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  • Climate change, heritage and Europe (Weekly blog, 27 October 2019)

    Posted on October 27, 2019
    A blog by Catherine Leonard, Secretary-General

    This week has centred on cultural heritage and either climate change – or the future of Europe!

    Firstly, on Monday I joined colleagues from across the sector at The Heritage Alliance’s annual debate. This year it centred around the challenge: “Reaching for Net Zero?”.  It was an interesting evening.  And not just because of the presentations and discussions.  (More about that later!)

    What particularly stood out for me were the tips and ideas round communicating climate change.  (An earlier blog explores work done by INTO around the theme.)

    Why I don’t care about climate change

    David Saddington, the environmentalist and climate change communicator, talked passionately about ‘making it personal’.  He warned against worrying about the science.  But advised instead focussing on how climate change impacts our everyday lives.  Heritage organisations like ours are in a good position to raise awareness of climate issues.  By modelling climate-friendly action, but also by influencing people’s behaviour. Like encouraging the use of Electric Vehicles, offering choices of where to go on holiday or even eating less meat.  You can watch David’s TED Talk ‘Why I don’t care about climate change’ here [YouTube video].

    David Saddington and Cragside, via Lizzie Glithero-West @heritage_lizzie

    Make it simple

    Tim Heatley of Capital&Centric shared some really impressive property development projects. He also talked about making things as simple as possible for people.  We are lazy, he said, but we don’t really want to hurt the planet. So developers need to make it easy for people to live in old buildings.  They can offer a variety of recycling options that fit in with people’s busy lives, for example.  Or provide easy access to EV charging points.  And if people see others doing something, they are likely to copy them.

    Communicating climate change

    Hannah Fluck of Historic England spoke powerfully about the importance of the historic environment in communicating climate change.  She underlined the need to tell human stories rather than scientific ones.  (And that the fervent environmentalist stereotype can sometimes be off-putting!) She recommended Climate Outreach’s ‘Uncertainty Handbook’ [pdf] as a good source of advice on communicating climate change.

    As I said, there was more to the evening that just the content discussed however.  I was impressed by the live streaming, which you can watch here.  And the engagement with viewers – both inside and outside the room – on twitter.

    This was further amplified at the Climate Heritage Network Launch later in the week.  (More information on the INTO site here.)  Alex attended the events in Edinburgh on behalf of INTO and our members. I followed proceedings from my desk on the live stream.  And got involved from a distance through twitter and (the interactive Q&A and polling platform).

    Dr Hannah Fluck addressing the Climate Heritage Network Launch

    Future of conferences

    Whilst I missed the socialising, it is definitely getting easier and easier to feel part of events like this.  I know there’s nothing quite like sharing a meal, drink or bus ride with someone.  But technology now lets you to ask questions, connect directly to speakers and generally engage with the debate.  I think this poses interesting questions about the future of our own conference.  (We actually have an ICNT steering committee meeting next week and knowledge sharing is on the agenda.  Watch this space!)

    Future of Europe

    Which leads me on to the European Cultural Heritage Summit next week.  This will also be live streamed via Europa Nostra’s YouTube channel. But I will be in the room on this occasion.  And I’m greatly looking forward to it.  The main event for me will be the debate on ‘Cultural Heritage at the Heart of the Revival of the European Project’.

    When I first joined the National Trust, we were very interested in European policy.  My colleague, Kirsten van den Hout, travelled often to Brussels to lobby the European Commission and Parliament.  And in my role running the European Network of National Heritage (ENNHO), we regularly engaged the European institutions.   Since then I have had much less involvement in European policy.


    However, our Interreg Europe project has brought me back into the European policy space.  Innocastle seeks to develop heritage-friendly policies in four European regions.  But it is also about sharing solutions and good practices on a European-wide basis.  (You can read our latest on programming and visiteering via these links.)

    It will be interesting to see how the themes of Innocastle (governance, finance, promotion and continuation) resonate with our Europa Nostra colleagues.   Next week, the Innocastle team meets in Spain for its next study visit.  It will be good to be able to share thoughts from Paris.

    There is also a session on climate change, led by Andrew Potts of the Climate Heritage Network.   Which will be timely given all of the above!

    For me, personally, I’m very interested in the role of cultural heritage in our ‘European way of life’. It is so important to our everyday lives.  It shapes who we are and how we think.

    This evening, I returned home late from a weekend away to find that a beautiful tree I see every morning has fallen.  Fallen over a beautiful old brick bridge. I am dreading seeing the full extent of the damage in the morning light tomorrow.   Is the bridge broken?  How much of the tree has gone?  I am dreading telling my elderly mother.  That tree and that bridge have been part of our lives in this house for fifty years.  I fear my heart will burst.

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