Climate change impacts on cultural resources: Telling a better story

Posted in: Cultural Resources

2017-endangered-places-300x200pxWhen I am asked what concerns me most about the future, my answer is climate change. I gravitate toward those stories in my news feed and try to stay informed on the latest developments.

Recently I attended a very moving session on climate change and cultural resources at the Saving Places Conference. One of the speakers, Marcy Rockman, is the Climate Change Coordinator of the National Park Service and the lead author of the report Cultural Resources and Climate Change Strategy. The other, Scott Ingram, is an anthropology and archaeology professor who studies the historic responses of native peoples to changes in climate to understand adaptations that are relevant today.

The session was fascinating on two levels.

First is the “And, But, and Therefore” method of storytelling, made popular by the creators of South Park, which creates a pattern for telling stories with more interest. Instead of stringing stories together with a bunch of facts in sentences that begin with “and”, the speakers told their stories with clauses. They used “but” and “therefore” to create tension and keep listeners engaged.

Second was Ingram’s discovery in his dissertation: Human Vulnerability to Climactic Dry Periods in the Prehistoric U.S. Southwest. He found that people in areas with the greatest water resources – near a river or in an area of high precipitation – were the most vulnerable to drought. But people in areas with limited or restricted water resources are better prepared to withstand drought. This discovery challenged assumptions about the best place to live in times of drought. Ingram suggests people in dry climates are more adaptable to scarcity than those in verdant areas.

The topic, speakers and their method of storytelling were very timely. With a Trump administration openly skeptical of climate change, Rockman’s work is overshadowed by politics and opinions. Ingram is using prehistory to pose relevant theories about pressing issues of the present and future. The speakers inspired me into becoming a more active participant in understanding how climate change and cultural resources are interconnected.

Dianna Litvak

About the Author

Dianna Litvak is a public historian in Denver who specializes in surveying historic farms, ranches, post-World War II neighborhoods and linear features such as roads, irrigation ditches and railroad grades. Dianna enjoys hiking, cooking, and reading.

Read more posts by Dianna Litvak

2 responses on “Climate change impacts on cultural resources: Telling a better story

  1. Excellent, informative writing on the challenges and misconceptions of climate change- especially in the evolving era.

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