As part of Preservation Week programming, the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York, Inc. (A.R.T.) and the Archives and Public History Program at New York University are co-sponsoring an event  to discuss how archival repositories can be pro-active in the fight against climate change, collections useful to climate change research, and successful sustainability efforts/resiliency measures.

The event “I’m Not A Scientist”: The Role and Responsibility of Archivists Towards Climate Change takes place on Friday, April 29, 2016 from 6 to 8pm at New York University’s Kimmel Center, Room 912. If you’re in NYC this Friday, register for the event to join the conversation.

For more information, visit the event page.

Hope to see you there!

ProjectARCC members Blake Relle and Danielle Cordovez set out to highlight an organization that took steps to positively impact the climate. Through Twitter, we learned that the City of Toronto Archives won the “Race to Reduce” challenge by lowering energy consumption by a staggering 59%. They were able to achieve this through C40 Climate Leadership Group initiatives instituted by the city. Relle and Cordovez spoke with the City Archivist at the Toronto City Archives, Carol Radford-Grant , and Project Manager, Prashant Bhalja, to learn more about this impressive accomplishment.

The C40 Climate Leadership Group consists of different government bodies and agencies within major cities whose focus is to make a positive impact on the global climate. In an effort to show leadership, Canadian officials announced plans to encourage the development and use of energy efficient solutions to take action against the effects of Greenhouse Gas emissions.  Being the largest city in Canada, Toronto took the lead in implementing C40 initiatives to show that they were actively doing their part, and not just talking about what should happen.

The city of Toronto approached the staff at the Archive to see if they would participate, and lower their energy consumption. The staff was thrilled to be part of this project for three reasons. First, the building that houses the archive was over twenty years old, and in need of upgrades. Secondly, the building’s energy consumption was higher than comparable constructions in the city, and throughout the Province of Ontario.  Finally, the staff had a hard time keeping the temperature, and relative humidity at safe levels due to the city’s extreme weather conditions.  In the winter the temperature, factoring in the wind chill,  temperatures can may fall to -40 degrees Celsius.  In contrast, the relative humidity in the summer ranges from 80% to 90%.

Making improvements to the building was necessary, and would allow safe, long term storage for the collections.  Improvements  included the installation of a new HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning)  system, and energy efficient boilers to to properly regulate temperature, relative humidity, and the air flow in the building. The new boilers require little energy to function. The  HVAC system is automated, and lowers consumption in practical ways such as shutting  off when the loading doors are open.  Radford-Grant reported that very little problems arose during the installment of the HVAC system, and boilers as the archival staff worked well with Bhalja, and discussed concerns in advance to ensure low risk of damage to the collections.

With the new HVAC system and boilers,  the Archive lowered electricity use from 200 -250 to 130 kilowatts monthly,  resulting in a 59% reduction in energy use. The reduction was so severe,  that the meter was checked and replaced by the gas and electric companies to make sure it hadn’t been tampered with.  To maintain the low monthly number, Radford-Grant and Bhalja agree that daily monitoring of consumption, in addition to staff training on how best to utilize the equipment is necessary.

Radford-Grant and Bhalja’s  advice to archivists planning to implement energy reduction practices are:

  1. Every building has room for improvement to minimize energy use. Look for it.
  2. There does not have to be a choice between lowering energy and climate control. Comfort should not be sacrificed for conservation. There is a balance that optimizes both goals.
  3. Collaborate with your area, and research municipal initiatives for Greenhouse Gas Emission reduction.

To continue their efforts, the City of Toronto Archives hopes to install a new air conditioner and improved insulated windows in the coming years.

For us at ProjectARCC, two important lessons came out of the interview with Radford-Grant and Bhalja. First, people tend to believe that they, as one person, cannot do anything to affect climate change. That is not so: each person can do their part to make a positive impact on the climate. One can install solar panels, install new windows, or install lights the automatically turn on and off. Each small thing adds up. A lot of things over the course of history have changed because one person stood up and said, “Enough is enough.” In other words, there are things that everyone can do.

Secondly, we need to work together. We are global citizens and have a duty to leave the planet in better shape than we found it. There is a lot of talk in the archival profession about working together. If we do not start working together now, when will we? We need to ask ourselves — in the style of President Kennedy — “Ask not what your planet can do for you, but what you can do for your planet.”

— Blake Relle and Danielle Cordovez

A month or so back, the ProjectARCC blog featured a blog post titled “Doomsday Preppers,” about the fact that preparing for disaster is one of the most important functions of an archivist. Most of the standard functions that we practice as archivists — creating backup copies of digital files, storing physical items in safe and protective containers, making sure that we track when and where our collections are at all times — serve as a form of protection against disaster.

