Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Webinar – What We Stand To Lose: Community Leaders Saving the Arctic’s Cultural Heritage

Webinar – What We Stand To Lose: Community Leaders Saving the Arctic’s Cultural Heritage

March 16, 2022

Juliana Olsson:

All right. Hello everyone. And welcome to today's program, "What We Stand To Lose: Community Leaders Saving the Arctic's Cultural Heritage". My name's Juliana Olsson. I'm an exhibit writer and editor here at The National Museum of Natural History. To write all the labels that you see and hopefully read in the exhibits like Deep Time and Objects of Wonder, I get to our collections sometimes even tag along expeditions, but most importantly, I get to talk to researchers like our guest today.

For those of you watching, I am a white woman with brown hair up in a bun in my mid thirties. I'm coming to you from my home office, which is unfortunately very beige and I'm wearing a turquoise sweater. On screen is a photo of our speaker today, along with the date and title of today's event. Thank you to Joyful Signing for providing closed captions for today's event.

The closed captions can be used by clicking the CC live captioning button in your Zoom tool bar. So today's program is exciting for a couple of reasons. As you may have seen or heard, the largest known collection of statues of women ever assembled together is currently on display in and around the Smithsonian Museum and Gardens. The 120 orange life size 3D printed statues are of a diverse coalition of contemporary women's stem innovators and role models, leading a variety of fields.

It's all part of the American Association for the of science, if then ambassador cohort. So lucky for us, one of those AAAS IF/THEN® ambassadors, is our featured guest today, Dr. Victoria Herrmann, who I'll tell you more about in a moment. We're also excited about today's program because it's part of a month long celebration of women's futures month at the Smithsonian. And you can learn more about that by following the link in our Q and A. It's also worth noting that today's topic of cultural heritage of the Arctic is deeply important to the National Museum, natural history's Arctic Studies Center.

So our Arctic Studies Center conducts research on Northern lands, environments, cultures, and communities through the integration of Smithsonian collections and field studies to learn about the history and contemporary peoples of the circle polar region. So the center works closely with indigenous groups, universities, organizations, and government agencies, to promote the welfare of Northern people and to educate the public about their history, and their arts and languages and the north, particularly in Alaska and Canada. So this is via a network of our joint community focused heritage, educational and knowledge documentation projects. Our Smithsonian anthropologists manage and study what has become one of the world's largest well-documented anthropological and natural history collections representing cultures of the north American and Uranian Arctic and Subarctic. The anthropological collections include material, culture artifacts, ethological observations, photographs, illustrations, maps, language, mythology, you name it. This collection and archive has been crucial to addressing modern issues of language preservation, cultural heritage preservation, which we'll be talking about today, sustainability and the impacts of global warming.

So those are all among the center's current research projects. We've put a link in the chat where you can learn more about the Arctic studies center and their ongoing research and work because it's a lot. And it's really interesting. So now please allow me to introduce our guest, Dr. Victoria Herrmann. She's a Climate Researcher and Geographer who works with coastal communities in the United States and US territories on climate change adaptation. As climate change advocate and educator, Dr. Herrmann is currently on sabbatical from being the director of the Arctic Institute. She's an Explorer for Nat geo and a research professor at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.

As a AAAS IF/THEN® ambassador, Victoria shares how, if we collaborate across borders, then big problems become solvable. We are thrilled to have her here today and we'll start the program with the presentation from Victoria, and then you'll have a chance to hear more from her in a conversation. And then we'll open it up for an audience by Q&A. So please feel free to submit your questions at any time. There's a Q&A box in the Zoom tool bar. And the Q&A goes by very quickly. So we'll try to answer as many questions as possible, but try to get them in early so that we know to get to them. And with that, I would like to turn it over to Victoria Herrmann.

Victoria Herrmann:

Thank you so, so much, Juliana, and hello everyone. Welcome. For those of you who are watching, I am a white woman with an asymmetrical haircut that's brown and a bookcase is behind me. I am so excited to be joining everyone today. And as I was thinking about what to share, I thought about where I was and where the world was two years ago, March, 2020. And as our world moved into lockdown and the dark devastating despair of the pandemic sank in, I saw home comforts like making my family's halwa recipe and trying my hand at the star baking breakout of 2020 sourdough. Now, I wasn't alone in my quest for a sourdough starter. Search interest in sourdough tripled as the Western world went into lockdown and the ultimate sourdough starter guide on YouTube sword to six million views. Now, unfortunately for me, I learned quite quickly that I should stick to my career as an Arctic researcher because my starter failed about a week into my baking blender.

