Though appropriate and valuable, my approach of museums-as-catalyst-for-behavior-change has limits to its reach and momentum at the moment; so do my attempts to cluster that work in cities on behalf of community resilience. My, our, hopes are not a plan.
To scale our impact, museums, zoos, gardens, aquariums, and historic sites need a Climate Cabinet to coordinate action for strategic impact on global goals. A cabinet of thinkers and doers whose full-time mission is to foster, connect, and strengthen the individual projects of museums, zoos, gardens, and their partners so that they reach a scale that can see the outcome of a planet healthier for all.
At the moment, activism through marches fails to use is slogans and chants in ways that inform the public of anything other than the marchers’ opinions. Marches grab attention but block little and advance less.
The #museumsdivest actions are better. They bring attention to a specific incidence of a larger threat. They call for specific action that is clear and has some larger effect through its symbolism, and not because a company is involved, but a museum is involved. How can we scale that?
For those doing this work, we have to do too much individually, still, with too little media coverage no matter how loud you shout. What if those individual projects could still move ahead, but with connections and awareness that scaled their impacts?
The Wild Center in the Adirondacks of New York has fostered youth climate leadership programs for nearly a decade. Can it use more partners even though it already reaches out globally?
#NotAnAlternative and The Natural History Museum are making terrific statements and raising awareness around environmental justice for Latinx and Black neighborhoods near petrochemical sites in Texas, and indigenous populations fighting for land and water protection in Canada or the US against, among other threats, pipeline takeovers in Canada or the US. What if they were able to coordinate efforts with more groups for scaled public impact?
Maui Ocean Center is going to lead the way in coral reef reconstruction not just for environmental remediation or restoration, but eventually climate-positive change through healthy coral reefs adapted to climate change. There are a lot of aquariums propagating coral; is there a strategic approach to deploying them?
Scale matters. We need more of it in more places. If we allow it to develop organically, it will take too long to be enough. Not only is the world too big, but the negative impacts on the environment, and climate changes, have too many sources and no single solution. Climate change is a “wicked problem”. To address it we must coordinate our efforts.
Colleges and universities started doing this a decade ago and have achieved solid success as campuses go climate neutral today or set 2020 target dates. Based on their example, and how they have moved the market on sustainability and now climate response, we could leapfrog to strategic, coordinated work that is climate positive.
The field has been intentional about coordinating critical work before, so it can do it again:
- AZA has a species survival plan program that coordinates the breeding of individuals worldwide regardless of which zoo they come from. It’s for the good of the species, and therefor planetary biodiversity.
- Museums and lawmakers have created ethics and guidelines and regulations to prevent trafficking in stolen antiquities, to facilitate return of items confiscated during World War II, and for repatriation of Native American cultural items, including human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony
Those programs are made of protocols and laws, which result in important work. We also need programs made of strategic partnerships and planning for expanded impact. We need a climate cabinet committed to strategic support, and coordinated to scale the impact of individual institutions’ efforts. Its staff could help members could strategically recombine specific approaches as an ecosystem of action that strategically advances practice. At that scale, we could measure it all against climate impacts.
So, when Wildlife Reserves in Singapore focuses on exotic pet trafficking, the destination centers do too. If zoos and aquariums can work with advertisers to divert buyers to domestic sources or alternative choices, the demand may eventually reduce the trade. In the process, others can focus on intentional development of alternative trades which advertisers and zoos and aquariums can reinforce in the exotic pet source area. This is good work already underway, and an excellent example of what we could do in more areas.
So, when Maui Ocean Center focuses on coral, others do as well; collectively they serve the remediation needs of the shipping industry and military worldwide, and the protection needs of island and coastal communities. They could map the need for corals, the kinds of corals needed, and propagate enough to conduct the installations. This is excellent work started and soon will be ready to scale. Let’s start planning for that.
It is too much to expect each institution to also create a collaborative team for a worldwide impact. But if there is an existing infrastructure, shared ethic, and recognized expectation of coordinated effort and global impact, the innovators will scale their action.
The whole world is a museum; each of our institutions is only a program within it, our fields are the departments. The globe and all that is on it is a learning environment available to humans for intellectual, cultural, scientific, and nature-based engagement every day. Would we choose to lead our museums without mission and strategy? Without collaboration? Without a larger purpose? Then why do we?