Climate and cultural history – together for climate action

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Image:@ Pixabay

Climate change presents a major threat to Europe’s cultural and natural heritage. A LIFE integrated project in Denmark, Coast 2 Coast Climate Challenge (C2C CC), wants to use heritage – history, art and landscapes – as a catalyst for climate action.

“In mainland Denmark and Greenland, higher temperatures and rising seas threaten to erase cherished monuments and sites which often hold information about past climates and societal adaptations,” explains Professor Felix Riede of Aarhus University, which is responsible for the C2C CC sub-project focusing on climate and cultural history.

“By linking cultural and climate history, we can show how climate and society changed in tandem in the past, and use this to discuss such changes in the future. History can be mobilised for climate action.”

The sub-project is investigating how changes in lakes and rivers in the Central Denmark Region have affected local communities over time, as well as how humans have used and modified these water courses. It is also studying coastal storms and landscape changes which have shaped societies along the east and west coast of Jutland.

Historical record

Researchers at Aarhus University work with historical records – written accounts, maps and paintings – as well as archaeological and ecological data (pollen and tree rings) from the periods before written records. “We’ve shown there is an intimate relationship between past climate change and societal change and have used this to support citizen consultation processes about the co-creation of future adaptation measures,” says Professor Riede.

The project team have also created short, easy-to-digest texts on climate and cultural history, shared on a popular website, as well as a booklet on how cultural and natural heritage can strengthen climate change adaptation, with insights on how to better link these two sectors.

Studying the influence of climate change on heritage is important for understanding how our ancestors coped with and adapted to changing times, says C2C CC project advisor Rikke Nan Valdemarsen. “Learning from them will help us to adapt quickly and in a smart way to the rapidly changing climate.”

Mobilising action

Hedensted Municipality

Narratives about past climates and societies can mobilise action for the future, according to Professor Riede. “It is well established that narrative and affective ways of presenting, for instance, climate change dilemmas are more powerful in generating action than mere facts and figures,” he says. “We want to provide such storylines.”

The team plan to publish more resources on this ‘applied history’ approach to climate change adaptation in future, as well as working with two other C2C CC sub-projects on a climate-cultural history exhibition.

They also hope to have an influence at the political level. “Culture and climate are often treated as entirely separate sectors in politics,” says Professor Riede. “This is a barrier we need to break down if we want to generate holistic climate action.”

Involving citizens

Natural and cultural heritage may be one of the most important tools available for adjusting to climate change, according to Ms Nan Valdemarsen. “Providing tools, improving knowledge and raising awareness can help initiate an equal dialogue between politicians and citizens on how we want our society to develop,” she adds.

“The aim is to strengthen the democratic process on climate adaptation.” To that end, the project will continue urging local municipalities, utilities and politicians to discuss climate adaptation with as much citizen involvement as possible.

Image 1:@ Pixabay

Image 2: Hedensted Municipality

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