But for those who were successful at domesticating wild yeasts and turning them into delicious doughs, every sour dough that's baked is unique. The taste is unique. And sure, they all have the same foundational ingredients, water, flour, sugar. But the wild yeasts and bacteria that ferment the sugar to create that tart flavor are placed specific. A sourdough baguette from San Francisco with the salty breeze of the Pacific ocean that sweeps into pantries tastes different than a boule baked at the high altitude of a Denver bakery.

Each crisp bite tells a story from where and when it came. The best sour dough that I've ever tasted came from an unassuming red bucket tuck beneath the sink of Cliff Weyiouanna in Shishmaref, Alaska. The dough is nearly a century old, 98 years to be exact, and has been passed down from one generation to the next. It's rich and tangy and flapjack form and fills the house with a fresh yeasty smell as Cliff flips them over the gas stove.

I sat at Cliff's kitchen table on a brisk August morning in 2016 with my research partner, Cliff and Cliff's girlfriend. The Summer Olympics were on in a small TV in the corner. And freshly picked berries were scattered around the floor waiting to be frozen and kept through winter. The counters were busy with the trappings of a lived in home, a bright red thermostat, half filled, juicy cups, a greasy towel hung haphazardly over a basin. And as we tucked into steaming plates of pancakes and Michael Phelps swam butterfly on the broadcast, we could have been having breakfast in any American kitchen, but we weren't in a Manhattan high rise or a ranch home in Montana. We were in the American Arctic sitting feet away from one of our country's fastest eroding shorelines. Shishmaref sits on a narrow barrier island in the Chukchi Sea.

At points, the island measures barely a mile wide. Its population of around 600 people, mainly Alaska natives, have lived a subsistence lifestyle of hunting and bury taking since time and Memorial. Now, for villagers, erosion is nothing new. They've seen land loss to see from natural trends for hundreds of years, as currents ebb and flow over their homeland's dynamic coast. In normal years, an ice pack develops an early autumn around the island creating a natural barrier against waves from severe storms that roll up from the south Pacific into the Chukchi Sea and crash on Alaska's beaches. But Shishmaref is facing a new, far more dangerous normal. The Arctic is warming at three times the rate of the global average. And as air and sea temperatures rise at neck breaking speed, the once thick ice that protected the village's home is melting. No ice combined with the effects of thawing permafrost, the softening of the very ground that the village sits upon have resulted in a loss of three to five feet of shoreline per year. A single severe storm can wash away 50 feet of land.

It was these changes that brought me to Shishmaref and to Cliff's kitchen table nearly six years ago. In 2016 and 2017, my research partner and I traveled across the United States in US territories on a research and storytelling project called "America's Eroding Edges". From American Samoa to Alaska, from Mississippi to Miami, we traveled to hear, see and experience America's climate story. Funded by National Geographic and partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, we interviewed more than 350 local leaders to better understand how climate change was impacting American communities today and what was needed to support those local leaders in adapting to the climate consequences we can no longer avoid. Now, if I'm being honest, the results of that research surprised me. Now, despite being seeped in a strong cultural community at home, that gave me that halwa recipe that got me through the first few weeks of the pandemic when my sourdough starter died, I didn't really have a professional vocabulary for cultural heritage.

I had never heard the term historic preservation, and I had no idea what the National Trust For Historic Preservation was. I was a climate researcher. I worked with scientists and traditional knowledge holders with activists and policy makers, not with preservationists. But when asked what climate change impacts were affecting their communities, most local leaders quickly moved past the expected answers of financial costs and infrastructure damage to tell me stories of how a rapidly warming world was impacting their histories, cultures, languages, traditions, foods, and identities. In American Samoa, community champion Andra Samoa showed how higher tides are flooding Taro fields, killing a central staple food of both everyday meals and ceremonies. Without tar, their village is limiting traditional livelihoods, a local food supply, bringing daunting questions of abandoning and relocating to the mainland of American Samoa as taro dies.

