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

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