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The Australian Museum’s climate change commitments, 2019-2021

The Australian Museum (AM) has been involved in raising awareness and researching impacts of climate change for over a decade. In its 2010 climate change statement, the Australian Museum stated that it ‘recognises that climate change poses a serious environmental, economic and social threat to our current way of life and to the security of future generations across the globe.’

In the decade since the statement was released, the impacts of climate change have grown significantly. Over the next three years the AM will commit to developing a leadership role supporting climate action. It will accelerate its programme for sharing with the public the important science and facts around climate change and its impacts on the community.

It will ensure that the work of AM researchers, educators, communicators and exhibition content developers will share deeper understandings of climate change so as to foster public engagement in the issues. Moreover, the AM also has a corporate commitment to working toward sustainable practices within the Museum’s operations and infrastructure.

The AM’s collections span both the natural and human worlds, with 21 million items representing the combined natural and cultural environments of not only Australia but also the Pacific and all parts of the globe. The Museum is ideally placed to demonstrate climate change impacts on biota and people through exhibitions, education programs, outreach in the wider community, and online resources.

Through the AM’s ongoing, collaborative research program with Pacific communities in Sydney and across the region we have developed a leadership role in understanding the cultural impacts of climate change. We are committed to providing a platform for Pacific voices to be heard, and enable others to learn from these communities who are already on the ‘front line’. The AM is also working to raise awareness of the cultural causes of climate change – that our current relationship to the environment, and approaches to consumption, need to be addressed to enable an effective response to the climate crisis.

Through their collections and deep time knowledge, museums around the world are uniquely placed to empower public engagement. The AM is taking an active leadership position with other global leaders, placing community and the public at the centre of these discussions. The AM is committed to developing impactful initiatives, supporting the upscaling of education and engaging the public in the way that intergovernmental, professional and aid organisations are seeking.

The AM’s science plays an integral role in understanding, and potentially mitigating, the impacts of climate change on biological systems. Scientists at the Australian Museum are undertaking research that highlights the impact of climate change on species distributions and biodiversity, coral reef health (at the Lizard Island Research Station) and on coastal peoples. FrogID is a national citizen science project, helping us learn what is happening to Australia’s frogs in a rapidly changing system.

Museums are among the most trusted institutions globally. As scientists, educators and communicators, we take this responsibility seriously, especially to ensure the information we communicate is accurate, up to date and understandable for all audiences. The Australian Museum’s priority is to engage with the public to understand the often complex issues, to gain confidence in joining the conversation, and to take positive action.

Climate change presents an enormous challenge to the survival of our species. The Australian Museum is working to help people to understand the scope of the challenge and ways of responding effectively through our exhibitions, education programs and public engagement.

The Australian Museum is committed to raising awareness of climate change and its impacts through:


What are we doing?

Through a range of activities, the AM will deliver on its commitments to expand our education programs, exhibitions, and outreach on climate change, as well as researching impacts on species and human communities, and reducing our carbon footprint.


Science

Climate change presents an enormous challenge to the survival of not only the human species but all flora and fauna globally. Australian Museum science plays an integral role understanding, and potentially mitigating, the impacts of climate change on biological systems. Scientists at the Australian Museum are undertaking research that highlights the impact of climate change on species distributions and biodiversity, coral reef health and on coastal peoples.

The engaging, inspiring and collaborative nature of Australian Museum research means that we can remain a trusted voice on natural and cultural discovery that feeds our understanding of climate change and its impacts, which is underpinned by our vast collections.

The Australian Museum’s priority is to enlist our research as a tool to increase public understanding of what are often complex issues, to gain confidence in joining the conversation, and to take positive action.

2017-21 AMRI Science Strategy

The 2017-21 AMRI Science Strategy guides Australian Museum research priorities and provides focus on areas where we can make the greatest impact. One of these priority areas is ‘Impacts of Change’, whereby our research relates to the impacts of processes including climate change. It includes the past and future impacts of climate and environmental change on biodiversity, cultural diversity, ancient and living heritage and conservation management policy.