In Miami, Florida, community advocate and biomedical scientists, Dr. Kilan Ashad-Bishop explained how sea level rise threatens the city's multi-billion dollar waterfront and how that trend is exacerbating gentrification and displacement in the high ground cultural community of historic little Haiti. And in the native village of Teller, Alaska, Mayor Blanch Okbaok-Garnie showed how thaw permafrost is endangering generations of her family's graves. Like Shishmaref, Teller is one of 31 villages at risk of immediate displacement from flooding and erosion across the state of Alaska. Now, these three were just three of hundreds of interviews across the United States. And the one unavoidable takeaway from those interviews was that climate change is at its core. A story about the looming reality of losing the things that make us who we are. Now, I want us to stop and think about that for a moment because all of you are here on this zoom today at an event whose title asks, what does humanity stand to lose, as we struggle to survive climate change?

Now, we can sit here and discuss how climate damages to physical infrastructure, crop failures, public health impacts, redirected government spelling, will be the biggest risk to our global economy. We can talk about how climate change could cost $23 trillion by 2050 to our global economy. But there's also damage that can't be calculated. Centuries of history destroyed each hurricane season in the Gulf coast, by wind and water. We can talk about the California Vineyard that once served as the backdrop for a daughter's wedding that burned beneath the raging flames of prolonged wildfire. Or the unique taste of sourdough. That's been living on Shishmaref for a hundred year, that's displaced by rising seas. Too often we forget how the places and the cultural history in our lives defines us and defines the communities that care for us.

We've become mobile. Some of us move for college, others for jobs. We lose ourselves in the melting pot of big cities. And that mobility, it's a good thing. It exposes us to the wider world and makes us more adaptive to change. But through all that change. We know that the places, the home cooked foods, the cultures that are dear to us will remain intact. That will not always be the case. There will come a point in the not so distant future when those places, those foods, those identities will be affected by climate change. Beyond the point of saving. Now, a few days before Cliff invited me over for breakfast in Shishmaref, the native village decided in a 94 to 78 boat, to relocate their lives, livelihoods and homes to a new site, further inland to escape some of the most dramatic effects of climate change. For Cliff, for Shishmaref, and for the four million people that call the Arctic home, the threat of losing centuries of culture, tradition and history is to climate impacts is already an everyday reality.

And though, they may be the first to face cultural loss, they will not be the last. What happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic. It impacts us all. No matter what corner of this country you call home, whether it's the great lakes or the great planes, the oceans or the mountains, climate change is already causing irreplaceable cultural loss and erasing untold histories. In 2021, the US experienced 20 separate billion dollar weather and climate related disasters. In 2020, we experienced 22. Each of these hurricanes, these floods, these fires cause untold cultural heritage and historic sites to be lost. Now, these extreme weather events are the fastest growing threat to historic sites, not only here in the US and the US territories, but across the world. And they are the single greatest danger to our planet's most spectacular natural heritage. And that's because cultural landscapes archeological sites, are historic buildings and culturally important crops cannot change as quickly as is required to adapt to the climate crisis. In the years to come, these climate impacts will exact immense grief on both a planetary and a personal scale.

Now, as we take stock of what we stand to lose, things may seem hopeless, but we're not helpless. Every individual has a skill, a voice, a career to wield as a tool to address climate change. Now, ultimately, climate action is powered by people. From presidents to protestors, we each have a part to play in limiting the devastation of the climate crisis. Now, I am not here to tell you that climate change can be stopped. The Arctic ice will melt and large swaths of frozen ground will thaw. With every degree we allow our world to warm, the more we lose. But by demanding climate action from our governments and from ourselves, we can work today to overt the worst damage and adapt to the impacts we can no longer avoid. So as we close out this introduction and move into what I hope is a robust discussion, we arrive at that second question from the title of this event, What can we do to make sure that the places of cultural heritage we value that are faced with radical change are preserved for generations to come?

I've spent the past five years since that first National Geographic funded project answering that question. I've had the immense privilege to continue to work with national geographic and the national trust for historic preservation in building out a volunteer platform that connects skills based volunteers across the United States with communities in need to adapt to buildings, to preserve historic sites and to support oral histories in communities that are experiencing climate loss. This platform rise up to rising tides is powered by people. From graphic designers to accountants, from lawyers to historians, we are able to connect communities in Alaska, in US territories on the east and west coast with the assistance they need to enact their visions.

