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The Impact of the Climate Crisis on Conflict and Cultural Heritage
Recent studies have shown a strong relationship between the impact of the climate crisis and conflict around the world. According to an influential paper published in 2015, every 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature increases individual conflict, including assault and murder, by 2.4% and conflict between groups such as riots and civil war increases by 11.3%. Such studies describe how violent clashes are triggered by changes to the climate like droughts and scant resources. Moreover, this research shows how the warming climate threatens food security and social stability in many parts of Africa and leads to forced migration around the world.
Past conflicts have had a negative impact on the climate and cultural heritage. Although not triggered by changes in the climate, World War II caused damage on a large scale to communities, irrigation networks, forest, cities, and Europe’s vast and diverse cultural heritage. Similarly, the 2022 Russia-Ukraine conflict has resulted in devastating cultural and environmental consequences. Four museums in Ukraine – in Vinnytsia, Zhytomyr, Sumy, and Chernihiv – managed to take down and protect their main exhibitions while arranging to evacuate permanent exhibitions. Yet, there are numerous national treasures, including the Saint Sophia Cathedral (which retains mosaics and frescoes) in Kyiv, the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves, the 2500 year old Chersonesus, and the Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian, which are also high risk.
As has been widely discussed, the world’s dependence on fossil fuels from Russia has provided the funding necessary for the destruction in Ukraine. Further, military activities and burning fossil fuels produce extensive amounts of greenhouse gasses and directly impact global warming. The media has reported that Russian forces have used banned and dangerous weapons known as vacuum bombs that "obliterate" their targets. The mechanism of this kind of weapon is to suck up oxygen, and subsequently, combine fuel and air to create an explosion upon impact. Toxic pollution due to the use of explosives has affected the environment wherever they are used, including on land, rivers, ports, coasts and seas and damages biology already vulnerable due to the climate crisis. Weapons used in such conflicts cause physical destruction and end lives, and hurt the environment due to their toxic components. Unfortunately, whatever the conflict, it results in pollution and deforestation, catastrophic changes which impact the world and accelerate climate change.
Heritage professionals around the world have begun to discuss the threat of such conflicts on cultural heritage. The CLIMATE FOR CULTURE project by the European Commission ran from 2009 to 2014 and investigated the face of global climate change and the potential impact of climate change on Europe's cultural heritage assets. The survey estimated the impacts of changing climate conditions on historic buildings and their vast collections in Europe and the Mediterranean and reported on how Climate and Conflict intersect with each other. As climate change progresses it will inevitably cause more loss to human life and more conflicts around the world. It is critical that we recognize the role an increasingly less inhabitable planet plays in the threat to cultural heritage around the world.
Updates from the Sustainability Committee
New! Sustainability in Cultural Heritage Preservation & Conservation Resource Bank
Looking for in-depth information about a sustainability-related topic? Check out our new resource bank. Using the Zotero platform, we have lists of resources, including peer reviewed articles, books, and websites, on topics ranging from temp and RH standards to materials used in treatments. Our library is public and can be accessed by visiting: www.zotero.org/aic-sustainability_committee.
Know of a great resource that’s missing? Email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Missed Our Most Recent "Ask an Expert" with Kelly Krish?
Watch the Recording! Join the AIC Sustainability Committee as we speak with Kelly Krish, Preventive Conservation Specialist at the Image Permanence Institute about all things energy savings. Kelly has worked extensively at institutions across the country to use energy saving strategies not only to help reach sustainability goals, but also to actually better preserve cultural heritage than traditional methods. She will share takeaways from IPI’s research and her experience in implementing them including best practices for HVACs, microclimates, air flow, lighting, passive storage (and more)! The recording is available at AIC's Youtube channel: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRXlh0xZlIs.
Further resources can be found at:
- Webinars from the Image Permanence Institute.
- Publications from the Image Permanence Institute (the first one is the Methodology, and can be downloaded for free in its entirety or in sections).
- American Alliance for Museums blog post by Joyce Lee & Kelly Krish, Microclimates: A Greener Future for Collections Care.
—AIC Sustainability Committee