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In conjunction with the one-day symposium “Living in the Anthropocene: Prospects for Climate, Economics, Health, and Security,” the Smithsonian has released the following statement on climate change:
Rapid and long-lasting climate change is a topic of growing concern as the world looks to the future. Scientists, engineers and planners are seeking to understand the impact of new climate patterns, working to prepare our cities against the perils of rising storms and anticipating threats to our food, water supplies and national security. Scientific evidence has demonstrated that the global climate is warming as a result of increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases generated by human activities. A pressing need exists for information that will improve our understanding of climate trends, determine the causes of the changes that are occurring and decrease the risks posed to humans and nature.
Climate change is not new to the Smithsonian—our scholars have investigated the effects of climate change on natural systems for more than 160 years. We look at processes that occurred millions of years ago alongside developments taking place in today’s climate system.
The Smithsonian responds to climate change in four ways: by increasing knowledge of the human and natural environment through research; by making our findings available to the public; by protecting the Institution’s core asset, the national collections; and by operating our facilities and programs in a sustainable manner.
Research underlies all that we do. Scholars use the Smithsonian’s unparalleled collection of more than 138 million objects and specimens, together with our global network of marine and terrestrial monitoring stations, to examine climate change through multiple lenses. Smithsonian research scientists use satellite- and place-based sensors to study the changing composition of air, water and soil. They study climate history at geological and archaeological field sites around the world. Finally, they excel at baseline studies carried out over decades, which are recognized as essential to tracking the long-term effects of climate change.
The 500 Smithsonian scientists working around the world see the impact of a warming planet each day in the course of their diverse studies. A sample of our investigations includes anthropologists learning from the Native people of Alaska, who see warming as a threat to their 4,000-year-old culture; marine biologists tracking the impacts of climate change on delicate corals in tropical waters; and coastal ecologists investigating the many ways climate change is affecting the Chesapeake Bay.
The dissemination of knowledge gained through research is a public responsibility of the Smithsonian. Our scientists continually communicate with the scholarly community through publications and academic interactions. At the same time, the Smithsonian’s unique combination of museums and interconnected array of traveling exhibitions, publications, media and Web-based tools provide platforms to reach hundreds of millions of people each year across the world. Our goal is to explain in clear and objective terms the causes and effects of climate change as documented in our research and the research of our colleagues.
The Smithsonian has assembled collections of scientific specimens unsurpassed anywhere else in the world. These collections provide invaluable documentation of cultures and global biodiversity for scientists, scholars and the public. Extreme weather, rising sea levels and storm surges pose significant threats to the museums and research centers that house these collections, many of them located on low-lying land. Our charge is to protect, now and far into the future, this irreplaceable resource from the impacts of climate change and other hazards.
We are always striving to operate in ways that minimize the Smithsonian’s environmental footprint, meeting Institutional goals to decrease the use of potable water and fossil fuels, reduce direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and increase use of renewable energy. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is set to be the “greenest” Smithsonian museum yet, designed to achieve a LEED Gold rating, and the new Mathias Laboratory building at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center is on track to receive LEED Platinum certification.
The Smithsonian will continue, as it has for more than a century and a half, to produce basic scientific information about climate change and to explore the cultural and historical significance of these changes. The urgency of climate change requires that we boost and expand our efforts to increase public knowledge and that we inspire others through education and by example. We live in what has come to be called the Anthropocene, or “The Age of Humans.” The Smithsonian is committed to helping our society make the wise choices needed to ensure that future generations inherit a diverse world that sustains our natural environments and our cultures for centuries to come.
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