Now, these projects are important, but they are not enough because I am just one climate researcher and advocate. But each of you on this webinar hold the potential to be real change makers for the communities that you live in, that you work alongside, and join the overwhelming tide of climate champions, not just in America, but across the world. Every individual in this Zoom room has a part to play in transforming our country through adaptation and supporting communities to reach further. And so, as I close out, I have a few homework points for you. As we move into this discussion, I want you to think about how your work intersects with climate change. And what cultural aspects of your life, whether it's the food you eat, the coffee or chocolate in your grandmother's homemade cake recipe, or the garden that grows tomatoes outside of your home that you work on with your children, is going to be impacted by climate change.

And then I want you to tell that story to your colleagues, to your friends, because we are only a handful of people on this call. But the more that we share our stories of climate and culture, the more we enable people to care, to promote compassion and to courageously act on climate change. And I want you to reach further, to join us at and to volunteer your time and your skills to support communities across this country, adapt their culture and heritage to climate change.

Now, thinking back to March, 2020, and the two years that we have experienced since, how much loss that we have all faced. But I also think of the compassion that we have built across our communities across our country and borders. And as we move into our discussion, I hope that we can take that compassion and apply it to climate action, both here at home and across borders. Because as we said in our intro to this, if we work across boarders, we can accomplish anything. So I will call Juliana back on and hopefully we have lots and lots of questions in our Q&A for us to have a great discussion.

Juliana Olsson:

Yes. Thank you so much, Victoria, for that overview and for setting the stage for our conversation. I'm just going to remind the audience, please submit your questions at any time in the Q&A box on your Zoom tool bar. And thanks to those who have already submitted, we're keeping track, and we'll ask them during the conversation. To start off, I noticed the leaders of the climate change adaptation that you highlighted were all women, which is pretty appropriate as we celebrate women's history month and the if then collection. And so often the climate change conversation focuses on these big macro global level meetings and they're dominated by male figures like Al Gore. But what you're saying is it's a totally different picture at the local level. And I want you to talk more about what you're seeing about the women in charge.

Victoria Herrmann:

Yeah. So if the realization that cultural heritage was the story of climate change in America as the first shock of my research, the second was that the face of climate action in this country is overwhelmingly female. And I think I was shocked because of exactly what you called out Juliana. When I think of the big climate negotiations, when I think of climate leaders like Al Gore or secretary John Kerry, they're overwhelmingly men. But as I travel across the country, and as I work with community leaders, there are thousands of invisible woman heroes that are in every community that are dedicating their entire careers, their lives to caring for not just their family, their community, but bringing communities together to act on climate.

And I think at its core, that's because women are courageous, they are compassionate. They have a commitment to ensure that everyone is safe and the things that bind us together are identities. The food that we eat together, our homes, our shared spaces are kept safe. And that's what I see from Andrea Samoa, in the American Samoa to Dr. Kilan Ashad-Bishop in Miami to Mayor Okbaok-Garnie in Teller, Alaska.

Juliana Olsson:

That's great food for thought for all of our visitors, especially to be thinking about this month. I want you to talk a little bit more about what we're at risk of losing. I know that you mentioned American Samoa, the taro crop is really, really important. What are you seeing of elements of culture that are being lost, but then also, how are people adapting and actually preserving those bits of culture, either physically moving things to higher ground, or how are they preserving practices?

Victoria Herrmann:

In climate change in climate action, we think of how we can help in three big buckets, right? We think of mitigation, how we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, things like taking public transit, walking, or buying an electric vehicle over using gas. We also think of adaptation, the second bucket. And that's how we are adapting to a warmer world. And humans as a species are pretty cool, right? We can adapt to some of the most extreme circumstances. And we're seeing that across the globe with the preservation of historic sites and cultural heritage humans are innovating, community leaders are innovating by using technology to preserve historic buildings.

And that means having a view of the future with climate modeling to see exactly how their historic sites are going to be impacted in 10 years, in 20 years, in 50 years, and making smart decisions on how to preserve those buildings by elevating them up above flood waters or fireproofing them based on those scientific models. And communities are using traditional and local knowledge, particularly indigenous communities in the United States and around the world who have adapted sites for centuries, understanding how to live with rising water rather than fighting against it, creating more flood public spaces or floodable crops, so that you can carry those traditions into a more uncertain climate future.

