Museums and Climate Change

Creston Museum Daily Dose of History, News & Articles Leave a Comment

Today’s Museum Week theme focuses on climate change. Did you know this is a thing for museums? It is – actually a kind of huge thing. It varies from one museum to another, of course, but the ways museums in Canada address climate change range from simple steps (providing recycling containers for visitors’ drink containers) to complex leadership (check out the blog site, Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice, if you want to know more).

Here at the Creston Museum, our resources mandate an approach that’s a little more on the simpler end of that scale. We’re planning an exhibit called “Grandfather’s Barn” that will look at some of the creative ways previous generations made use of things they already had – make-and-mend, instead of break-and-buy. We run activities that teach some of those “old-fashioned” skills – with COVID-induced restrictions, we’re moving a lot of that online; check out our Online Learning Centre on Facebook to see our growing collection of videos (and feel free to offer some of your own talents to share!). And we make use of the historical records available to us to track climate change locally over time.

So, today, for your Daily Dose of History / Museum Week Climate Change post, we offer, first, a video (created by niece Katherine) that shows you some traditional skills while making a reusable sandwich wrap that can help reduce your impact on the environment; and, second, a short article we wrote a few years ago about local evidence of climate change.

Here’s the video:

Niece Katherine demonstrates how to make reusable sandwich wraps

And now, here’s your article. Enjoy – and please tell us in the comments, or in an email, how you would like to see the Creston Museum address climate change and environmental sustainability.

Climate Change in the Creston Valley

“F. Napier Denison, director of the Dominion meteorological observatory at Victoria, said recently that the climate of British Columbia and of the whole Dominion has been gradually turning milder for the past fifty years or more. Winnipeg can boast of the greatest change in average temperature, of six degrees. Records for Toronto and Montreal show that these cities have experienced a gradual rise of about four degrees. The Pacific Coast shows the smallest change of all, about one and a half degrees. Two important questions to be answered in the future will be, what is causing this peculiar change in our climate, and how long will it continue?”

That is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Creston Review in February 1935.

Warming climates were being observed by scientists more than eighty years ago. And eighty years ago, those scientists noted that the trend had already been developing for half a century. And yet, just a couple of weeks ago, a visitor to the Museum confidently informed me that “climate change is a myth.”

Okay. Time for local history to blow that one out of the water. That, and the assertion that “we don’t need to worry about it, because it’s just part of a cycle.”

2017 has been one of the hottest summers ever in the Creston Valley.[i] The average daily high temperature between June 1 and August 15 was 28.68°C, putting 2017 in third place behind 2003 (29.38°C) and 2015 (29.07°C).

Average Daily Summer Temperatures, 1912-2017

In terms of “hot” days per year (which I am, rather arbitrarily, defining as 35°C or more), 2017 ranks in third place, tied with 1998 with ten hot days. In first place is 2003, with seventeen, followed by 2007 (twelve hot days). To find the fifth worst “hot day” year, we have to go all the way back to 1936, which had nine.

Historically speaking, years with a spike in average daily temperatures are usually followed by a few years of lower temperatures. The patterns vary in length and frequency, and sometimes there have been a couple of hot years before we got the cooler ones, but generally speaking, yes, they are cyclical.

But what happens when we look at those cycles over time? If you put average daily temperatures for each year into a line graph,[ii] it very clearly shows: Creston’s climate is getting warmer. It doesn’t matter whether you look at average daily high temperature, or average daily low temperature, or average daily mean temperature; whether you look at them for the full year or just for the summer months – they have ALL been climbing steadily upwards. In 1913, the annual average daily mean temperature was 5.7°C. In 2016, it was 9.8°C. That’s a difference of four degrees.

Average Daily Temperatures, 1913-1922 and 2007-2016

True, 1913 was the second-coldest year on record, and 2016 was one of the warmest. So let’s smooth out the extremes a little bit. In the decade from 1913 to 1922, average annual daily temperatures were 6.5°C. In the last ten years (2007-2016), those temps were 9.1°C.

That’s still a sizeable increase.

Following 1913, average daily mean temperatures climbed for a few years, peaking, in 1915, at 7.5°C before dropping again.

Let me say that again: in 1915, a period of warming average daily mean temperatures peaked at 7.5°C.

The last time we saw average daily mean temperatures that cold was in 1996.

A quick recap: Four of the five worst “hot day” years in local history have occurred in the past twenty years. Of the seventeen summers in which average daily high temperatures[iii] exceeded 27°C, seven have occurred in the past two decades. Average daily temperatures are two and a half degrees warmer than they used to be. Cold temperatures today are higher than high temperatures were a century ago. What was extreme weather not so very long ago has now become the norm.

Tell me again how climate change is a myth?

I think one reason it is so easy to deny climate change, or at least to put it out of our minds, is because so much of what we hear about it – melting polar ice caps, drought in California, rising sea levels, etc – is very remote from our daily lives. Our climate is generally fairly moderate, there’s nary a polar bear in sight, and we have several mountain ranges between us and the nearest ocean.

But climate change is happening, and it is having an impact here at home. We are already seeing it in dwindling water resources, worsening forest-fire seasons, invasive species of plants and animals. I’ve been told that the heat this year made the cherries almost too soft to pick; if the climate continues to warm, how long will it be until even overnight temperatures are still too warm to harvest? What cooler-weather crops are likely to become unviable altogether? 2017 was the driest summer ever[iv], and the swings between extremely dry and extremely wet seasons are getting markedly more dramatic – will we be able to cope with that unpredictability? What does all this mean for our local forestry industry, for agriculture, for tourism, for our health?

These are very big, very complex questions, and I definitely need to talk to a lot of people, far more knowledgeable than I, before I can attempt to answer them.  But I will get back to you on them.

In the meantime, let’s stop talking about climate change as a myth.

[i] Weather data is drawn from historical weather records available from Environment Canada at Figures presented here primarily reflect the “Creston” weather station; however, data from “Creston Campbell Scientific” weather station has been used from 2014 onwards and for certain months from 2007-2013 where data for the Creston station was incomplete. Weather data is available from 1 June 1912 to the present day.

[ii] Daily mean temperatures as reported by Environment Canada, averaged over the entire year. 1912 and 2017 have not been included, as data for those years is incomplete. All calculations, graphing, and trendlines were done in Microsoft Excel.

[iii] Daily high temperatures for the period 1 June-15 August each year, averaged by the number of days in the period.

[iv] Precipitation data, 1 June-15 August 2017, indicates a total of 23.2 mm of precipitation, four millimetres less than the next-driest years, 1973 (27.5 mm) and 1922 (27.8 mm).