Sunday was a historic day for the world’s heritage community, gathered here in Dublin under the auspices of the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO) for the 13th International Conference of National Trusts. Our own National Trust President, Richard Moe, captured the importance of the event when he said:
Yesterday’s endorsement of the Dublin Declaration on Climate Change by the International National Trusts Organisation marks the first time that the world’s heritage community has united to take decisive action on an issue of global importance. INTO has sounded an alarm bell, reminding people everywhere that the world’s natural and cultural heritage is imperiled by climate change. By urging governments to take strong actions to fight climate change, including promoting the reinvestment in existing communities, reuse of existing buildings and retrofits to increase energy efficiency, INTO has spotlighted the fact that wise stewardship of the built environment can – and must – play a key role in efforts to address the climate-change crisis and foster sustainable development.
With a conference theme of Heritage of a World in Trust: Conservation in a Changing Climate, the opening day’s activities have been focused on the endorsement of the Dublin Declaration and on several powerful presentations from the leaders of the National Trust movement and others. We heard the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, speak forcefully and eloquently about the issue of “climate justice” and the need for the developed countries to truly understand the full impact of climate change—including the loss of irreplaceable heritage—on the developing nations. Dame Fiona Reynolds, head of the British National Trust (and a plenary speaker at our upcoming conference in Nashville) tied the issues of global recession and climate change together to call on National Trusts to lead the way in thinking differently about humankind’s relationship with the natural and built environment and to help build a more sustainable future. Richard Moe’s call for sustainable stewardship based on the five principals of the Pocantico Proclamation on Sustainability and Historic Preservation struck a resonant chord with the more than 150 delegates in attendance at the conference.
But for many in the room, the most eloquent presentation came in the form of a short talk by Eammon Hayes, a 16-year-old who has participated in An Taisce’s “Green School” program at Ballina National School in County Tipperary. Entitled Your Legacy to My Generation, he spoke of how the Green School program was actively involving the youth of Ireland and was changing the way he lived his life. He pleaded with the participants to help, quoting the Ballina School motto:
“We have the world in our hands, so use your wits and pick up the bits.”
They say you shouldn’t follow children and animals on stage. All of us who followed Eammon today in giving presentations struggled to match his simple eloquence. But with the endorsement of the Dublin Declaration and the stirring calls for a more direct role by National Trusts in urging governments to recognize both the impact of climate change on our heritage and the role historic preservation can play in combating that change, we were all working toward the same goal.
David J. Brown is the Executive Vice President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.