That third category of how we think about climate action is loss and damage. And that's the other point that you hit on. What happens to the sites, the traditions, the foods that we cannot save. And it is devastating. I want to just acknowledge that for everyone on the call. This is really heavy and upsetting realities that are lack of climate action over the last several decades has resulted in a reality where we will lose culture. But that does not mean that we can't capture that culture in those historic sites and preserve their stories for generations to come. And that's what's happening with many sites that we are seeing lost to sea level rise, to drought, to fires or floods. There are 3D scans of sites that are being lost. There are oral histories that are being captured of the stories yet to be told of those sites that are preserved in local museums and passed down from this generation to the next who may not be able to physically access those sites.

Juliana Olsson:

So that brings up an interesting point about the resources that are needed. So you've been talking a lot about oral history projects and 3D scans. I know a lot of people, when we think about climate change, how we're going to preserve our heritage or preserve physical locations. If you think about resources like, we need money, we need sea walls, we need all sorts of interventions. But are there particular challenges or things that make it maybe a little bit of a low hanging fruit or easier to do this cultural preservation, cultural heritage preservation? If it's just about getting oral histories, is that something that more people could get involved in? What other resources?

Victoria Herrmann:

Yeah. So cultural heritage and historic preservation are usually very low when you think of what needs to be funded in a climate changed world. We think of first funding, our critical infrastructure. Our roads and bridges, our sewer systems, our electrical grid, which are critical, but they are pretty high priced items to adapt. Like you said, Juliana, much of our historic preservation that goes unfunded, those oral histories are much, much smaller cost. And if we can think of a few things that anyone on this call can do, we can advocate for the places that matter to us. If we don't tell our local leaders, whether that's in town, your city, your state, or territory, or nationally in the United States or elsewhere, people won't know that culture, historic sites, traditions are important enough to add into our budgets, even if they don't cost as much as other things to adapt.

So, one, tell stories of the places that matter to you and to your community. The second thing that we can do is advocate for our institutions in our cities, communities, states to rise up and help preserve. That could be community colleges or universities, libraries. It takes a very small amount of resources to come together, partner with an organization like the National Trust For Historic Preservation, to run an oral history workshop, to set up a booth at a local library, to capture stories of families who have engaged with a historic site and to preserve that, not just for that family, but for the entire community and for children and generations to come.

And our third thing that we can do is to make sure that if you do have a skill, and all of us do have a skill, whether that's being really good at taking photos on your phone, maybe you are a librarian yourself, or you are at a local company that could create a space, a physical space for people to get together, to think creatively about how you can contribute. It's not always about donating dollars or voting. Those are important, but creating spaces in your community for people to act on climate change, connect, grow, compassion, are really important. So I think that thinking creatively on how to bring people together to preserve local histories is so important and you can do it with close to no money.

Juliana Olsson:

That's awesome. And that's great that it's actual actionable advice for all of our listeners here. I'm going to ask one last question before we get into the Q&A. So just a reminder to everyone to keep putting questions in there. You've mentioned you've been working in the Arctic, but all the way down in America, in Samoa and all around the United States. So all these places are very different in terms of climate. Well, maybe not, in terms of topography. But are there some similarities that would serve people to hear about in terms of the issues that these communities are facing and are these communities actually able to coordinate with each other and collaborate and share what's worked?

Victoria Herrmann:

So it may seem shocking that as an Arctic researcher, I have colleagues and work to support friends in American Samoa in Fiji, in other small island states in the South Pacific. And it is not just because I grew up on the Jersey Shore and I love beaches. It is because there are shared climate impacts between some of the coldest and warmest places on our planet. When we think of the Arctic, it is a large region of four million people. Those communities are remote. They're mostly fly in, fly out communities that you can only get to by plane. That's really similar to many islands in the south Pacific, which means our challenges with how to support them, how to provide tangible resources and how connect with wider networks of help from places with bigger populations like Washington DC, faces both the same challenges, but also the same creative solutions. And from a climate change impact portfolio profile, the communities that I work to support in the Arctic and in American Samoa, both face shoreline erosion.