In order to achieve research outcomes, scientists utilise the Australian Museum’s world-class infrastructure including:

  • Our collection
    Our 21.9 million specimen and artefact-strong collection is a reference tool for understanding the biodiversity, geodiversity and cultural diversity of Australia and neighbouring regions over time. We develop, refine and care for our collection and associated information to provide a resource in perpetuity for high impact research. Digital technology such as CT scanning provides opportunities for engaging more stakeholders in the research on and exploration of our collection.
  • Australian Centre for Wildlife Genomics and frozen tissue collection
    The Australian Centre for Wildlife Genomics and our frozen tissue collection deliver molecular and imaging data of the highest quality and provide essential services in DNA identification and genomics-based research. The Centre is one of the few laboratories to have attained National Association of Testing Authorities accreditation for wildlife forensic work in the region. Molecular techniques are becoming increasingly important in tracking the impacts of climate change, with DNA sequence information being used to identify changes in populations over time and the overall health of groups who have been impacted by environmental changes.
  • Lizard Island Research Station
    The Lizard Island Research Station (LIRS) is located on the Great Barrier Reef in Far North Queensland and is a globally renown piece of in situ coral reef research infrastructure. Due to significant pressure for environmental changes such as climate change and ocean acidification on marine ecosystems, the LIRS is at the coalface of some of the world’s most significant climate-related research, including studies into the effects of coral bleaching, habitat destruction and sea surface temperature increases on coral and fish assemblages.
    For more details on the important research currently taking place at LIRS, please visit the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation website.

Current research and flagship projects

  • FrogID
    FrogID is a national citizen science project utilising the unique calls of frog species as an identification tool. By using the FrogID app, keen data collectors are able to record frog calls in their local area and have them identified by expert herpetologists. Key data being collected includes location, habitat and weather, with which we are learning more about how different Australian frog species are responding to a changing environment. This information could be crucial in saving Australia’s frogs from impacts associated with climate change.
  • Australasian Fishes
    An Australian Museum-led, observation-based citizen science project, Australasian Fishes encompasses a community of divers, recreational fishers and snorkellers, all contributing towards a better future for Australia’s fish species. Observers upload images of fish to the Australasian Fishes website (powered by iNaturalist) and join in a community-based identification process, sometimes with a little extra help from the experts. Fish location, species and size are all recorded to assist in analysing how Australian fish species are responding to environmental changes such as climate change.
  • Urban Bio Count 2020
    More information coming soon!

Experts

Tim Flannery

Professor Timothy Fridtjof Flannery is an internationally respected scientist working on climate change. He is an Australian mammologist, palaeontologist, environmentalist, conservationist, and public scientist. Flannery was Australia’s Climate Commissioner from 2011-2013. Previously Head of Mammalian Biology at the Australian Museum (1984-1999), he re-joins the AM for 2019 to further his research into climate change and communicate the most relevant issues facing Australia and the Pacific.

Flannery has discovered 30 mammal species, and took part in uncovering the first Australian mammal fossils of the Cretaceous period.

Flannery served as the Chief Commissioner of the Climate Commission, a Federal Government body providing information on climate change to the Australian public. When this was disbanded in 2013, Flannery and others formed the independent Climate Council.

Flannery was named Australian Humanist of the Year in 2005, and Australian of the Year in 2007. He has held professorships at Macquarie University and was also chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council, an international group assisting the Danish government in the lead up to COP 15. Flannery is also a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, and a Governor of WWF-Australia.

In addition to frequent appearances in the media, Flannery is the author of 20 books, including The Future Eaters and the internationally acclaimed The Weather Makers. He has edited 8 volumes and has contributed to over 143 scientific papers.


Dr Jenny Newell

Dr Jenny Newell co-manages the Pacific and International Collection in the Division of Engagement, Exhibitions and Cultural Connection at the Australian Museum. She works on the cultural dimensions of climate change, focusing on Pacific communities in the islands and in Sydney, as well as contributing to international networks of museums engaging with climate change. She chairs the Australian Museum’s Climate Change Communication Committee, is a member of the ICOM Working Party of Sustainability and convenes the (independent) Museums & Climate Change Network. She co-edited Curating the Future: Museums, Communities and Climate Change (Routledge).


Education programs

The Australian Museum offers curriculum-linked education programs on climate change that draw on the work of researchers and collections at the Australian Museum.

Our primary school program Animal Adaptations: The effects of climate change addresses the Stage 3 English and Science syllabuses. In the program, students take on the role of scientists and investigate how climate change is affecting Australian animals, including the ibis, the Red-crowned Toadlet, coral reefs and the Bramble Cay Melomys. Through dress-ups and exploration the students learn how climate change has affected habitats and what the methods and equipment scientists have used to gather data on these animals. The lesson finishes up with the ‘research groups’ recording a short radio presentation that can form the basis of extension activities back at school.

