Climate change adaptation isnt just armoring infrastructure. Its making cultures more resilient. We make sure community identity is saved.
The edges of America are eroding. From Alaska to Louisiana, centuries of culture, tangible history, and dynamic communities are being battered by stronger storms and sea level rise—raising difficult questions about adaptation, relocation, and what it means to be an American experiencing climate change today.
To connect the shared experiences of communities facing these dramatic transformations, I am traveling across the United States and Territories as a National Geographic Explorer to interview coastal leaders and residents directly affected by climate change.
When asked about climate change, interviewees quickly move beyond cost and infrastructure to focus instead on how environmental changes are disrupting their historic livelihoods, language, culture, and identity - a diverse set of tangible and intangible cultural heritage assets that have defined people and place for centuries. Climate change is ultimately a story about people; how ecological shifts are changing how elders, fishermen, tribal leaders, children, and others come to know, live in, and preserve culture in today’s world.
The proposed project is born from these interviewees’ concerns. It aims to fill a gap in current climate discussions that excludes cultural heritage from adaptation policy. The project will create:
- A virtual platform to foster peer knowledge exchange and networking specific to cultural heritage and climate change;
- A series of educational sessions that will bring “lessons learned” to a national audience;
- A white paper on how to include cultural heritage in a national climate change adaptation strategy;
- A working group that will work towards the inclusion of cultural heritage in the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage.
Cultural heritage is not only a way of life to be conserved locally. It is a tool that can aid in the development of strong, socially cohesive communities and an important resource for humans across the world to value and learn from each other.
Category of the action
Mitigation/Adaptation, Changing public attitudes about climate change
What actions do you propose?
Aims of the initiative:
- To fill a gap in current climate policy discussions that excludes cultural heritage and intangible cultural asset in adaptation and relocation of communities.
- To connect people across the country and world in an exchange of research, best practices, and case studies that will act as a free, publicly accessible database.
- To foster a dialogue and advocate for the inclusion of cultural heritage in national and international frameworks on adaptation, loss and damage, and relocation policies.
In national and international climate change policy today, there is a lack of guidance, financial and technical support, and value imbued in the adaptation and preservation of tangible and intangible cultural assets at-risk to climate change. To address this policy shortcoming, a group of local, national, and international organizations came together in 2015 to consider strategies and develop an action agenda for preserving and continuing cultural heritage in a changing climate. The resulting document, The Pocantico Call to Action on Climate Impacts and Cultural Heritage, calls “on individuals and institutions around the world to collaborate with existing communities to maintain and preserve cultural heritage” in the face of climate change. The Call has created a loose and informal community of individuals and institutions around the country and world working on climate change and cultural heritage projects.
In 2016 at the Keeping History Above Water conference in Newport, Rhode Island, the Pocantino group met for a second time to discuss updates and ways to make a direct, concrete impact on cultural heritage adaptation to climate change in the year(s) to come. In order to do this effectively, a survey was performed on organizations and individuals working on projects related to climate change and cultural heritage. Internationally, the group identified 22 projects focused on adaptation, mitigation, and science activity for cultural resources in relation to climate change. The projects were chosen because they were actively doing something about climate change; projects that solely identified heritage at-risk to climate change were not listed. These projects include (1) techniques for identifying and measuring effects impact of climate change on cultural heritage (2) projects that research and implement a range of possible management actions that can address adverse conditions on cultural heritage brought about by climate change (3) the capacity to learn from cultural heritage for general climate adaptation and (4) incorporating cultural heritage into climate mitigation and the reduction of carbon footprints. Two examples to showcase the types of international projects surveyed are FIRESENSE (EU) and the Ritsumeikan University Program in Disaster Management. FIRESENSE is a collaboration between Greek and Turkish cultural resource managers and scholars to develop a method for the prediction of wild fires in areas where these fires could threaten cultural resources. The Risumeikan University program in Kyoto, Japan offers an annual training course as well as a variety of symposiums on the catastrophic impacts on cultural heritage of an increased amount of extreme weather events from climate change.
Domestically, the original survey conducted, using the same parameters and four project types, identified over 50 individual projects related to actions on climate change and cultural heritage preservation as part of the Keeping History Above Water conference. These projects included those run by city historic preservation offices, cultural foundations, architectural firms, nonprofit organizations, universities, tribal leaders, and others. Many of these can be viewed at www.historyabovewater.org. The City of Annapolis’s Weathering It Together project, for example, aims to safeguard historic properties and infrastructure throughout the city from both seal level rise and tidal flooding. Further down the East Coast of the United States the Gulluh/Geechee nation, which stretches from the sea islands of Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, is creating an educational program on climate change and intangible cultural heritage assets at risk to rising sea levels.