So the taking away of beaches, they face the challenge of sea level rise. These long term trends that we have to prepare for now, and the changing ecosystems that communities rely on for food security, but also for their cultural heritage and spiritual connection to the land. And I think it's important to think about those connections because we look at a globe and there are so many things that are embedded in how we visualize our planet, that divide us. If I take a world map, you think of the borders of our countries, you think of different climate zones, you think of different continents. But we all share the same home planet and we all share the same climate and we will all share the same uncertain future, which also means we have to share the same solutions that we can take today to create a safer world for everyone.

And while the pandemic has brought tremendous devastation, it is also created opportunities like this on Zoom, where we can connect across great distances, share our stories and create coalitions because we're stronger when we work together. And I hope that that is to stay as we move into the future.

Juliana Olsson:

Awesome. Well with that, I'm going to bump us over to the Q and A because I'm sure it's boiling over with all sorts of questions. But real quick, it looks like Bill Fitzhugh, the director of the Arctic Studies Center here at NMH is in the audience today. And so I just want to relay his comment to everyone. He says, "First of all, thank you Victoria, for this great overview. And he'd like to remind people how resourceful the Arctic peoples and cultures have been over the centuries and millennia and they've endured and prospered and have learned to adapt as they certainly will continue to do during current climate change. There's culture loss, but there's also culture change and innovation. And this is going to be key to continuity, both for Arctic peoples and cultures. But it sounds like for all of our human cultures around the world, as you were just saying."

So with that in mind, I'm going to go to our first question. This is from Ramey Wood from the Interior Alaska, and he wants us to, or she, I'm sorry, please give us your impressions of, or opinions about the importance of interdisciplinary work. So between academic disciplines and the sciences, but also with respect to interagency work, working with media, community leaders, direct service programs, et cetera. What role does this interdisciplinary approach play?

Victoria Herrmann:

Interdisciplinary approach plays a critical role. I don't think it is possible to act on climate change without an all hands-on deck approach. Climate change does not stop at any particular agency or department jurisdiction or any field of research study or profession, right? Climate change impacts every aspect of life, which means that we need everyone to be sharing their ideas and working together. Again, similar to our view of the world, we tend to work in silos. The fact that as a climate researcher, I had never met a historic preservationist before. That's a problem, right? That means that the solutions that I am implementing are only 10% of what they could be. To work interdisciplinary, to bring together people who have different experiences, different expertise means that you get to build off of one another to challenge each other, to think bigger and to fill in the gaps of things that you don't know.

And climate change adaptation is a great example of this. To come up with a plan for how to adapt a state or our entire country, to the impacts of climate change. We need everyone from transportation workers to think about how to build new transportation routes across this country. We need professionals who work on water infrastructure to understand how we can not just continue to support all uses of our waterways, but also how we can work with those in agriculture to support growing. We work with traditional growers who use those agricultural fields, not just for plants for eating, but for medicine that then leads us to health workers to understand the impacts climate change will bring on our health and wellbeing. That then brings us to think about mental health and consequences of cultural loss that go on and on and on because our world and humans are complex.

And that brings me to a slide that I had in that introduction that urged everyone to reach further. And that doesn't just mean to act on climate change. It means to reach out and talk about climate change to someone that you probably don't have a lot in common with professionally. It means as a farmer to reach out and talk to a doctor about climate change. It means if you work in the Department of Justice in Alaska to reach out and talk to someone from the department of health, because that's how we make those connections, interdisciplinary work doesn't happen haphazardly, it because of those human conversations that we have to initiate.

Juliana Olsson:

That's fantastic. On a slightly different note, it seems like cultural loss could be gradual. And you only notice it once it's gone. Has it been a challenge to identify the losses while they're happening? Or what does it look like on the ground?

Victoria Herrmann:

Climate change happens at a few different speeds, right? So we think of the really quick sudden onset disasters like hurricanes cyclones, wildfires, flash floods. And in those senses, it is so important to proactively adapt to climate change, to preserve or raise that historic building to move culturally important plants into a greenhouse before the next flood hits, right? Adaptation is proactive at its best rather than reactive. But there's also slower changes, like you mentioned, to climate change where climate impacts move on a decade or sometimes a century long trend. Things like desertification or sea level rise, warming air or sea temperatures, that are equally catastrophic, but are harder to get the attention of decision makers. And often to have people invest in solutions because you can see the damage of a hurricane or a fire. It is more difficult to see the damage of sea level rise. But those slow onset disasters do have one benefit.

