Introducing the Climate History Podcast by Dagomar Degroot

The Climate History Network and have launched the Climate History Podcast, hosted by environmental historian Dagomar Degroot of Georgetown University.

In the first episode of the podcast, professor Degroot interviews professor Geoffrey Parker of Ohio State University. Parker, one of the world’s best-known historians, has recently published Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century. In his conversation with Degroot, he describes the consequences of early modern cooling for people around the world, explains how historians can link climate change to everyday activities, and argues that understanding the past can help us address the future.

Every few months, the Climate History Podcast will add new interviews with the most interesting people in climate change research, journalism, and policymaking, always from the perspective of environmental history. Click here to listen to the first episode, and click here to subscribe on iTunes.

Contact Dagomar if you have any questions, but it is in the public realm so just needs acknowledgement of source.

Can New York’s Climate Museum save the planet? by Jonathan Jones | The Guardian

It may well be able to – but it can’t do it alone. Museums around the world must stop dumbing down science and start putting education before entertainment

Can a museum help to save the planet? Is it possible to promote solutions to the human-caused warming of global climates through interactive displays, 3D movies, a gift shop and all the other methods of the modern museum?

That’s what the Climate Museum Launch Project hopes. This week, the Board of Regents of New York State gave it a five-year provisional charter to create a climate museum in New York City. Soon, tourists could be supplementing trips to Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum with a troubling, or perhaps inspiring, visit to a museum full of climate-related exhibits. The plan is to focus on “solutions”, reports the New York Times. A design for the building has even been proposed by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.

Blue-sky drawing … Olafur Eliasson’s sketch for a future Climate Museum in New York. Illustration: Studio Olafur Eliasson
Blue-sky drawing … Olafur Eliasson’s sketch for a future Climate Museum in New York. Illustration: Studio Olafur Eliasson

It sounds like a welcome new way to look at the most pressing issue of our time – of any time? – but it is also an immense challenge. How can a museum deal with this topic in a way that is genuinely informative, intelligent, honest and accessible without being patronising? The Science Museum in London has notably failed to do so. Its Atmosphere gallery manages to patronise visitors of all ages. Poorly conceived interactive displays turn climate issues into a bad computer game.

Anyone who is still a sceptic about the overwhelming evidence of long-term damage to our climate is ignoring the facts and spurning reason. The problem for the majority, who do accept that dangerous climate change is happening, is to make us focus on this reality instead of trying to forget it. That means thinking about solutions, which the Climate Museum project rightly proposes to do.

To act, people need hope. The problem with apocalyptic scenarios or claims that capitalism itself must be destroyed in order to save the planet is that they produce, in most people, a paralysing despair instead of the strength to act or even think. But a visit to a museum can’t just be a motivational session; it needs to be genuinely educational. And this means that to really work, a museum about climate needs to reinvent the science museum itself.

In an episode of The Simpsons, the family visit a science museum in which the joke is that it’s just a giant playground. It is spot-on satire. All over the world, museums of science have abandoned “boring” displays of scientific instruments to entertain visitors with fun and games. In theory, the games are educational, but in practice the amount of scientific knowledge some museums share is incredibly slight.

It is no coincidence that the Science Museum in London deals badly with climate change. The sad truth is that the Science Museum contains very little science, and it projects deep confusion about its own purpose. It has several galleries that are effectively indoor playgrounds (including one for all ages). There are flight simulators, too. Do all these kinds of entertainment teach through play? A bit, perhaps. But there is not enough information to balance the fun.

I am convinced it is possible to spend a day at the Science Museum and leave still thinking the sun orbits the Earth. By contrast, it is impossible to spend much time in the superb Natural History Museum next door without being exposed to the theory of evolution. As for the realities of climate change, visit its current exhibition about coral reefs that shows how much will be lost if they disappear.

If we don’t grasp how nature works, how can we comprehend the challenges of climate change and the meaning of global warming? Before museums can teach people about the future of the polar ice caps they need to explain what a pole is, what water is and what a climate is.

New York’s Climate Museum is a commendable venture. But it’s a huge challenge and time is running out. Above all, science museums need to teach basic science better – for only a scientifically literate public will ever be ready to face the facts about climate change.

Re-posted from:

Strange Objects for Strange Times by Libby Robin

We live in strange times. Strange weather, strange financial markets, strange technologies are all about us, and anxiety is at high levels. The Great Acceleration of global change can leave humans stranded, feeling stressed and out of time. One of the ways we can respond to this is to slow down, rather than speed up, for survival.

