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Introduction to culture and climate change


Climate change is a real threat to civilisation, already causing significant migration and displacement of peoples around the world. Countries across the globe have declared a climate emergency in response to the impact of global heating. Global temperatures are trending higher. Our biodiversity is in decline, with an average decline of 69% of species populations since 1970. The information we consume around climate can feel overwhelming.  But museums and galleries are perfectly placed to help people understand the research and be inspired to take action.

From monitoring and reducing our own carbon footprints as organisations, to sharing the stories of climate and nature within our collections – there is a lot to offer around climate action and our communities.

This guide serves as an introduction to a wider range of advice for different aspects of climate and biodiversity action. These guides are designed to fit different resource budgets, to help all museums contribute toward sustainable development goals.

What is climate action?

Taking climate action means to take tangible steps to reduce, and make conscious changes to improve, our impact on our environment. There are lots of different ways, large and small, for museums to take action to address the climate and biodiversity emergency. By taking climate action museums can have a positive impact on the environment both from their own actions and by inspiring action from visitors.

What does culture and heritage have to do with climate action?

When people and communities are displaced from culturally important places they lose long standing and valuable traditions. Displacing communities from their homes can cut social ties and lead to a disruption of cultural practices including food, faith, music and community values. It also leads to a weakened local knowledge on recovery from shocks.

Heritage sites have always been subjected to interactions with their environment, however, the radical changes in temperature and weather conditions caused by climate change worsens the decay of these sites. Many heritage sites are at risk from issues like flooding, coastal erosion, and especially dry summers. These may lead to damage to historic buildings from groundwater, saltwater intrusion, or structural damage from storms.

Climate change is also a significant problem for building interiors. Changes in indoor relative humidity can increase the speed of chemical and biological degradation, particularly for collections housed in historic buildings with fewer control measures. This can lead to paper and silk degradation, decay of wooden artefacts and an increase in mould decay just to name a few issues. As many of Scotland’s museums are in historical buildings this could lead to the damage of culturally significant collections, artefacts, and pieces of history.

Preserving these sites is also important for maintaining traditions, identity, and historical knowledge. The loss of them may lead to a weakening of cultural practices and safety nets which can hinder a community’s ability to recover from disasters.

We should not only protect these important heritage sites for cultural and historic reasons, but also because they can be used to mitigate and combat the effects of climate change. Some properties can serve as climate change observatories to gather and share information with regards to mitigation and adaptation practices.

Protecting heritage sites is a crucial strategy to not only address climate change and biodiversity loss, but also to mitigate and combat it.


Quick, easy, and cheap ways you can take climate action

Collections and Programming
  • Look through your existing programme – is anything linked to the climate, outdoor learning or learning about nature? Celebrate these and include them in any climate or environment write ups and your communication channels.
  • Find climate stories in your collections – Museums and galleries tell the story of human life on our planet and in many cases our connection to the natural world too. Every one of these is a climate story. Materials artefacts are made from, conditions archaeological remains were preserved in before they were discovered, natural history collections & depictions of the natural world, transport collections, connections to food and shelter – they all have a climate story to tell.
  • Help your visitors to see how your objects relate to their planet.
Organisational Planning
  • Create a sustainability policy. Start small, including things you already do or can commit to this financial year.  Use it to help think about your long term planning – what do you wish you could do if you had more than one year? Ask staff and volunteers to feed in their ideas
  • Create a Biodiversity Action Plan – Consider the outdoor spaces available. It can be as big as a working farm and surrounding land to as small as a window box or planter. Do these spaces have any native plants? Native plants are best to support wildlife that has evolved for your area. Can you plant any?
  • Consider how you manage pests –  Work with pest control companies to bring in falcons rather than poison or bird spikes for example. A healthy ecosystem will be able to control its own pest numbers.
  • Start counting your carbon emissions – Use a pre-existing carbon counting tool  to start to get an idea of your carbon footprint. Start with what you already know from your bills, energy and waste usage. Gradually build in staff and volunteer transport, touring exhibitions, procurement etc as you are able. Gradually build in staff and volunteer transport, touring exhibitions, procurement etc as you are able.
Workforce and Training
  • Send a team member on Carbon Literacy Training – Museums Galleries Scotland offer Carbon Literacy Training designed around Scotland’s Museums for free.
  • Help grow your staff and volunteers climate confidence – The Growing Climate Confidence website, hosted by SCVO, has free learning resources available for charities looking to take climate action.
Join the Scottish Museums Climate Network
  • Ask one of more team members to join and the network and distribute any resources or ideas shared there that could work for your organisation