Abstract: Cultural Heritage and Global Climate Change: What Can the Past Tell Us About the Future?

We live in a geological age whose name is up for debate. The question is whether we remain in the Holocene, or have entered a new epoch—the Anthropocene—with humans as a geological force with unprecedented impacts on the environment and Earth’s biota. Our effect on the atmosphere is one of the gravest threats, and in the face of global climate change archaeologists and heritage specialists have joined the search for answers and solutions. In this talk I will discuss some of the ways that archaeology can help address climate adaptation and mitigation efforts today and inspire future sustainable lifeways. Key areas of archaeological research include paleoclimate reconstructions, human-environment interactions over broad timescales, the dynamics of sustainability and collapse, local adaptations and cultural resilience, and the cultural heritage of manmade (“anthropogenic”) climate change during the past 200 years. In this latter respect, I discuss my current research on what I call “energy heritage,” the cultural heritage associated with energy resources and their extractive industries. Focusing on energy heritage provokes a close analysis of the manmade causes of climate change, and raises important questions for our own navigation of what ought to be done about it. How might past energy transitions, for example from whale oil to petroleum, inform future ones? Will the decaying infrastructure of coal mining and oil extraction be recognized as cultural heritage? What stories will today’s energy infrastructure tell future generations? What will our legacy be?


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Burroughs, W.J. 2005. Climate Change in Prehistory: The End of the Reign of Chaos. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cooper, J., and Sheets, P. 2012. Surviving Sudden Environmental Change: Answers from Archaeology. Boulder: University Press of Colorado.

Crosby, A.W. 2006. Children of the Sun: A History of Humanity’s Unappeasable Appetite for Energy. New York: Norton.

Davies, M.I.J., and M’Mbogori, F.N. (eds.) 2013. Humans and the Environment: New Archaeological Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fagan, B. 2008. The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilization. New York: Bloomsbury.

Gardiner, S.M. 2011. A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hornborg, A., and Crumley, C.L. (ed.) 2007. The World System and the Earth System: Global Socio-Environmental Change and Sustainability Since the Neolithic. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) 2013. “Summary for Policymakers,” in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (T.F. Stocker, D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley, eds.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Available online here

McAnay, P., and Yoffee, N. (ed.) 2010. Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability and the Aftermath of Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McIntosh, R.J., Tainter, J.A., and McIntosh, S.K. (ed.) 2000. The Way the Wind Blows: Climate, History and Human Action. New York: Columbia University Press.

Sandweiss, D.H., and Quilter, J. (eds.) 2008. El Niño, Catastrophism, and Culture Change in Ancient America. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

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