But how do you actually go about planning for the kinds of major disasters that climate change scientists have been warning us to expect? What happens when you really do get the flood or the earthquake that you always knew was a possibility, but never really thought was going to happen at your institution?

Many archives and cultural heritage organizations have disaster plans, which provide solid, practical instructions on how to cope with an emergency — what precautions to take, who to contact, and what the first steps should be to protect the collections when a disaster hits. If your institution doesn’t have a disaster plan yet, the Society of American Archivists has a great Annotated Resources page full of disaster plan templates, examples, tutorials and bibliographies to help make the process of developing one a little easier.

However, even if your institution already has the best disaster plan imaginable, archivists are busy people; with deadlines for grants and projects and fiscal years looming over our heads, preparing for some kind of abstract catastrophe can often take a back burner. If your institution does have a disaster plan, when was the last time you actually looked it up and read it? How often does someone take a look at it to make sure it’s up to date — and how long does it take to push changes through the bureaucracy to approve it? Are new employees aware of it, and what information it contains, and how to find it if the emergency actually does take place?

One of the best resources for improving ongoing disaster preparedness in archives in cultural heritage institutions is COSTEP, the Coordinated Statewide Emergency Preparedness Framework, developed by the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC). COSTEP encourages cultural institutions to work together on a statewide level with emergency management agencies and first responders. The state of Massachusetts currently has a thriving official COSTEP program, which hosts regular meetings and trainings, and hopefully other states will follow suit.

However, even if you’re not ready to spearhead an official statewide COSTEP initiative, the COSTEP Framework document has a number of fantastic recommendations about how to build relationships and prepare for disaster within a community before disaster occurs.

Speaking of workshops, taking any kind of disaster preparedness workshop — either cultural institution-specific ones, such as those offered by the NEDCC, or more general ones like those offered by the Red Cross — is a good way to become aware of hazards and disaster resources in your area.

Still, no matter how prepared you and your institution are, there’s always going to be some disasters that can’t be prevented by any amount of planning. The archival community has generated resources to help cultural institutions post-disaster, too. The National Disaster Recovery Fund for Archives was originally created to assist archives recovering from Hurricane Katrina; it’s since expanded its mandate to support the recovery of archives from any major disaster, and can provide up to $2,000 in initial emergency funding.

While I’m sure all of us hope that we’ll never need to apply for that funding, I know, for one, I’m glad to know now that it’s there and available — staying aware of these kind of resources, just in case, is one more way of being prepared.

— Rebecca Fraimow

Do you have more ideas for archivists to improve their disaster planning? Consider joining the Protect Committee as part of ProjectARCC. Our next meeting is Wednesday, October 21st. We’ll be discussing developing relationships with similar projects and mapping archival disasters.

The post below is the reproduction of a recent Facebook status by our Outreach Coordinator, Dana Gerber-Margie. This list was intended for her friends and family to use as individuals and families. It’s a different story for our profession, our conferences, and our institutions, but thankfully the REDUCE committee is working on that!

From August 30th, originally posted on Facebook:

Shower thinking brought a lot of ruminating on climate change/global warming and people’s engagement with it, or lack there of. It is so easy to become irritated, judgmental, and so frustrated, but it also so unhelpful to be all of those things. My mind pictures families in houses too big with cars too big for commutes too long, wanting too much stuff and too much new. I see the AC or heat up too high, lights on too long, too much food gone to waste, and an incredible amount of focus on entertainment that does not matter, educate, expand, only lets us pass the time.

But this is focusing on the negatives, and not the reasons: the intersectionality of the American dream, companies & governments that want more hours without more pay, a desire to feel comfortable in a sanctuary of home when the outside world is all about shootings, insane politicians, and oppression. And cities all over the country are increasing in size but not in width; rent is getting higher, the jobs are still downtown, and at the end of the day it is a very rational choice to live away from the luxury apartments, craft cocktails, and crowded restaurants.

So how do we step away from anger and judgment into something actually helpful? And how do we get out of the echo chamber that is educated liberal guilt (which includes knowledge of the issues without much action)? A future with bigger storms, wilder fires, and rising sea levels is a terrifying one. A future with less water, food, and energy is just as scary. There are other people working on policies, technologies, and discovery plans, so let them just handle it, right? We have enough to do. I feel this daily, but I also feel such a strong pressure to make the future better for our children, for the impoverished, for the under-insured, for all of the other countries that will be unfairly impacted by our society’s consumption and drive for progress.