They give us a lot more time to proactively adapt or in the case where cultural heritage cannot be saved, to document that through scans and oral histories. And in that sense, we, again go back to the importance of talking about what places matter to you and raising them to your community leaders to make sure that they're being considered in future plans. If your town or your city, your state has a 10 year strategy, does it include historic sites? And those long term trends? Is your local government thinking about how to preserve, to move that site, to budget for it? Maybe, or maybe they're waiting for someone like you to write them a letter to stand up at a town hall meeting and remind them that climate change is not just losing things today, but it's an opportunity to preserve things that may be lost 50 years from now by actions that we can take together in 2022.

Juliana Olsson:

That's great because that also leads us into our next set of questions. So this is actually three questions, and they're related to this idea of what you can do. The first is from W. What can we do in everyday life to more specifically help the people that are losing their cultures? So if if you don't feel like it's impacting you where you are, what can you do to people who are living on these front lines?

And I'll go through these questions real quick, and then I'll repeat them so that you can answer them one by one. The next person asks, they've been to the Arctic several times to photograph wildlife, and they want to find a way to volunteer to assist native Alaskans. And they wanted to know of any places or ways that they can volunteer, knowing that they live here in DC, in Maryland. So it's that similar question of, how do you help someone if you're not there?

And the third question is, loved the homework that you gave. Can you give examples of streamlining climate into your work?

So again, the first two questions were about specifically helping people who are losing their culture if that's not where you are, especially in Alaska with native Alaskans. And the other one was just more of these examples of streamlining.

Victoria Herrmann:

So there are always lots of things that people can do to act on climate change. And I think anyone that acts on climate change has to be an optimist or else you wouldn't be working in this. So I have many things that you can do. I will just list a few things. So I share the Rise Up To Rising Tides platform that you can volunteer your time in. But that's just one of several organizations that work specifically on cultural heritage and climate change.

Another is the Climate Heritage Network. And I will share a link to that. Not just in the United States, but across the world, they have different projects that you can join to support adapting cultural heritage, to climate impacts. It is a really great network of leaders that value everyone, providing their own voices and skills in projects. They have a few in the Arctic, but they have ones all across the world, especially this year in 2022, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention. They have a great program and campaign that connects anyone with a project on climate and heritage, and I will share that with you.

What can we do living in DC or Maryland? There are two things that I think you can get involved in. One, anyone who lives across the United States and US territories, the same suggestions still applies to share how important climate change adaptation to cultural heritage is on a national scale. It is not just local leaders that make these decisions. It is folks here in Washington, DC, that also need to value our historic sites and our cultural communities and the leadership of cultural communities in adapting their own sites.

So I would still encourage you to advocate for national action on preservation and adaptation of cultural heritage. The national trust for historic preservation is also located in Washington, DC. It is headquartered here. And they also have a number of projects that you can get involved in that help. I don't know that they help the Arctic specifically, but they do have places that you can volunteer on climate impacts. And those places span across the country. And you can go to their website at and search for Climate Change and the Hope Crew, and look into opportunities to get involved there. And the last question, which I am thinking about, but can't quite-

Juliana Olsson:

Yes. The last question was about streamlining climate into your work. I'm not sure if the question asker was asking about, anyone's work in particular, how do you get climate into that? So say your job is a baker or an exhibit writer or a doctor or a lawyer, how do you streamline climate into your work?

Victoria Herrmann:

Yeah, that is a really great and a really hard question because it's easy to talk about it in big terms, but hard to bring it down specifically. And for this, I will reference another group of amazing climate champions that run a podcast called, How To Save A Planet. Doctor, yeah. So Juliana knows this and is very excited. So if you go to their website, just type in, How To Save A Planet podcast, they have a really great worksheet that is blank that shows you how to streamline what your work is, what your skillset is and what you are most interested in contributing to in climate change. And they have some great resource on their websites on how to take your worksheet once you fill it out and put it into action.

They have, I think a couple of examples of this. But not knowing exactly what field you work in, I would highly suggest taking that worksheet, filling it out and following their to connect directly to how you should contribute to climate action based not just on what you work on, but really what gets you excited because we all have skills, but we also all have passions. And all of those passions can also lead to climate action.