While a full report of all projects addressing climate change and cultural heritage is still forthcoming, this mapping exercise of projects highlighted an important shortcoming in the current work on climate change and cultural heritage – there is no supportive network to connect all these projects operating independently of one another. Each does effective work in their respective communities, cities, and states. However, there is no sustained mechanism that fosters cooperation, practice sharing, and a movement towards policy action at the national and international level to ensure all cultural heritage is valued, adapted, and preserved in a changing climate.
The Keeping History Above Water conference, held in April 2016, was a first step to gather leaders in science, architecture, archeology, cultural heritage, and preservation to share experiences and examine risks, with an emphasis on practical solutions. Through conversations at the conference, the second meeting of the Pocantino group, and the interviews I have conducted in coastal communities across the United States, a need was identified to connect projects beyond the one-off event in Newport. Leaders across the country and international participants at the conference noted that a sustained exchange towards the creation of climate change adaptation policy framework inclusive of cultural heritage was a necessary next step of the hard work of cultural heritage professionals and organizations.
The proposed project will create that sustainable network of professionals, policymakers, practitioners, and community leaders to provide a best practice exchange for cultural heritage and climate change adaptation. Rather than competing with the many projects in the United States and abroad that seek to adapt cultural heritage to a changing climate, this project aims to connect, support, and move those individuals and organizations in the culture and climate field forward through a virtual platform of best practice sharing, face-to-face exchanges, educational opportunities, and publicly available toolkits and policy publications. To effectively reach all involved parties, the project is partnered with the professionals in the Pocantico Climate Change group and the International Council on Monuments and Sites, with help from the National Parks Service.
The value added of the proposed initiative is two-fold. First, it creates a mechanism by which local leaders in climate and culture from across the world can share their failures, successes, and best practices with each other towards better projects to adapt cultural heritage to ecological shifts. Second, and equally important, it creates a necessary platform upon which individuals and organizations can collaborate towards the larger goal of crafting and advocating for climate change adaptation policy frameworks to support cultural heritage preservation in a changing climate.
To do this, specific actions of the initiative include:
1. The creation of a virtual knowledge community on climate change and cultural heritage. Built on a micro-site within historyabovewater.org webpage, the cultural adaptation exchange will offer participants to share case studies, best practices, and networking opportunities to understand shared challenges and opportunities in addressing climate change’s affects on culture, identity, and social cohesion. It will act as a tool kit for stimulating learning and adaptation at the individual, community, and government levels to safeguard local identity from the impacts of climate change. This virtual platform will broaden the impact of the face-to-face programs to follow by breaking down cost and time barriers to in-person exchange. In order to make the web-based platform as accessible and inclusive as possible, the project is in consultation with the Arctic Adaptation Exchange, at arcticadaptationexchange.com, to understand the best practices of creating a web-based best practice-sharing platform. The Exchange, supported by the Arctic Council, has effectively engaged hundreds of different projects across the Arctic region through its easy to use, share, and connect interactive map. Collaborating with the Exchange to create the cultural adaptation exchange website on historyabovewater.org will not only allow this initiative a valuable mentorship in website creation, but also guidance in how to include communities with less reliable Internet access, which the Arctic Adaptation Exchange has also effectively overcome.
2. The organization of educational and in-person exchange sessions on cultural heritage and climate change adaptation policy at climate change and cultural heritage events. The educational sessions will be co-organized and bring together participants in the peer-to-peer exchange to share what has worked, what has not, and what is needed for a national strategy to include cultural heritage in national climate change adaptation policies. While most of these in-person sessions will be co-organized with local partners in the United States, including the Living on the Edge conference in Galveston, Texas and Keeping History Above Water, it will also include a proposed side event at the UNFCCC COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco to engage in an international exchange of best practices. These in-person exchanges will be documented in writing and multimedia and included in the virtual exchange community.
3. The creation of an international working group that will help ensure cultural heritage voices and expertise are represented in international climate policy discussions, processes and decisions beyond a one-off event at COP22. Concurrent international processes the working group may wish engage include the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage Task Force on Human Mobility, the Nansen Initiative, the ICID Historical Irrigation Structures (HIS) initiative, the World Water Heritage System (WSH) program; the FAO Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) program, as well as liaising with Indigenous organizations and Indigenous Science initiatives. A first action of this working group was to coordinate cultural heritage submissions to be submitted for the Warsaw International Mechanism’s the call for comments. The co-coordinators of this group include myself, Meisha Hunter Burkett of Li/Saltzman Architects, ICOMOS Netherlands, Andrew Potts of ICOMOS US, and Marcy Rockman of the National Parks Service.
