Dramatically Reducing An Archive’s Carbon Footprint by Working with the City

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

Elevate a Climate Change Exhibit

Two weeks ago, ProjectARCC challenged archivists to elevate their collections related to climate change using #PreserveClimate. There’s also a survey archivists can fill out for collections to go into a larger project.

One example of an archive that has recently elevated their materials related to climate change is the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. In late October, the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) launched its Online Reading Room, providing the public with access to thousands of historic public television and radio programming dating back to the 1950s. As part of the inauguration of the Online Reading Room, AAPB staff launched three curated exhibits featuring content that is topically and historically significant. AAPB Project Manager Casey Davis curated one of the three exhibits, the title of which is “Climate Change Conversations: Causes, Impacts, Solutions.

The exhibit highlights television and radio conversations with climate scientists, activists, journalists, historians, and students who used the venue of public broadcasting to discuss climate change for more than a quarter of a century. In these recordings, they have repeatedly communicated the science of human-driven climate change and its impacts in interviews, call-in radio shows, debates, public lectures, news programs, and documentaries.

While scientists and activists have consistently used public broadcasting to disseminate information about climate change, the conversation has changed over time. In the 1980s, focus was primarily on communicating the potential threats of global warming. Since then, programming has increasingly examined the actual impacts, and in addition, struggled to keep the American public informed and engaged.

Organized into six sections, the exhibit highlights public broadcasting recordings of conversations on climate change—its causes, impacts, and proposed solutions—from 1970, the first year that Earth Day was celebrated, to the present. Among the recordings include conversations with Gus Speth, former Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, James Hansen, the first scientist to testify before Congress on the threat of global warming, former Vice President Al Gore, three recordings with Bill McKibben, writer and activist who founded the international organization 350.org, Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist who has become well-known for communicating climate change to fellow evangelical Christians, and David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth.

What’s in your collections?

What to Know for the Paris Climate Talks

 

ProjectARCC is challenging archivists from around the world to elevate and broadcast their collections that relate to climate change. Use #preserveclimate to join the conversation and add to the database!

This week, an important and big climate change conference started in Paris, and will continue until December 11th. In the wake of the 13 November terrorism, an already high-profile meeting will take on new meaning. It would not be hyperbolic to say what could come out of the Paris meeting could chart the very path of human existence for our foreseeable future.

This is a brief post that includes some useful links and a very quick primer to help ProjectARCC allies understand the significance of the road ahead. If this primer leaves you wanting more, I highly recommend this short graphic novella of the history of international efforts to manage climate change. A text-based timeline can also be found here.

WHO?

The Paris talks, often referred to in shorthand as COP21 (or the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCC) will be the most recent attempt to bring together the international community to committing to real reductions in carbon emissions that will keep the world as close to not exceeding 2º Celsius of warming as possible. 2º Celsius has been the benchmark target set by the climate change policy community for several years, and exceeding this target will almost certainly cause severe and irreversible changes to the world climate. We have already warmed the planet by 0.8º Celsius since the late 1800s. Because reduction of emissions would have to be so dramatic to bring current projections to 2º or less, many scientists and policy makers are now reckoning with adaptation to a planet that could warm by at least 4º Celsius by 2100, if massive reductions in carbon emissions are not immediately implemented.

WHERE?

Paris, France (specifically, Le Bourget, which is just outside Paris). COP meetings rotate between regions, and France applied for the 2015 Western European hosting turn back in 2012. The actual meeting can only be attended by national delegations of the UNFCC parties, intergovernmental agencies and non-governmental organizations with officially-recognized observer status (e.g., the World Bank), and journalists. However, close to the official meeting location, there will be a venue that will host activities that the general public can attend.

As this blog post goes to press, following the Paris terrorist attacks French authorities are committed to going forward with hosting and security for the official meeting events, but will not allow any public street marches associated with the climate talks. At past climate summits, such as Copenhagen in 2009, public demonstrations served an important role in giving voice to those most vulnerable to climate change’s disasterous effects.

