Toolkit: Find Your Human Story

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Cultural and historic sites can tell about climate change in a number of ways. The policy memo Climate Change and Stewardship of Cultural Resources tasks us with sharing these stories, so read on below to learn how your site can contribute to sharing the story of climate change.

Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park
Change in the Material World
Changing climate is having impacts to human structures, archaeological artifacts, and other human creations.
Cultural Resources Impacts Table
Cultural resources are vulnerable to dramatic and well-publicized effects of climate change, such as sea level rise or storm surges. Evidence from across the NPS is beginning to indicate they are also more vulnerable to other, more subtle processes, such as the impact of more freeze/thaw cycles on stone materials or more rapid wetting and drying cycles on adobe buildings, and the loss of human knowledge traditionally associated with material culture. The impacts table is a first step in identifying this broad range of impacts so that all of them can be included in stewardship practices. Given the diversity and uncertainty of climate change, this table cannot be exhaustive; other impacts to cultural resources likely will be identified as climate change develops. However, it can be used as a guide for identified impacts and motivation for continued research, monitoring, and understanding of all effects of climate change.

National Landmarks at Risk
This report from the Union of Concerned Scientists details how many historical and cultural landmarks in the United States are at risk from climate change impacts.
Coastal Heritage

Coastal Assets Report
Forty coastal national parks were studied to determine the exposure of park assets to long-term sea level rise. Assets include park infrastructure (e.g., roads, bridges, water systems) as well as cultural resources (e.g., lighthouses, fortifications, archaeological sites).

This summary report details 24 coastal adaptation efforts occurring in 15 states across the country. These solutions span a broad gamut of management, including baseline data collection, historic preservation, archaeological surveys, habitat restoration, infrastructure design, and long-term planning.

The National Park Service is developing a cultural resources climate change response strategy that brings climate science to the table with historic preservation planning. The goal of the plan will be to make it easier for managers to choose realistic and appropriate options for managing vulnerable cultural resources and infrastructure.

Area Closed sign
Change in Experience and Lifeways
Changes in traditional lifeways trace personal and community experiences in environmental change across recent generations.
Park Experience
A recent, 2015, study conducted through the NPS Climate Change Response Program takes a look at how visitors are being effected by climate at 340 national parks across the country. There appears to be an association between visitation and temperatures at parks; patterns and projections of how visitation may change in response to climate are identified.
Human Health
EPA: Climate Impacts on Human Health
Another site from the Environmental Protection Agency shows how climate change could affect human health, infrastructure, and transportation systems, as well as energy, food, and water supplies. Some groups of people will likely face greater challenges than others. Climate change may especially impact people who live in areas that are vulnerable to coastal storms, drought, and sea level rise or people who are poor. Similarly, some types of professions and industries may face considerable challenges from climate change.
World Health Organization: Climate Change
The World Health Organization has a comprehensive topic page featuring fact sheets, frequently asked questions, and publications about how climate change is affecting human health.
A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change
From the National Institute of Environmental Health Services and Environmental Health Perspectives, this is an interagency study looking at a variety of cross-cutting issues that impact human health related to climate. Disease vectors, heat-related mortality, mental health implications, and human development effects are studied. These factors are synthesized and recommendations for action are included.

Locomotive steam engine
Origins of Modern Climate Change
How did we get here? Some parks have stories to tell about the development of the modern world, contributing to the cause (and possible) solution for our climate crisis.

Coming soon!

Mesa Verde ruins
Lessons in Change from Past Societies
Parks contain examples of past human responses to past climatic and environmental variability.

Coming soon!

Putting it All Together

The My Site's Stories Worksheet [PDF] is meant to help you think about your site and understand how it contributes to telling a climate story. The previous link shares an example of a completed worksheet for a cultural resources park (Homestead National Monument), and you can also download a blank worksheet [MS Word file] to complete on your own.

Last updated: April 1, 2020


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