Our secondary school program Climate Change: The effect on ecosystems addresses the Stage 4 and 5 Science syllabus. Students investigate the impacts of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef and Pacific cultures. They classify types of corals and assess if specimens are healthy, bleached or dead using virtual coral reef transects. They also perform basic pH measurements and a numeracy activity to determine how water temperature relates to the health of coral. The lesson concludes with a presentation of issues surrounding climate change challenges to Pacific Island communities, supported with objects from Pacific cultures, and an open-ended discussion about steps that can be taken to combat climate change.


Programs and community outreach

The Australian Museum offers a range of programs for the public, including workshops, talks and film screenings, group and panel discussions around the issues of climate change. Some of these focus on involving members of Sydney’s Pacific community, helping voices from the Pacific ‘front line’ to be heard more effectively in Sydney. The Oceania Rising: Climate Change in Our Region program is an ongoing arts and activism partnership between the Australian Museum, a range of Pacific artists and community leaders in Sydney, Casula Powerhouse Art Centre and Blacktown Arts.


Exhibitions

A new display about climate change is in development, for installation in the Surviving Australia exhibition on the AM’s second floor.

The 2018/2019 exhibition Whales | Tohorā highlighted the majesty of whales and their interrelationships with humans, including their vulnerability to plastic pollution. Visitors were given an opportunity to sign a pledge to reduce plastic consumption at the conclusion of the exhibition.

The Australian Museum’s 2009 exhibition, Climate Change: Our Future, Our Choice, was one of Australia’s first on the subject. Click here for a summary of audience research on this exhibition.


Creating resources

Australian Museum experts are producing publications, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, and the citizen science app FrogID, all to support deeper understandings of climate change, especially its impacts in Australia.



Research

Australian Museum Research Institute’s (AMRI) Science Strategy 2017-2021 identifies priority area ‘Impacts of Change’ as a core focus area researching impacts of climate and environmental change on biodiversity of Australia and the Pacific. The AM’s flagship national citizen science initiative FrogID alongside collaborations with key organisations will enable us to develop community knowledge of and engagement with topic of climate change.


Sustainable infrastructure

The Australian Museum’s Sustainability Action Plan encompasses the key steps for achieving Green Star and Carbon Neutrality by 2020. The AM has already achieved energy savings onsite through technical upgrades and will continue its commitments to sustainability through embedding sustainability into all business practices across the AM.



What is climate change?

The Earth’s climate has changed over time, but this time it is different. Temperatures around the world are rising higher and quicker than any past era. This time, it is being caused by human activities.

Since the Industrial Revolution humans have been getting most of their energy from burning fossil fuels. This releases gasses that create a blanket around the earth, trapping in heat. The rapid rise of temperatures we have been experiencing over the past century, particularly over the past 50 years, is unprecedented and additional to natural fluctuations.[i]

This is causing global average temperatures to rise. The evidence comes from plentiful data collected by many sources over time. We can see it around us: rising sea levels, melting ice caps and glaciers, more acidic oceans, and more severe heat waves, droughts, and storms.

Global warming is damaging the earth’s capacity to act as a life support system. Climate change impacts global biodiversity (the variety of life), and loss of biodiversity represents a loss of future options for society.

Can we slow global warming by changing the way we live? Yes – through working in step around the world.

[i] “Are Human Activities Causing Climate Change?”, Australian Academy of Science, https://www.science.org.au/learning/general-audience/science-booklets-0/science-climate-change/3-are-human-activities-causing


How are our collections helping us understand climate change?

Natural history museums world-wide are coming to the fore as significant players in climate change research. What may have once been considered esoteric collections of dead animals and artefacts, museums are now recognised as holding a time vault of specimens with carefully recorded data that represent the world’s biodiversity throughout our recent and ancient history. By using museums as a window to the past, scientists can compare historical taxonomic, ecological or genetic information with the present and perhaps gain an understanding of what may happen in the future – essentially using museum collections as a benchmark for monitoring the environmental impacts of climate change.

Both internal and external researchers have access to the Australian Museum collection and are able to utilise the information within to compare changes in species, distribution ranges and life cycles. This information becomes increasingly powerful when molecular (DNA) techniques are also employed to identify genetic changes over time.


What can you do?

Learn. Engage. Join a group. Take action.

There are so many things individuals can do. Consuming less, growing more. It is really important to just start talking about climate change with the people around you.

Joining a group upscales your learning and your impact – this is one of the most powerful things you can do.

Good places to look for ideas:


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