And so below I offer some things we do in our home and in our lives to do our part, even if it feels small and insignificant. Sometimes I don’t do these in the best way, or I end up doing it out of guilt, or (the best times) I do it because I care. I do them because these actions will add up, and they can add up exponentially if you do them, too.

What are some actions for the environment you take?

  • Don’t see “reduce, reuse, recycle” as a phrase, but as a priority list. First, reduce. Then if you must, try reusing. And then if neither of those work, lastly recycle.
  • Don’t buy it. Really, you don’t need it.
  • Okay, you need it, but look at local stores, local materials, local food to ease the cost of transportation of goods.
  • Don’t buy things just because they’re on sale.
  • Understand that production of goods and use of resources comes directly from our consumption of them
  • Buy groceries in small batches so food doesn’t go to waste.
  • Eat a vegetarian diet. My husband Derek eats meat, but at home eats mostly plant-powered meals. Our next time is a more vegan friendly diet.
  • Bring our own bags to the store, including big box stores like Target. Derek forgets his bag in his car a lot when he’s at work, but we save all the paper and plastic bags he gets, and reuse them when we need them.
  • Never buy bottled water. I have a stainless steel water bottle at home and at work. I fill both up with water from the tap (purified at home with a filter on our faucet).
  • Use a reusable travel mug for coffee & tea. If I have the coffee “for here,” I make sure to mention I’d like it in a mug, not a paper cup. If I forget the above, I wash out the paper/plastic cup before recycling it.
  • Purchase fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate, clothes, etc.
  • Utilize the farmer’s market.
  • Lights off if you’re not in the room. Lights off during the day because I just open the curtains.
  • Unplug the microwave when not using it.
  • Turn off electronics and appliances if not using them.
  • Always check the energy use stats for all appliances/electronics. Since I’m a renter, I don’t always have this option, but I did look at the specs for our computers, printer, and air conditioner.
  • Use CFL lightbulbs.
  • Don’t keep chargers plugged in all day; it uses up energy. My phone thankfully has a little alarm that tells me when it’s been charged.
  • Don’t fall prey to the next new neat gadget; Derek and I both have solid, great desktop computers. I bought my computer in March 2010 and it’s doing just fine! Same goes for our cell phones; I’m due for a renewal but since it’s working fine, I’m keeping it.
  • I don’t buy a lot on Amazon, partly for their labor practices and other reasons, but also because of shipping. If it’s offered, I get items packaged together.
  • Complain when a company over-packages an item. Yes I’m that customer. 😦
  • Shop at thrift stores — it’s fun!
  • Purchase the green energy option through our energy company. In Madison, that’s MG&E, and they have a sliding scale of what you can afford: as little as $5 towards renewable energies.
  • Elect politicians that care about the environment (this can obviously get very complex and weird, since it involves politics …)
  • Ask for no silverware, napkins, or extra sauces you won’t use when ordering take out or delivery. You have napkins and silverware!
  • Run the dishwasher when it’s totally full. Air dry the lighter loads.
  • Walk, bus, or bike to work.
  • When we moved recently, we didn’t move with our minds set on how much square footage the space would take up, or cool amenities like a pool or marble counters, but with a walk score in mind. We have our minimum requirements (we knew we wanted a 2-bedroom place for less than $1000 that took cats, etc), but only searched within a certain vicinity of the area. This ensured I could walk, bus, or bike to work and that Derek’s commute would be less than 1015 minutes. I also realize, though, that this is a privilege that we have since our city hasn’t been completely gentrified yet … but a good walk score will be a priority for me in the future too.
  • Drive with a consistent speed. Don’t brake or start too quickly; it uses up more gas.
  • Donate small amounts to agencies I support. $5 a month doesn’t hurt me, nor does giving $5-15 here and there.
  • Throw on a sweater and socks before turning on the heat. Once we do use it in the dead of winter, we keep it as low as possible. When we leave the house, we keep it just high enough so the pipes don’t freeze.
  • Choose lighter clothing in the summer. The same thing as above goes for using the AC: keep the temperature reasonable, don’t have it on when we’re not there. If it’s SO hot that the temperature will reach above 80ish inside, we’ll keep the AC around 78.
  • Ask your city for better recycling programs.
  • Do all of these things at work too! I keep computers off when I don’t need them, I keep the printer off, I turn the light off when I’m leaving the office for a while, I print on both sides, I recycle, etc.
  • Use stuff that can be refilled, like purchasing a soap dispenser and then large bags of liquid soap.
  • Ask elected officials for updates to infrastructure, which can lead to lots of good things like not dying on a collapsed bridge, smooth roads, and improved energy efficiency.
  • Bring lunch to work in reusable bags, including sandwich or treat bags. Etsy has them everywhere.
  • Purchase carbon credits for every flight we take.
  • Relax on a train instead of taking a plane.
  • Don’t take cruises, or if you do, research the impact they have on the environment and ocean. Some cruise lines bill themselves specifically as environmentally friendly.
  • On the same note, don’t always take environmentally friendly advertising as truth. Greenwashing for increased profits is very real!
  • All of these actions matter when I’m traveling, too. Do your best to reduce, reuse, and recycle while on the road.
  • Look into eco-travel or responsible/sustainable travel, and tourism that doesn’t decimate the local region.
  • The TV is off if I’m not watching it.
  • Keep that shower short.
  • Garden! I’m a black thumb but trying my best.
  • Join or start an awesome group like projectARCC.
  • Ask others for more ideas!

