IronBridge_Shutterstock main

Shropshire's Ironbridge, created more than 300 years ago. Image courtesy of: Shutterstock

Cultural heritage “crucial” to climate change debate

An exploration of the relationship between cultural heritage and climate change is being led by an expert from the University of Exeter at the world’s largest ever climate change talks.

David Harvey, Professor of Historical Cultural Geography at the University of Exeter, will argue that strategies on climate change must both learn from human history and look forward to consider tomorrow’s heritage, if they are to be successful.

Professor Harvey will lead the session, sponsored by the United States International Council on Monuments and Sites (US-ICOMOS), on how to ensure cultural heritage is integrated into discussing climate change at the Conference of Parties, or COP21, currently underway in Paris. It is bringing together experts and world leaders from every country in the world to discuss how best to tackle the challenges of future global warming.

Professor Harvey said: “In my view, promoting a shared understanding of cultural heritage is of crucial importance for debates and actions around climate change issues. Throughout human history, there is a wealth of experience of humans adapting to climate change that can teach us valuable lessons for today, from farming in early America to human struggles to acclimatise during the Little Ice Age. If we can apply these lessons to the future, perhaps we can be ‘good ancestors’ for the people of tomorrow. All human relationships with climate change operate through a lens of heritage.”

Professor Harvey points to the success the Jurassic Coast UNESCO World Heritage Site along the coast of Dorset and into Devon, in developing creative ways in which to manage and promote understanding of heritage in a dynamic environment. He said: “Those involved have had to consider impacts of past, present and future actions over millions of years – timespans that we rarely contemplate. We can also look at sites such as Shropshire’s Ironbridge Gorge, known as the ‘birthplace of the Industrial Revolution’, as representing a heritage of anthropogenic climate change. When it developed more than 300 years ago, its industrial function meant that few people would have seen it as the heritage of the future. Now we need to think carefully about what heritage might and should look like for future generations. In 30,000 years, Stonehenge may be only a distant memory, but other elements of today’s society will be passed on for future generations to deal with, such as radioactive waste, for example. We have a responsibility to consider how such waste products of today might be engaged with as heritage in the future.”

Date: 2 December 2015

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