WHEN?

While the meeting will take place over the course of 12 days, there has been significant groundwork laid over the past year. The initial negotiation sessions began in February, in Switzerland. The meeting in Paris will be the final vote to accept the framework to measure progress on each country’s committed reductions.

WHY?

In general, the COP (Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) takes place every year (since 1995). In addition, you may see things like “CMP” when reading about COP — this refers to parties which signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, which was the first time binding greenhouse gas emission targets were set. This year is the 21st conference of COP, and the 11th conference of CMP (i.e., COP21/CMP11). The United States is a party to the UNFCC, but never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, citing concerns over lack of emissions reductions from developing countries. This is why the recent carbon emissions agreement between China and the United States is a huge deal — it represents perhaps a loosening of the “Which country should cut first and faster?” question that has often derailed recent international climate negotiations.

HOW?

The biggest difference with this round of climate talks is the model to which countries are pledging individual emissions reduction targets. Each country has set their own target, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC)– on the plus side, this means countries may be more likely to actually meet reduction goals, something that has been elusive in the past. On the other hand, many experts note that even if all countries meet their own self-defined targets, it will not be enough to collectively stay under the 2º target. The World Resources Institute has developed an interesting visualization tool for the submitted INDCs.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR?

Historically, a stumbling block in climate talks has been tension between reduction expectations of highly developed countries with high emissions (such as the United States) compared to rapidly developing countries (such as China and India). Meanwhile, many Pacific Island nations are literally reckoning with going underwater, possibly in our lifetimes. There will likely be significant discussion over the obligations of developed countries to assist extremely vulnerable and under-resourced countries cope with the effects of climate change.

— Eira Tansey

 

A multitude of problems needs a multitude of voices

Perhaps one of the biggest climate change stories of 2015 has been Pope Francis’s encyclical, titled Laudato Si. It is a powerful document, tracing the moral and biblical roots of environmental stewardship,  recognizing the devastating effects of climate change on the poorest among us, and calling for a radical shift in how we relate to the Earth. That this encyclical came from a leader who chose to adopt the name of Saint Francis — the same saint who talked to birds — should not come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with religious teachings about caring for God’s creation. Yet many politicians and business leaders vocally doubted the role of a religious leader entering the climate change discussion. Former Florida governor and GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush said, “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.” Oklahoma senator James Inhofe stated, “The pope ought to stay with his job.” Former Pennsylvania senator and GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum remarked, “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.”

What all these statements imply is that climate change is purely a science issue, and therefore non-scientists are getting out of their lane when they comment on it. This could not be any more wrong.

Climate change has never been purely a science issue. We know climate change will affect every single one of us on Earth, and every person that follows us. It has grave consequences for marginalized communities living in geographically vulnerable areas threatened by severe hurricanes and rising sea levels, for ecosystems that have been stressed to the point of extinction due to extraction and pollution, and for human rights as droughts and environmental degradation devastate resources and stoke the fires of armed conflict and refugee crises.

Scientists can tell us how and why climate change is happening. But they cannot — nor should they be expected to — come up with the answers for shifting to a world powered by an alternative to the current toxic approach of extraction that exhausts human and environmental resources to the breaking point. And that’s where the rest of us come in.

The Pope took a bold stance by issuing a clarion call rooted in Catholic theology to demonstrate why Catholics cannot avert their eyes to this issue any longer. In doing this, Pope Francis showed us how we must each find ways to speak with our own communities, using our own communities’ language, cultural knowledge, rituals and practices to address a global issue with ramifications for every person on Earth. Climate change is a multitude of problems, and it requires a multitude of responses. While people might not listen to a scientist talk about carbon emissions scenarios, they might begin to engage with climate change when a friend at work, house of worship, school, or neighborhood group speaks about how climate change affects that community and what can be done about it.

