Illustration by Meg McKenzie
The big WHY?
Humanity faces the linked catastrophes of:
- climate change
- a mass extinction of vital biodiversity due to deforestation and climate change
- a degradation of ecosystems health everywhere, with our air, our rivers and oceans, and our food-chains full of plastic, chemicals and other pollutants.
Linked to all this is rapidly rising inequality within and between nations, and the deterioration of democracy and human rights. The environmental crisis is worsening injustices faced by people in the Global South, indigenous land defenders in particular, and over time it will intensify inequalities experienced in every country.
There is growing recognition of the contribution of arts and heritage to prompt shifts in the ways we relate to one another and the world, in our values and behaviours. Climate change is a cultural and systemic problem. There is also a growing international movement of cultural organisations concerned with these social and environmental challenges.
However, there are some problems:
- There is very little funding and support for the practice they might wish to do. (Only 4% of philanthropy goes to the environment, and most of this to animal welfare. In the UK, public funding for the arts is very stretched.)
- There is tentativeness in the publicly funded sector about the radical approaches needed to address the climate emergency, such as tackling the political influence of the fossil fuel industries.
- A general lack of ecocentric thinking across all professional sectors that also affects the cultural sector.
Why a Climate Museum?
Some might assume that museums are stores of past things and about stories of past times, inappropriate for climate change as a story of now and future. But museums can be vitally alive places, where questions and meanings are debated, past interpretations challenged, connections are made, people are transformed and solutions are found. A museum is a place to muse.
Also, the Climate Museum UK will be a mobile and participatory programme of conversational activities, diverse voices and creativity, first and foremost. It will not be a monolithic institution, and perhaps not ever a single high status venue. It will explore a wide range of themes beyond climate science, focusing on the lived experience and social dimensions of climate change and planetary boundaries.
What are the inspirations for Climate Museum UK?
A key inspiration is New York’s Climate Museum working towards opening a major attraction in the city. The initiator, Miranda Massie, was astounded that nobody had taken the Climate Museum name when she initiated the project in 2015. Further, it seems astounding that nobody has used the name elsewhere in the world, something the New York Climate Museum is happy to see. Climate Museum UK is not a subsidiary or franchisee of New York’s Climate Museum, but honours it as the first to use the name and for the vision it holds of empowering public to take climate action.
It also draws on my experiences in cultural engagement and environmental activism.