Some of the best-known natural history museums and similar institutions in Australia have called on the government to take more action in the country in light of the climate change emergency. Among those calling for a greater level of national response to the issue are the directors of the Australian Museum in New South Wales and Museums Victoria, the largest museum group in the country. Others who have thrown their weight behind the campaign include the South Australian Museum, the Western Australian Museum and the Queensland Museum in Brisbane.
In addition, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, located in Darwin, has lent its weight to the others seeking increased funding for climate change issues as well as a more coordinated national action plan. The call from the directors of institutions across the country came in the form of a jointly issued statement given to the Australian press.
Above: Australia has suffered from exceptional wildfires in recent months
The joint declaration acknowledged that climate change was a reality across the globe and that it was a result of human activity, pointing out the particular effects it was having on the natural world in Australia. “We now recognise human-induced climate change,” the statement read, “is the main issue affecting Australia’s unique wildlife.”
The statement went on to add that land-clearing and changing habitat use – both imposed by humans – played their part in the problem which was evidenced by, “more intense bush fires, droughts, floods and… warming oceans on the Great Barrier Reef among other marine environments.”
The Impact of Bush Fires
In Australia, which has seen an unprecedented level of bush fire destruction in 2019 and into 2020, there has been a noticeable shift in public perceptions surrounding the impact of climate change. It seems that the museum sector is not alone in linking that crisis to the longer-term one of global warming.
The CEO and director of Western Australian Museums, Alec Coles, was typical in his response to questions about the jointly issued statement. He said that the relationship between climate change and the bush fires which continue to burn in many parts of the country was now firmly established. He went on to add that it was not merely the danger to human life that they posed that was important, but said that more effort must be put in immediately to prevent further losses of biodiversity in the country.
“We are horrified about the human impact of the bush fires in Australia,” he said before adding that his thoughts were with everyone who has suffered from them. Nevertheless, Coles was not alone in pointing out that because over 10 million hectares have been destroyed in the recent blazes, wildlife in the country was suffering just as much, too.
Australian Museum’s chief executive, Kim McKay, echoed Coles’ comments, saying that the Australian government ought to allocate a proportion of the AU$2 billion funding it has ring-fenced for fire recovery to the museum sector. She said that this was because the industry as a whole had, “something amazing to contribute.” For example, McKay mentioned a good place where funds could be spent was on Kangaroo Island, one of the country’s largest islands, close to Adelaide. Kangaroo Island has been devastated by recent fires and a big proportion of its koala habitat has been wiped out as a result of them.
Lynley Crosswell, the CEO and director of Museums Victoria agreed with McKay’s assessment of how and where the recovery funding could best be spent. “Our actions today will be critical to [whether we can save]… thousands of species and the threatened ecosystem,” she said. “Australia’s natural history museums can play a vital role,” she added. Crosswell went on to point out that institutions like hers could share their wealth of know-how and scientific insight, much of which is already contained within their collections. “It is no overstatement to say that we face a crisis in the environment,” she said.
The Environmental Plan
Over the course of the next few months, each of the institutions involved in the joint statement has said that it intends on sending researchers into the bush to help. The statement read that the idea would be that museum employees would work with state agencies to look for ways in which endangered plants and animals can be safeguarded.
According to the statement issued by the museums, the destruction of Australian biodiversity from the bush fires is estimated to be run into trillions of animals. This figure would include the total number of insects, spiders, reptiles, invertebrates and even sea creatures – as well as birds and mammals – that have perished across the country. The statement also made it clear that the impact of the fires was, in the professional view of the museums concerned, something that was not on a similar scale to anything that had occurred previously been seen since record-keeping began in the middle of the nineteenth century.
Interested in how museums can respond to the climate crisis? Join us for the Green Museums Summit in March 2022.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.