The impact of global climate change and cultural heritage: grasping the issues and defining the problem

McIntyre-Tamwoy, Susan (2008) The impact of global climate change and cultural heritage: grasping the issues and defining the problem. Historic Environment, 21 (1). pp. 2-9.

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Australia along with the rest of the world is experiencing rapid climate change. Increasingly, we are bombarded with images, data statistics and predictions that highlight a changing climate and a changing world. It is becoming difficult for most Australians to picture the physical environment that their children and grandchildren will inherit. Water restrictions in many of the eastern areas have heralded an end to the summer weekend tradition of washing the family car in the driveway while children cool down using the hose for water fights. The face of city suburbs is changing as people re-design their gardens to include more drought tolerant plants. We are warned that even our World Heritage sites now part of the Australian cultural iconography, are under threat with climate change likely to affect both our Great Barrier Reef and reduce the distribution of our Wet Tropical Rainforests. That symbol of sun, surf and the Australian way of life – Bondi Beach (Figure 1), we are told, will in the not too distant future exist only in our memories, although immortalised in paintings, postcards and photos.

Whatever one believes about the causes of the change there is no escaping the evidence that: Since the middle of the 20th century, average Australian temperatures have risen by about 1°C with an increase in the frequency of heatwaves and a decrease in the numbers of frosts and cold days. Rainfall patterns have also changed - the northwest has seen an increase in rainfall over the last 50 years while much of eastern Australia and the far southwest have experienced a decline (

Australia has one of the most variable rainfall climates in the world. The Bureau of Meteorology tells us that ‘Over the long term we have about three good years and three bad years out of ten’. Given the diversity of our climate and the changes we have been experiencing one would think that climate change and its impacts on heritage places would be at the forefront of current debates amongst academics, regulators and practitioners concerned with cultural heritage related disciplines. However, surprisingly little debate or research has occurred to date. This volume then is a timely reminder that global climate change is likely to be one of the major contributors to cultural heritage loss over the next few decades both through direct impacts such as rising sea levels and the erosion of coastal sites and through secondary impacts as a result of changing tourism patterns and government settlement policies.

Item ID: 1951
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 0726-6715
Keywords: cultural heritage, climate change, heritage conservation
Date Deposited: 06 Aug 2008
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