Slow Media are increasingly important in strange and fast times. Museums are places where visitors physically spend slow time with special objects, perhaps with friends or grandchildren, perhaps in serendipitous conversation with other people whose curiosity has been stimulated by the same object in the cabinet. They are an important part of a growing slow media movement that is analogous to the slow food movement.

The idea of a Cabinet of Curiosities has its origins in another ‘strange time’ when the expansion of Europe was leading to the discovery of the rest of the world, a time when voyagers brought curiosities back from far-flung places, and wealthy people displayed their curiosities for the entertainment of their friends. Natural history specimens and portable objets-d’art, including ceramics and carvings all found new European homes, and the idea of the public Museum was born. New foods – tea, coffee, spices – enlivened the European diet. In some cases the new food and the new museum were closely linked. The Royal Physician, Sir Hans Sloan (1660-1753) mixed milk with exotic cacao and sugar from his travels in Jamaica and discovered a new and curiously delicious confection, milk chocolate. On his death, he gifted to the nation his extraordinary Cabinet of Curiosities, built up from his own and other important collections. This became the basis for the original British Museum in Bloomsbury in 1759.

At a time when ordinary families had very few objects of their own, and only practical ones, these exotic objects of aesthetic beauty and curiosities of nature were the focus of highly entertaining visits. In Germanic Europe they were Wunderkammer, cabinets of ‘wonder’. The objects in them stimulated social meetings, talking and speculating about these strange things, imagining stories and lives where such objects might fit.

Stimulating the imagination with objects is much harder in the 21st century of excess objects. Historian Christof Mauch, commenting on the Great Acceleration of Objects, at the Anthropocene Slam at the University of Wisconsin, Madison observed that in the era of the Wunderkammer the average middle European household had approximately 30 objects.(1) In the 21st century this number has risen to 12,000. In an era where people live in bigger places with more and more stuff, how might returning to the older practice of looking carefully at ‘curious’ objects help with the anxiety of living in times of rapid environmental and social change?

The rapidly growing Climarte is an ‘Art for a Safe Climate’ movement that works to harness ‘the creative power of the Arts to inform, engage and inspire action’ through Arts events, forums and ‘creating an alliance of Arts practitioners and organisations that advocate for immediate, effective and creative action on climate change’. In May 2015, one of its events was an Anthropocene Cabinet of Curiosities, held in Australian Galleries, a major private gallery in Collingwood, Melbourne, as part of the Art Show, The Warming.(2) The curator and artist, Mandy Martin, who was a presenter at the Anthropocene Slam in Wisconsin, called on her fellow artists to make ‘Art for a Safe Climate’ and included An Anthropocene Cabinet of Curiosities with a performance-based ‘Slam’ (#anthropSLAM) as part of the opening event on 3 May 2015.

Blast’, 2015, Mandy Martin and Alexander Boynes, oil on linen and digital projection (16.9, duration 2’ 20”) 180 x 320 cms.

The art show was performative too, particularly the work by Mandy Martin and Alexander Boynes, Blast which combined classic and digital art to blow up a coal-fired power station. This extraordinary work can be viewed on Vimeo, for those who are not able to see it live in Melbourne (until 24 May 2015). Dale Cox’s powerful acrylic work, Tract 38 (Burning) exuded all the action of Australian bushfire, and its deep reach into the fissured stratosphere below. Sarah Tomasetti and Heather Hesterman, working as Peridam Projects, created an ephemeral installation Slow Melt, of suspended ice-rock sculptures melting steadily out onto the footpath, taking the warming into the street outside. (Such a work is very demanding of the gallery: Stuart Purves, Director of Australian Galleries, and a great supporter of Climarte, knocked a brick out of his wall to accommodate the work!) Tomasetti installed a new exhibit every day of The Warming – making the passing of time a feature, and brilliantly illustrating the idea of slow media. Echoing the cabinet concept, John Wolseley chose to work with Hobart cabinet maker Linda Fredheim to create an exquisite Reliquary Cabinet for Disappearing Species.

The Anthropocene Cabinet of Curiosities featured objets-d’art from seventeen established and emerging artists that spoke to questions of life on a changed planet. The great advantage of such artworks is that they can focus and make local major issues. Many of the artists were present to pitch their work at the Slam event. Many of the artists deployed plastic as the medium for objects of the future. Julie Collins and Derek John even covered a dead tree in polyurethane, giving it new, longer life as it hung from its roots in Evidence Based Research – Specimen #5. The stratigraphic committee considering what material layers will be the signature of the Anthropocene is considering using polymers (plastics), created in the 1950s, as one possible “marker” of human presence in the strata. Some are even suggesting the epoch could be called the Plasticene.