Last month, John H. Richardson published an article in Esquire titled “When the End of Human Civilization is your Day Job.” Through an interview with climate scientist Jason Box, who studies glacier ice melt in Greenland, Richardson’s article focuses on how climate scientists have begun to deal with forms of depression after years of disturbing research findings and warnings about impending global catastrophe, which in many cases have gone unheeded by policy makers and the American public. I have only been involved in climate activism for about a year; this year it has been very difficult to not become afraid or overcome with a feeling of dread when reading the literature. I can’t imagine carrying this burden around for the last few decades.

A few weeks ago, the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics open-access journal published a study titled “Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 degrees global warming is highly dangerous.” If you don’t want to read the whole article, the Washington Post does a nice job summarizing it.

The research was led by Dr. James Hansen and 16 other scientists. Hansen is former Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and now professor at the Columbia University Earth Institute. Hansen was also the first to testify before Congress in 1988 about global warming, which brought the issue to the public eye.

This research reports that the two degree Celsius limit of global warming that scientists and policy makers have for years claimed as the “safe upper limit” is actually highly dangerous. Hansen reports that we will likely see several meters of sea level rise by the end of this century. A century isn’t a long time for archivists. For the earth, it means we could possibly see one meter of sea level rise in the next 20-30 years. Even an inch of sea level rise can have a huge impact on floodplains. How far are your collections above sea level?

The sea level rise is caused by melting glaciers and sea ice in the Arctic, Greenland, and Antarctic. With more fresh water pouring into the oceans, Hansen also claims that this will power superstorms unlike anything that we have ever seen.

I’ll remind everyone why this is happening: Continued carbon emissions into our atmosphere are causing a greenhouse effect — heat and energy from the sun cannot escape the atmosphere. Prior to industrialization, Earth had about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; this lasted for around 800,000 years. Last year we reached 400 ppm. According to Dr. Hansen, the safe upper limit of C02 in the atmosphere is 350ppm. Beyond 350ppm carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we run the risk of causing positive feedback loops and runaway climate change, which cannot be reversed or stopped. The continued burning of fossil fuels causes carbon dioxide emissions.

After I read the Esquire article, I thought to myself, “How are archivists dealing with knowing about climate change when the history of civilization is our day job?”

Archivists are responsible for preserving history for future generations. I believe that it should be a professional and moral obligation for the archival community to come together and take action to ensure the preservation of a safe and habitable planet for future generations. I hate to put it bluntly, but sometimes I wonder: what’s the point in doing what we do if the future of humanity is in question?

I’ve been working on a digital exhibition that features conversations about climate change documented by public broadcasting from 1970 to the present. In 1970, only three days before the first celebration of Earth Day, renowned environmentalist David Brower visited Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He gave a talk, which was broadcast over the campus radio station WYSO-FM and posed the question “What will it cost the Earth?” He urged the students and listeners to educate and inform themselves on the environmental problems facing the world. “You can make a difference,” he told them.

ProjectARCC, a task force of archivists working to affect climate change, is working to make a difference. We want to ensure that archivists are aware of the risks of climate change on their collections. We want to find ways to collectively reduce our professional carbon footprint. We want to elevate relevant collections to improve public awareness and understanding of climate change. And we want to make sure that this moment in history is preserved for future research. But what is needed is collective action and contribution among our entire profession.

In 2014, Yale University and George Mason University published a report that categorized Americans on how they perceive the threat of global warming. The segments included Alarmed (13%), Concerned (31%), Cautious (23%), Disengaged (7%), Doubtful (13%), and Dismissive (13%). Only 13% of Americans are alarmed about climate change. These people are the most concerned of all of the groups and are the most motivated to take action. Where do you fall on the spectrum?