In addition to these actions, the project will work towards the specific outcome of creating an inclusive, written framework on the inclusion of cultural heritage in climate change adaptation policies through a white paper. This requires three additional, direct actions:
1. A writing workshop to synthesize all best practice sharing from virtual and in person exchanges.
2. The writing of a white paper.
3. A launch event and distribution of the white paper to concerned policymakers, politicians, and invested stakeholders and actors in the conversation on climate change and cultural heritage.
Who will take these actions?
I, Victoria Herrmann, will be the lead organizer of this proposed project and will coordinate with partner organizations to create the virtual exchange platform and organize in-person events. I will also take the lead role of synthesizing best practices and identified needs into the white paper on cultural heritage and national climate change adaptation policy.
The virtual exchange program will be co-created with US/ICOMOS and made publicly available.
Members of the Pocantico Climate Change group will help to organize in-person events and the ultimate writing workshop and national launch of a framework for cultural heritage and climate adaptation in Washington, DC. These partners include the National Trust for Historic Preservation; the National Parks Service; local preservation groups in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Alaska, Rhode Island, and elsewhere; the Union of Concerned Scientists; community leaders and activists; academic researchers; policymakers; politicians; traditional knowledge holders; and others committed to the adaptation of cultural heritage in a changing climate.
Beyond the virtual and in-person exchanges and writing of white papers, the final key actors will include policymakers in the United States, inclusive of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and others, and in international bodies, specifically the Warsaw International Mechanism and the UNFCC. To note, all of the aforementioned government and international bodies are already aware and in contact with this project.
Where will these actions be taken?
These actions will be taken virtually through the online exchange platform; in in-person educational events throughout the United States as side events to preexisting conferences; in a proposed side event at the UNFCCC COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco; and at a writing workshop and national launch event in Washington, DC to put forward an inclusive, collaborative framework for the inclusion of cultural heritage in national policies on climate change adaptation.
What are other key benefits?
• The introduction of cultural heritage adaptation and the importance of intangible identity into wider policy discussions on climate change adaptation for communities.
• The empowerment of communities to engage and opportunity to share personal stories, projects, and practices across miles and varied geographies.
• The creation of a large-scale national data base of cultural heritage and climate change adaptation that offers a springboard for future research projects and studies.
• The awareness raising to a policy and concerned citizen audience on how cultures are being affected by climate change and what can be done to adapt.
• The encouragement of an understanding how cultural heritage relates and is part of natural landscapes and how its adaptation to a changing climate is beneficial to both environment and society.
- The creation of exchanges across disciplines of science, cultural professions, policymakers, and community leaders.
What are the proposal’s costs?
The cost estimates provided below are based on the input of those involved in the planning of the Keeping History Above Water Conference, a comparable online web platform, partner organizations, firms, and skills-based volunteers from Catchafire.org interested in providing pro-bono and in-kind donations to build the project website.
Virtual platform creation: $10,000 USD
All in person events: $200,000 USD
Communication and publication of white paper: $2,000 USD
Costs will be shared by partner organizations, in kind donations, and forthcoming applications for foundation grants specific to in-person events in addition to this competition.
• Create and launch virtual exchange platform for cultural heritage adaptation in changing climate.
• Hold in-person national events and an international event for exchange of best practices and identification of challenges, opportunities, and ways forward to a climate change adaptation policy inclusive of cultural heritage.
• Publish and hold a launch event for a white paper on the framework for including cultural heritage in national climate change policies.
• Adoption and implementation of national strategy for the inclusion of cultural heritage in the United States that is nationally supported and locally implemented.
• The implementation of adaptations to cultural heritage at the local and regional level under the guidance of the adopted national policy.
• The extension of a best practice sharing network internationally.
• The continuation of all medium term actions.
• The successful adaptation of tangible and intangible cultural heritage assets to climate changes.
Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change
Keeping History Above Water Conference:
The Pocantico Call to Action on Climate Impacts and Cultural Heritage:
America's Eroding Edges Project:
Please find included in this submission list 7 submissions related to cultural heritage and climate change that have been submitted by partnered individuals and organizations to this proposed project: