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October 8, 2018

Cultural Heritage and Its Role in Climate Change

Last month, San Francisco hosted the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) and, in doing so, took center stage in the conversation surrounding climate change, the role that we play in it, and how we might move forward to uphold the historic Paris Agreement, despite a federal government that has officially withdrawn the United States from the agreement. The main goal of the summit was to inspire a global commitment on regional and local levels to cut carbon emissions and it came right on the heels of California Governor Jerry Brown committing California to total carbon neutrality by 2045 as well as for 100 percent of the state’s electricity to come from carbon-free sources by that same year.

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Cultural Heritage and Its Role in Climate Change

Last month, San Francisco hosted the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) and, in doing so, took center stage in the conversation surrounding climate change, the role that we play in it, and how we might move forward to uphold the historic Paris Agreement, despite a federal government that has officially withdrawn the United States from the agreement. The main goal of the summit was to inspire a global commitment on regional and local levels to cut carbon emissions and it came right on the heels of California Governor Jerry Brown committing California to total carbon neutrality by 2045 as well as for 100 percent of the state’s electricity to come from carbon-free sources by that same year.

As leaders, activists, and scientists from all over the world assembled in the Yerba Buena neighborhood of San Francisco to launch the summit, an equally passionate group with a mission to mobilize the cultural heritage and historic preservation sectors for climate action gathered in the California Historical Society galleries for an offshoot event: the Climate Heritage Mobilization. As part of that event, a diverse group of government and tribal leaders, architects, archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, conservators, and other heritage professionals discussed strategies for preserving cultural and historic sites threatened by climate change as well as the role of cultural organizations in carbon mitigation, climate finance, adaptation, and loss and destruction.
The Climate Heritage Mobilization’s day-long conversation culminated in an open event at the Old U.S. Mint where tours were offered throughout the evening. The Old U.S. Mint first opened in 1874 as an official repository for the U.S.’s gold reserves and to serve a burgeoning state and local economy. It is one of the only buildings to survive the 1906 earthquake and has been designated a National Historic Landmark and a California Historic Landmark.  The current effort to restore and preserve this historically significant piece of California history is being spearheaded by a partnership between CHS and the City of San Francisco.

Restoring and preserving the Old Mint is important to CHS because we believe that historic preservation is about more than just keeping old buildings around—it saves the physical places that tell stories about what happened in the past. These places connect us to the events and diverse peoples that came before us and help create modern communities that thrive with meaning and purpose. Historic preservation helps to keep these buildings and sites vibrant, in use, and relevant to the communities that they exist within; it’s also good for the environment.

Construction of U.S. Mint, taken from roof of Lincoln School looking S.W., San Francisco, 1873

The greenest building is the one that’s already built. A recent study from National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Research & Policy Labconcluded that building reuse almost always offers environmental savings (between 4 and 46 percent) over demolition and new construction, regardless of the building type and climate. It takes energy and resources to construct a new building – it saves energy and resources to preserve an old one. In addition, old buildings can be retrofitted to make them more energy efficient and sustainable than they might have been in their original form.

We were honored to have had the opportunity to host the Climate Heritage Mobilization summit during a week that encouraged widespread conversation about climate and the culture and heritage industry’s role in protecting the place we all call home.
Written by Katie Peeler, Marketing Associate at California Historical Society