Across the world, people are leading these conversations within their own communities. Students at American historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are holding HBCU Climate Change conferences. In the UK, Muslim Climate Action is a coalition of Muslim organizations working on climate change issues. Gulf South Rising is a coalition of Gulf Coast coast communities organizing grassroots responses to environmental injustices wrought on the Gulf South region. A growing number of medical professionals are signing on to campaigns against carbon emissions. And happily, archivists have joined the group of people working within their own communities with the creation of ProjectARCC.

– Eira Tansey

A Green Archivist’s Happy Home

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!

ProjectARCC Attends #SAA15!

The Annual Meeting of the Society of American Archivists rolls into Cleveland, Ohio this week. Thousands of archivists will come together for tours of all kinds, a huge expo of archival products and services, meetings with colleagues, networking events, workshops, and educational sessions. ProjectARCC will also be there in full force! To keep your time green and obtain new insight into why archivists should be concerned about climate change, we’ve created this little guide for you.

Want to add something? Contact Dana Gerber-Margie, outreach coordinator, to add more events and tips.

Tips for Reducing Your Carbon Footprint at the Conference

  • Offset your carbon footprint from your flight by purchasing carbon credits
  • If your home will be empty, turn your water heater to low/vacation settings, turn off your thermostat, turn off or maybe unplug lights and electronics, lower your refrigerator coldness
  • Walk, bike trails, use your hotel’s van, or take public transportation across town
  • If you drive: rent a car that has a high MPG, accelerate slowly, maintain a steady speed, and go into stops smoothly (and think about carpooling!)
  • Turn off your lights and unplug electronics when leaving your hotel room
  • Ask for extra blankets if you get cold at night, instead of using the heater
  • Minimize air conditioner use, especially when not in the hotel room. If you want to keep the room cool while you’re gone, close your drapes to keep the room dark.
  • Turn off the water while brushing your teeth
  • Flush your toilet less (it may sound gross but it helps reduce gallons of water! “If it’s yellow, let it mellow.”)
  • Bring a thermos or tumbler for your coffee or tea instead of using paper/plastic cups
  • Avoid styrofoam
  • Bring your own reusable water bottle instead of buying plastic ones
  • Use the conference app instead of a print program
  • Use the recycling bins. If you don’t see any at the conference hotel, save your recyclables until you find one
  • Don’t ask for a change of sheets during your hotel stay
  • Don’t ask for new towels if they’ve only been used once
  • Unplug your cell phone charger when not in use
  • Eat less meat
  • Eat locally and seasonally
  • Talk to SAA and anyone who will listen about making next year’s event more sustainable!

ProjectARCC Events

Wednesday, August 19th at 3:00pm
Eira Tansey will be doing a brief presentation on ProjectARCC at the Human Rights Archives Roundtable

Thursday, August 20th at 5:15pm
ProjectARCC Happy Hour at Lola Bistro (2058 East 4th Street)

Friday, August 21st at 4:30pm
Casey Davis doing a brief presentation on ProjectARCC at the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable

Friday, August 21st and Saturday, August 22nd
Vote for a ProjectARCC Pop-Up proposal!

Thursday, August 20th and Friday, August 21st
The Preservation Section is hosting a Silent Auction to benefit National Disaster Recovery Fund for Archives.

Relevant Sessions

Thursday, August 20 • 12:15pm – 1:30pm
Forum: Archival and Special Collections Facilities: Guidelines for Archivists, Librarians, Architects, and Engineers
The Standards Committee’s Technical Subcommittee on Archival Facilities Guidelines hosts an open meeting for colleagues to learn more about the facility guidelines and offer comments and suggestions. While the revisions are still in development, an early draft of the proposed revised guidelines will be available for review here. Contact Michele Pacifico or Tom Wilsted with questions.

Thursday, August 20 • 12:15pm – 1:30pm
Join us for a presentation and discussion of the Guidelines for Reappraisal and Deaccessioning. Members of the Standards Committee’s Technical Subcommittee on Guidelines for Reappraisal and Deaccessioning present an overview of this important SAA standard, which undergoes review starting this year. Q&A and comment period to follow.

