’ve done podcasts about it. I’d like to see films and hear podcasts, perhaps with slideshows on the topics covered. Evidence of change. Also mitigation action and information.“ Rosetta Ceesay

These ideas are more rooted in place and suggest the need for real spaces:

“It’s great that there’s been virtual opportunities! There’s so much expertise out there so it would be great to almost have a central hub. The main concern is if opportunities, training etc. were to exist in a museum based in London how accessible would this be to the North.” Jessica G-C

“A community room where people get help asking their questions and present their Ideas. Most people have good Ideas to make changes in their suburbs, but can‘t decide if there are worth on realizing them.” @Rose_New_Dawn

“I’d like it to be electricity free (not just fossil fuel free).” Morgan Phillips

And some really creative ideas for designing experiences…

“I’d like to see a truly realistic series of rooms where we see what life is like around the world at 1c, 1.5c etc and all the animals, habitats, humans and cities lost at each milestone. Each room would have two exits. One to the next hell and one that shows what we need to do.” Damien Rafferty

“Real time countdown clock, if it’s a mobile museum maybe on the side of the vehicle displaying how long we have left to turn things around. VR headsets for 1.5, 2, 4 & 6 degree futures here in UK & in other countries. Multi player digital games with solutions/ impacts. Was thinking, a clock in hours/ mins counting down from 10/12 years or however long climate scientists agree we have left to act to keep below 1.5, maybe could have real time thermometer alongside? Something to visibly convey the sense of urgency?” Hayley Richards

“An incredible exhibit I once saw at the museum of natural history featured a room-length to-scale graph of earth temperature through millions of years. Seeing the sharp spike at the end was viscerally frightening.” Andrew Lake

“We should have holograms of all the animals we drove to extinction plus satellite photos of all the areas we destroyed; then a monument proclaiming our dominance over this planet… that seems apropos. #NoPlanetB” @midnight_vic

“An eternal dumpster fire fuelled by the remains of all that was once good & holy generating money for the already wealthy & powerful.” @jay_greathouse

…and finally, thinking about a climate museum as a leader and trainer for change across the cultural sector…

“I’d build partnerships with #libraries to help enthuse and inspire people to read and learn, ultimately better to understand the intimate relationship between our values, our behaviours and the climate of the ecosystem on which we depend. PS More practically, I’d love to see a children’s book awards that celebrated books for children and young people that inspire understanding and action on climate change!” Nick Poole

“Support other museums to tell their stories and also to change their practice.” Tamsin Russell


“I agree but to also help them to realise it is part of their story too.” @GrecoDiVerdi

“I would like to use it as a platform to explore the various possibilities for earth-minded leadership” Nigel Rayment

Thank you to everyone who contributed ideas. It was a really stimulating exercise. Please share more ideas in the comments or by replying to the question on Twitter here

One thought on “What can a climate museum be?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s