Last Wednesday night I was among a packed house at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium for the opening plenary of the National Preservation conference. Sharing the keynote speaker duties was Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature, and many other books. His presentation began on a light note, but quickly moved to more serious territory as he talked about the role climate change could have on a topic near and dear to our preservationist hearts — historic resources. He recapped his speech on the Mother Jones website a few days later, and his point is as powerful in print as it was in person:
We need to grasp that everything is threatened by climate change. Not just nature preserves, not just ski areas, not just poor people who depend on glaciers for their water. But everything we take for granted about the world.
Take history. The Scots just published a list of 10,000 historic sites, dating back to the Neolithic, that may disappear as the oceans rise. A one foot rise in sea level, and the Washington Mall could flood regularly.
But it goes deeper than that. Our sense of the people who came before us derives in part from the fact that we share the same world. The historic buildings of New England have steep roofs because they needed to shed snow—in a world without snow we'd never be able to feel the deep connection to their world. We won't be able to farm in the places we used to farm, or fish in the places we used to fish—even if we survive, we'll be moored on a new, presumably artificial, island with no real link to the past...
I have to admit that I'd never quite thought about climate change in that way, and I could see that I was not the only one in the Ryman that night with a little (compact florescent) lightbulb over my head.
All of this, though, was McKibben's prologue — his way of reminding us that the reality of climate change resonates with different people for different reasons. He then got to the central point of his presentation, asking us to join him in taking action against climate change. The organization he founded, 350.org, has a "day of action" coming up this Saturday (October 24). Around the world, more than a thousand actions, from bike rides to tree planting sessions, will take place.
It's still possible to add more actions to those being offered, so perhaps a work day at a local historic site could double as a 350 action. If you decide to run with this idea, please take pictures. The group is soliciting photos from each action, so it's an ideal time to mashup your This Place Matters sign with a 350 one, and submit your picture to both us and 350.org.
Because, as McKibben says in his Mother Jones piece, "Global warming touches everyone, and everything."
Including our places that matter.
Curious, by the way, as to what 350 stands for? Here's a cool YouTube video that explains it - wordlessly.
Oh, and we'll have video of the plenary session, including Bill McKibben's keynote speech, posted to the Virtual Attendee page within the next week or so. Please check back.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.