I’ve become really interested in how people are dealing with knowing about climate change. I’ve been reading a book called “Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change,” by George Marshall, which looks into the psychology of how people understand and deal with (or not deal with) climate change. According to Marshall, the evolution of our brains makes it difficult for us to comprehend or act on risks that are not immediate. I understand. There was a time when I didn’t care about climate change. I attribute that complacency to my former belief that change wouldn’t happen until after I was gone. It is hard to grasp the risk of something not happening right now — something too subtle and unclear whether and when it would affect me. But then I started reading the literature and I tuned in to the changes that are already happening. And then? I thought about how as an archivist, the purpose of approximately third of my life for hopefully the next half century is to preserve history for the future. I entered into sort of an existential crisis. Twenty, fifty, one hundred years from now, our world will be completely transformed. Will our collections survive? Will our efforts to preserve collections for future generations be in vain? And then I think about the children that I want to eventually have. By the time they are forty years old, Boston’s sea level may have risen more than a meter. Where I currently call home, we’re about 4 meters above sea level. Will my kids be able to call this place home? Will it be too hot for them to live in Mississippi, where I grew up?

I think that in order to overcome the evolutionary problem of not reacting to the long-term risks of climate change, we need to find ways to keep climate change on our minds, even when it is scary to think about. This may seem silly, but I have decided that I need to read at least one relevant article every day so that I do not lose my drive to act on climate. If I don’t, I can easily get caught up in other things. Yes, a lot of what we read can be quite scary, but I really like how Naomi Klein puts it in her book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate“:  “fear makes us run, it makes us leap… but we need somewhere to run to. Without that, fear is only paralyzing.” I co-founded and continue to participate in ProjectARCC because it gives me a place to run to. ProjectARCC gives our entire profession a place to leap into action.

I recently read Columbia University’s Connecting on Climate guidebook, which gives 10 recommendations on how to communicate climate change to audiences. It says people are motivated the most to act on climate within existing networks and social groups, and that people are more likely to become engaged on an issue when a group that they are part of cares about it. The guidelines recommend local groups (like churches or neighborhood associations), but I think that mobilizing with one’s profession is equally as constructive. Maybe I’m biased, and I think this would be a great research topic, but I think that this is especially true for the archival profession, because I believe archivists are some of the most passionate professionals of all professions.

I look forward to talking with many of you at this year’s Society of American Archivists conference. Together, I know that we can collectively make a difference. It is the preservation of the history of human civilization that is our day job, and uniting together to take action will stave off the fear and paralysis.

– Casey E. Davis

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license.

At heart, archiving is an apocalyptic profession.

Archivists are professional harbingers of doom. The job of an archivist, boiled down to its essence, is to preserve things that we believe the future will care about – a statement which implies an inherent from, but doesn’t specify it. So what are we preserving things from?  Everything and anything: obsolescence, decay, human error, catastrophe, random acts of God, anything else we can think of, and maybe some things we can’t. Our job is to assume the worst.

Most people figure their books, tapes, files and records are going to be there again when they want them (if they want them) without thinking too hard about it – and in a lot of cases, for the short term, that may well be true. Not every hard drive is going to fail in two years. But, as archivists, the question for us is not if the drive is going to fail. We know the drive’s going to fail eventually. Everything fails eventually; that’s entropy, and it’s a fact of the universe. The big question for an archivist is: when the drive fails, how do we make sure that doesn’t destroy the things we care about?

A lot of the discussion around climate change should feel familiar to archivists. Global warming, natural disasters, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions (decay, human error, catastrophe): there’s definitely a sense of apocalypse to it. And just like digital preservation catastrophes don’t hit every institution, there are places in the world that won’t directly feel the effects of climate change – at least not right away, not for a while. Not every hard drive fails in two years. A lot of ten-year-old drives are still whirring happily away while I write this.

All the same, we know that there’s a risk the drive is going to fail. And for archivists, where there’s a risk, there’s a certainty: eventually, the drive will fail. We plan around it. We back it up, and back it up again.  We expend enormous amounts of time and resources on prevention and protection, because we know that while the short term might not validate us in that expenditure, the long term definitely will.

As archivists, we need to take the same attitude towards climate change. There’s a risk, and that means that there’s a certainty. Climate change is happening. Stuff is going to fail.

So how do we try and make sure this doesn’t destroy the things we care about?

It’s a pretty good question for an archivist.  It’s an even better one for a climate change activist.

— Rebecca Fraimow