Climate change begins at home (the world is our home)

Posted in September 2009

Yesterday I was at a meeting at DCMS about how the cultural, tourism, heritage & sport sectors can adapt to climate change. Roger Street of the UKCP09 was there with a great set of maps showing flood risk across the regions. Heritage sites such as listed buildings, churches and museums were marked, many swamped by blue (flood water). Central London has thousands of these sites. The bluest region is East Anglia, and this region doesn’t have a flood barrier. I went up close to this map and saw the place I grew up in, my home, a tiny Broads village called Dilham, covered in blue. My mind lurched back to childhood, remembering the expanses of those Norfolk fields and broads, the dense wet woods that nobody walked in, exploring for miles on our bikes. My home was a vast space but on this map it was insignificant. If ‘managed retreat’ is applied in this area, it will also be gone for good not just damaged.

I was thinking about the concept of home throughout this meeting because the discussion was dominated by talk of tourists – visitors not being at home. Culture and heritage were seen within the paradigm of ‘pleasure and leisure’ (escape, fun, culture as commodity and so on) rather than ‘knowledge and learning’ (including ethics, science, community ownership of its heritage, media as educator and so on).  Tourism was probably the focus because it contributes so much to the UK economy (the sector is worth £114.4bn).

Much of the talk was about how a visitor attraction might cope with and make an opportunity from an extreme event such as drought or flood, with positive suggestions including ‘selling more ice cream’. Because we weren’t exploring specific situations we couldn’t articulate the risks and impacts with great clarity. It was stated that if UK has heatwaves and drought, it will be a less enticing place to visit, not taking into account that the UK will be less hot than other places. A key risk was noted to be that our organisations’ reputations will suffer if affected by extreme events, which doesn’t account for public equanimity when a crisis affects us all.

Like most Government departments, the DCMS doesn’t have an international remit, so its sustainability strategy focuses on ‘home’ and therefore only looks at the UK Climate Projections and focuses on regional or local effects. This is an echo of the problem with the DECCassessment of its GHG emissions, because it neglects to account for outsourced industry and so it puts a positive gloss on its own ratings. It is part of the same closed logic which obsesses about carbon trading rather than collaborating internationally to support alternatives and geoengineering solutions. The UK is amongst the countries likely to be least affected in physical geography terms by climate change. However, we are an exceptionally globalised country – our home is the world in more ways than one. We rely on non-domestic sources for our food supply and many of our raw materials and manufactured goods. As more countries suffer severe consequences of climate change, there will be pressures on our aid commitments, our investment in preventing terrorism and war and our management of mass migration. In assessing how climate change will affect the DCMS family, and what we can do about it, we have to take these global impacts into account first and foremost.

These (rather big) quibbles aside, I was really pleased that DCMS is doing this work and talking about adaption strategies (not just mitigation) and I did learn a lot.  I was also very thankful to be invited and hope my quibbling won’t prevent involvement in future. I think that my quibbling may be more effective if my insight can be sharpened by challenge and support from others so do please comment on this and on the Framework for Climate Action for the sector.  I need to know if I’m begging big questions because narrow logic is one of the biggest obstacles to effective action.

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