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London’s Natural History Museum Declares Climate Emergency

The Natural History Museum in London has declared an 11-year plan to deal with its part in the changing climate in what it has declared a planetary emergency. The museum said in January that it was launching an extensive strategy in response to the widespread challenges that the natural environment faces concerning man-made climate change. As a part of its response, the Natural History Museum will create new galleries and exhibitions that are devoted to climate change issues as well as staging future events, some of which will be to combat the voices of climate change deniers with scientific information.

Natural History Museum, London

Above: Natural History Museum, London (Shutterstock)

A Bold New Approach

The museum’s executive Director of Engagement, Clare Matterson, said that the institution needed to be an advocate for the planet. She said that the museum ought to speak up for nature and should be more empowered to take action to protect it. As a part of its advocacy work, the Natural History Museum will expand its efforts to engage the public in issues that can sometimes seem overwhelming due to their planetary nature. “We are facing a global emergency [and]… humanity’s future depends on the natural world,” said Sir Michael Dixon, the current director of the museum. He went on to say that people are not taking sufficient action to combat the destruction of our planet or the impact humans have on what he called survival systems. “Climate change, biodiversity loss and extinctions – not to mention the destruction of habitat, pollution and deforestation – are just some of the crises points,” he said. “These all flow from unsustainable human activity.”

Given the scale of the problem, the approach taken by the museum is no less dramatic. The Natural History Museum said that it would open up its collection and share the scientific data and evidence within it with others to seek the sort of solutions that are needed to deal with the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. Furthermore, the museum will open new galleries devoted to the topic as well as events, such as ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature’, which will be developed in partnership with Warner Bros and the BBC. Furthermore, the museum will use its famous dinosaur gallery to put greater emphasis on exploring biodiversity and how extinction and climate change are linked to one another.

A World Leader – Then and Now

When it made its announcement, the team at the Natural History Museum also said that it wanted to do more than educate the public about climate change. It said that it would henceforth be devoted to becoming the first museum on the planet to set a science-based carbon reduction target for itself. This, it said, would be in line with the one-and-a-half of a degree global warming trajectory as set out in the Paris climate agreement.

Furthermore, the museum committed itself to creating a brand-new sustainable science and digitisation centre to go alongside its traditional exhibits and galleries. This, it is hoped, will safeguard the museum’s collection for future generations. Speaking of the use of digital technology, Sir Michael Dixon commented that he thought it would help the institution to chart a path into the future. “It will provide a hub for research institutions, other museums and industrial partners,” he said. “This facility will allow us to apply brilliant minds… to the museum’s 250-years of collecting and research.” It is thought that this will mean the supply of big data, collected over so many years of history, will put the museum in a unique position to support the global scientific community in their efforts to find solutions to the planetary emergency.

The Importance of Biodiversity

In the declaration of its commitment to safeguarding the planet, the museum’s management were keen to stress just how important biodiversity is to a healthy ecosystem. In this regard, the institution has decided to opt for a distinctly local approach. The 11-year programme will include a so-called Urban Nature Project which will draw attention to biodiversity issues in the UK, especially in towns and cities. In fact, the museum has elected to pump some £20 million of funding into this project alone, making it one of the most important aspects of the entire programme, financially speaking, at least.

In addition to this new project, the museum is planning to make hourly audio recordings of a range of different sounds drawn from nature a part of its visitor experience. These will feature the sounds of coral reefs and rainforests, for example, stressing the diverse nature of different environments. Indeed, the institution is already involved in another major research programme into biodiversity along with the Wellcome Sanger Institute, known as the Darwin Tree of Life.

“Only by working together we can alter the current path,” said Dixon. “Our vision is of a future where both people and planet thrive.”

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.

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