Thursday, August 20 • 1:45pm – 2:45pm
As we digitize audiovisual collections for preservation, the questions arise: How long do I keep the original? Do obsolescence and decay override the urge/need to retain it? What do we make of the toll on resources, storage, facilities, etc., that results from storage of duplicate content or unrecoverable materials? The panelists address varying opinions based on institution size, digital infrastructure, and collection types to spark critical discussion of this growing challenge.

Friday, August 21 • 10:00am – 11:15am
Archivists, librarians, and community historians know that local residents often distrust repositories. This creates hidden collections—and hidden histories—in the community, especially from groups that are more socially remote from institutions with archives.  As professionals, we have a responsibility to challenge the notion of the “repository as archives” and serve the community better by decentralizing appraisal and custody, coordinating resource deployment, and collaborating in providing description and access.

Friday, August 21 • 10:00am – 11:15am
Is there a place for archives in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education?  A panel of archivists and special collections librarians tackle this question and offer four examples of creative and instructive approaches in archival outreach to STEM students and educators.  The panelists share their experiences in K-12, university, and museum settings, and encourage a conversation among archivists, special collections librarians, and educators who are actively working to better serve STEM communities.

Saturday, August 22 • 8:30am – 9:45am
Research data management has become one of the principal concerns of research libraries. To date, however, few archivists have been actively involved in this sphere. Attendees of this session, which features three institutions with archivists at the forefront, learn about the imperative to manage and preserve research data and the central role that archivists should play as repositories are designed and implemented.

Saturday, August 22 • 8:30am – 9:45am
Advocacy is a driving force in the minds of archivists—an engine to move the archival enterprise forward—but advocacy is defined and used in different ways and must be performed differently in the varied environments in which archives exist. The speakers explore what advocacy means in the government, educational, and business worlds and demonstrate how the meaning and means of advocacy change depending on the circumstances that different archives and archives associations face.

Saturday, August 22 • 10:00am – 11:00am
Primary resources often reveal information related to collections in museums, but lack of expertise and archival staff often relegate the archives to a second tier. This session, organized by the newly formed Natural Science Archives Association, includes archivists and a museum collection manager who discuss how archives are as essential for the study of natural science as the specimen collections themselves. This broad discussion emphasizes surveying, cataloging, digitizing, and transcribing field books and illustrating how, using data standards for records (EAD) and for their associated entities (e.g., the names of the persons and expeditions, EAC-CPF), it is possible to link publications, specimens, and archives within and across libraries, archives, and museums as a model for archives across all subject areas.

Thanks to member Frances Harrell for mining the huge SAA15 schedule for relevant sessions.

Nothing to Fear but Inaction and Division

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.

Scope & Content: Recognizing the Many Climate Change Narratives

Climate change intersects with the archives profession in multiple ways, and these intersections challenge ProjectARCC to define our scope.

This project is not just about fighting climate change, but recognizing that the world is already changing. Regardless of how an individual or an institution feels about the existence of climate change or whether it is anthropogenic, the phenomena of hurricane and blizzard superstorms underscore the need for better disaster planning in our repositories. Furthermore, climate change research, debate, and activism are relevant to our time, and we have a responsibility to preserve this period in history. ProjectARCC seeks to collaborate with repositories and creators of climate change materials to assist in preservation of the intellectual and community labor produced around this topic.

Climate change activism is often connected to other environmental causes, and as these affect social and political landscapes worldwide, they are important to document. After Pope Francis’s recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, took a firm stance on environmental stewardship, and advocate Neeshad Vs published “How Islamic Faith Supports Pope Francis’ Climate Change Encyclical,” it is clear that climate change activism is now part of religious landscapes as well. Archivists need to acknowledge movements like these — not only their existence but the specific arguments and goals they espouse. This includes opposite or differing perspectives on climate change or environmental matters, but as we have found, there are more than two sides to recognize.