Striking among the plastic works were Barbie Kjar’s Shrinking Reef jig-saw puzzle of reef specimens poised between the cool and the warmer waters, Jen Rae’s Put a Bear on It plastic bean bag polar bear, and Jane Gilling’s Mantis Shrimp created out of all the waste plastics that together create the Pacific Gyre of Garbage, and threaten animals, including this small crustacean. Plastic served subtle purposes in the powerful Will she feed the fish? art-science collaboration between Lisa Roberts and Marc Pascal. The fine plastic wires that hung the aesthetically beautiful recycled Biomesh pods, including a pod of dreaming the Anthropocene, are implicated in wildlife destruction.

Some created their own cabinet for abstractions: Alex Asch boxed his artwork, The Denial and Daniel Savage in Twinkie placed live cockroaches and a twinkie cake, the survivors of a post-human world, in a plastic museum case. Janet Laurence lit a natural history museum specimen taken out of its cabinet and made art of its shadow, in The Back of My Mind: The Dream Weaver (part of her Fugitive series). David Jensz’s 440 sculpture in coal and steel of the critical tipping point for carbon emissions was a different, powerful way to make abstractions concrete.

The performance and stories of the objects enlivened their effectiveness as ambassadors for making conversations about climate change possible. In cases like David Buckland’s Chalk Shard, it was very helpful to learn of the scientific context of the cocolithophores in his small object and his pioneering Cape Farewell Project of Art and Climate Science, which has become global since its inception in 2001.

The #anthropSLAM event was very stimulating. But it is also valuable to reflect on such art in a ‘slow media’ way and to simply view the show as a gallery hang. I now want to return without the buzz and see the different things when the art objects themselves do the talking. The Anthropocene is a big and complex idea, and art works like these offer a fresh way to interrogate it.

Top image: A storm hits Brisbane, 2009, by Nam Nguyen, Flikr Creative Commons.
  1. Robin, Libby and Cameron Muir, ‘Slamming the Anthropocene: Performing Climate Change in Museums’ reCollections 10(1) 2015.
  2. The Warming and An Anthropocene Cabinet of Curiosities, Australian Galleries and Climarte, 2015,
Reposted from the People and Environment Blog – People’s relationships with Australia’s natural and built environments
Original: May 8, 2015

European Society for Oceanists 2015 Conference: Brussels, 24 June 2015 – 27 June 2015

Europe and the Pacific

European engagements in the Pacific are taking place mainly through connections in trade relations, sustainable development programmes, tourism, humanitarian aid, legal-political relations, new migration patterns, and concerns about the impacts of global climate change. In some respects, however, European connections to the Oceanic region relate uncomfortably to the aspirations and ambitions of Pacific peoples themselves, who wish to engage with peoples of other regions on their own social and cultural terms, and on the basis of their own economic and political interests. Indeed, Pacific Islanders increasingly demand to define priorities in their connections with Europe from their own perspective.

The 10th  conference of the European Society for Oceanists will focus on the increasing call from the Pacific for a new kind of relationship with Europe (in whatever shape or form Europe may be perceived as a region). At previous ESfO conferences, many academics from the region expressed a desire for European scholars to acknowledge the obligations implied by their relations to Oceania, and to exchange the results of their research into knowledge that is useful for the Pacific. At the same time, European scholars who are doing research in the Pacific are facing the challenge to make their expert knowledge more available for policy-makers, having received calls from some governments and also from representatives of the European Union to help improving connections between Europe and the Pacific. This conference aims at creating an opportunity for new kinds of dialogues and relationships between Europe and the Pacific.

Original post can be found at

Fading sands

Something is changing in the Pacific Ocean. Tidal levels are increasing, crops are failing, storms are more powerful, and land is being eroded – all of this impacting the children of the region. On Australia’s doorstop the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific have nowhere to run as climatic changes bring frequent disaster to their shores. Living with constant fear, island communities are forced to face the prospect of having to relocate away from their ancestral homes and start a new life as climate refugees without the connection to their past and sacred sites.

From the remote atoll of Ontong Java, to the islands of Guadalcanal, Santa Ana, Santa Christabel and Makira the stories and evidence are the same – it’s not like the times of old, the trees are gone, the cemeteries are under water, they are now living closer to their farming lands and the pressure is on as the population grows and crops begin to fail.

Fading Sands highlights the effects of climate change that are happening now. People are going hungry, being forced from their homes due to sea level rise and as a result are losing their connection to their culture. If you lend your voice, it means their voice can be heard.

Regional cooperation and support always requires public awareness and positive advocacy to bring about change on a policy level. It’s hard to ignore a person’s story when you see it and hear them from them.

This is an opportunity for you to contribute to this film so it can be finished and go public.

Original post can be found at