Sustainability at the Smithsonian Institution: Responding to Climate Change
Climate change is the existential threat of our time. As global temperatures rise and extreme weather events become more common, it has become clear that human-induced climate change is already impacting our environment and our way of life. At the Smithsonian, we understand this threat and we believe our global work can lead to solutions that make life on this planet more sustainable.
As part of the Smithsonian’s mission to increase and diffuse knowledge, our scientists have conducted decades of research revealing the effect of human actions, including the impact of climate change, on communities and ecosystems all over the world. We work where humans and nature intersect—in forests, grasslands, drylands, wetlands and ocean ecosystems—to find actionable solutions for building a more sustainable planet. We lead research on marine and terrestrial ecosystems in collaboration with nations facing the worst effects of climate change. We are building digital tools that make our data freely available and accessible, lowering barriers to understanding and progress. Our study of sustainable architecture, design practices and new materials teaches us how we might be able to mitigate the future effects of climate change. Finally, our growing body of climate-change and sustainability-education efforts in more than two dozen countries seeks to motivate people to act. Our position as the world’s largest museum, education and research complex grants us a unique opportunity to create and share critical knowledge with researchers, policymakers and the public that will help ensure a healthy future for our planet.
We believe in leading with optimism by crafting a bold, collaborative vision and action plan. This plan includes elevating and expanding our scientific research to new regions to understand how climate change impacts our planet. It also involves developing more engaging and meaningful digital and in-person experiences to teach the public about climate change. Finally, it involves adopting new policies that will enable our organization to operate more sustainably day-to-day.
Specifically, the Smithsonian is focusing on three priority areas:
- Research—The Smithsonian will continue to develop and scale-up research programs and collaborations with scientists, governments and local communities all over the world. The Institution aims to work with its global partners to unravel the consequences of climate change and help find solutions to its effects. For example, we are studying how threats to habitats such as overfishing, warming seas and pollution have reduced biodiversity, a key characteristic of a resilient and functional ecosystem, and we are identifying opportunities to respond effectively. We are working with local partners in Central America to reintroduce species and build a foundation for carbon markets to restore ecosystems. We are also studying how environmental damage impacts human health and how it disproportionally exacerbates health challenges in the nations and communities least equipped to respond. Finally, we are operating global networks to support international climate change research efforts while making our findings available through digital dashboards for all researchers to use. We are hopeful that this research will help to provide equitable, nature-based resilience solutions that work for people and nature.
- Engaging the public—The Smithsonian will elevate the public discussion around climate change and sustainability through new public programs, exhibitions and digital and classroom-based educational materials. The Smithsonian will also leverage its global connections to convene thought leaders who can work together to accelerate change. By bolstering the Smithsonian’s educational efforts, we aim to help transform scientific knowledge into motivating actions that policymakers and the public can take to slow climate change and make life on Earth more resilient to its effects.
- Smithsonian sustainability—The Smithsonian will continue to plan and implement a strategy to mitigate the effects of increasingly extreme weather on its facilities and collections. This will include 1) improving how we protect our vulnerable facilities from flooding, 2) planning long-term solutions to prepare our collections for the changing climate, 3) adopting new policies to save energy and reduce our carbon footprint and 4) training our staff to engage in climate-resilient practices.
Climate change is a multifaceted problem, but the Smithsonian is confident that its multidisciplinary team of experts, in collaboration with global partners, will be able to identify effective solutions to the effects of climate change. The Smithsonian hosts museums and research centers around the globe, featuring experts on science, history, culture, art, design and architecture. The Institution also partners with nations and Indigenous communities all over the world to foster understanding of the global effects of climate change and to develop specific solutions that address key ecosystems across the planet. These resources put the Smithsonian in a unique position to lead by example in research, education and sustainability.
In this time of crisis, the Smithsonian has renewed its commitment to studying the dramatic changes taking place to our planet, educating the public about this important issue and using digital technology to facilitate equitable access to critical information that accelerates positive change. The Smithsonian will continue to build a bedrock for understanding these challenges; will unwaveringly support biodiversity, ecosystem health, resilience and restoration; and will focus on regenerative practices that seek to find actionable solutions for a more sustainable planet.
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