We realized that thinking of anthropogenic climate change as debate is too simple a way of looking at this concept. It speaks to a particular perspective in which climate change is just an argument between news pundits rather than something people experience. Our work will facilitate archives to better understand and collect climate change-related materials.

Climate change and environmental justice activism, scientific research, changes in biodiversity, and experiences of communities already witnessing the impacts of extreme weather all tell part of the climate change story. For people in South Pacific island nations, for example, there are not two sides to the climate change issue; there isn’t even one issue. Even within activist groups or the renewable energy industry, there are debates about how best to address climate change from scientific, policy, and human perspectives. We seek to use our professional skills to raise awareness of as many facets of this web of thought and action as possible so that repositories can preserve them.
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To some, this may seem like too political a mission for a profession tasked with keeping humanity’s history. However, part of being an archivist is recognizing the significance of historical events and making sure they are preserved. That act is one of archival power, much like the recognition of civil rights, the discovery of holes in the ozone layer, political upheaval, or any period of great change as important to preserve. The work of archivists is inherently political in that our actions all take place within and have impact on the communities of which we are citizens, and ProjectARCC operates on the belief that climate change is significant to those communities.

ProjectARCC is the culmination of strong beliefs channeled through professional endeavors. Our project missions call on us to use outreach, appraisal, description, and myriad other aspects of our professional training to encourage the documentation and permanent preservation of this issue at the intersection of science, politics, and culture. The first step in our work is acknowledging the complex scope of materials and experiences related to climate change to be preserved for a rapidly-changing future.

– Genna Duplisea

Doomsday Preppers

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

Getting Started with ProjectARCC: A Student Perspective

Originally posted at Hack Library School’s Hack Your Summer series, in response to the question, Are you doing any internships or volunteer work in libraries this summer? Updates by the author, Amy Wickner. Available under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

In addition to summer classes and my regular library job, I just started working with a new group called ProjectARCC, composed of archivists concerned about climate change. Goals for the project include understanding and countering the impact of climate change on archival collections; examining the energy impact and ecological footprint of our work, from facilities to storage to travel; raising awareness about archival collections relevant to climate change; and documenting national, international, and local responses to and impacts of climate change. Read more about the what, why, and how here.

An initial reaction after just several weeks with ProjectARCC: It’s fascinating to consider the range of material that could enrich public understanding of climate change through archival collections. There’s the Old Weather transcription project, working directly with naval weather observations. We may also look to collections like Colorado State University’s Water Resources Archive and the papers and lab notebooks of climate scientists to understand the history of research on climate
change and the organizational and political, uh, climate in which that research emerged. The Elevate committee’s charge is to consider how best to promote and connect this kind of material.

As a former architect and landscape architect, I can’t help seeing design archives as a key part of this initiative as well. How does awareness and understanding of climate change affect how we envision the future built environment? (And, how will future disaster movies envision the devastation of that built environment?) Several members of ProjectARCC are also working directly with climate change awareness groups to provide data management help. Archival material documenting climate change may come from all kinds of sources; which makes sense if we consider how the climate change itself affects all corners of the world.

The project is rolling along, but there are many opportunities to get involved. Start by catching up on the July 8 tweet-up via #preserveclimate.

On a personal note, participating in this kind of work can be tough. It’s entirely on a volunteer basis, and everyone involved is either working or in school full-time. With so many people collaborating for the first time, it takes a lot of cat-herding to keep enthusiasm going and keep the project focused. On the other hand, things can move very quickly in the early stage of a project. I was recently away for six days and it’s taken three more to catch up on ProjectARCC emails — and I’m far from the most involved team member. Doing what we can, without wasting time feeling guilty about not doing more, seems like a sustainable approach to volunteer work. It’s amazing that opportunities like this exist to support personally and professionally meaningful causes; but being responsible enough to both contribute significantly and not let everything else fall by the wayside can be a real challenge.

– Amy Wickner