Juliana Olsson:

That leads me in to one of our next questions, which is thinking about who are the activists, authors, journalists, podcasts that you follow that we should be paying attention to. And it could be these larger national level efforts, but it could also be any of the individuals who are leading the local efforts. If you think that we need to be paying attention to their work, now's the time [inaudible 00:52:10].

Victoria Herrmann:

Yeah. So I will suggest on a big scale, the How To Save A Planet podcast, I think is a really great way to engage in climate action and it is pretty fun to listen to. So I would suggest that for any of you, podcast listeners. For another intro to climate change, I think National Geographic, again, on the very big scale, did a great Earth Day magazine in April, last April, and also an ABC special series called, Our Climate Of Hope. And I think it's a really cool publication and story because it has both fixed and nonfiction of what our world is now and what our world might be in 2070. And you can flip back and forth and you can watch through Our Climate Of Hope, and it raises a lot of local innovators and climate advocates across the country that show not just what we stand to lose, but also the incredible innovation that is happening across the US and US territories.

So I would also suggest that. And then maybe a final one, and this is specifically for the Arctic. I will give all of the recommendations to check out the Arctic Youth Network, which is an incredible group of young leaders across the Arctic that are fostering a region-wide network to uplift youth voices in leadership, around different issues. And some of those issues include climate change and ocean conservation. And you can check out some youth writing from young Arctic leaders on, and you can sign up for their newsletter to get engaged and to support their work.

Juliana Olsson:

That's awesome. Okay. We're getting towards the end, so I'm about to do the final question. I'm sorry I couldn't get into all of the excellent questions that we got today. But real quick, I'm going to ask you, Victoria, to let the audience know the best way that they can reach you or learn more about your work. So where should they go to find out more?

Victoria Herrmann:

Yeah, you can e-mail me at Very easy. Just my name with a dot in the middle. Please reach out. You can also follow me on Twitter, though I don't tweet that much, at @VSHerrmann, H-E-R-R-M-A-N-N, to follow along on some of my other work. And I will say there is an exciting new project coming down later this year in partnership with National Geographic on cultural heritage and climate change. That, I am so, so excited about, and expands my team's work on a global scale. So be on the lookout for that and how to get involved if you're interested.

Juliana Olsson:

Fantastic. Okay. So final question. How do you continue to be optimistic and hope focused in the face of frankly so much grief about cultural heritage loss and the changes facing our planet? So how do we not get depressed with an ever warming climate?

Victoria Herrmann:

That is a question I continually ask myself and I would be lying if I said that I wasn't depressed and sad. It is absolutely devastating to give everything you've got to climate action and to be where we are today. But hope is a cool thing because it is a future oriented emotion. You can feel pretty hopeless today in March, 2022, but you can be hopeful about the future. And that's because the future is entirely made of what we do today. When I said in my introduction that every degree matters of how much we allow our world to warm, that means that we have control, right? Our future projections are only projections. They're based on what we choose to do today, how much we advocate for climate action and how much we support climate change action in our own lives. So it is a balance of acknowledging that grief in sometimes being hopeless today, but forever being hopeful that we can all make a difference for a better tomorrow if we work together.

Juliana Olsson:

That's wonderful. And I'm sorry that's just about all the time that we have for today. So I want to ask everyone to please join me in thanking Victoria Herrmann. So thank you so much. I'd also like to give special thanks to those who made today's program possible. So that's our friends at the IF/THEN® She Can, our donors, volunteers, and viewers like you, and all of our partners who help us reach, educate, and empower millions of people around the world, and that's today every day. So thank you all.

We're hosting another event in celebration of IF/THEN® the exhibit. We'll be closing out women's futures and month with a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon on March 31st. It's another daytime event. So if today's timing worked for you, great, you're in luck. No Wikipedia editing experience is required. We'll be chipping our away at a list of IF/THEN® AAAS ambassadors whose Wikipedia presence is absent or incomplete in an effort to increase the representation of Women in STEM on Wikipedia. It's a super exciting opportunity to be a part of, and the team at the American Women's History Initiative will walk you through everything you need to know.

So information on where to find out more is in the Q&A. And you'll also see a link to a survey, and we hope you'll take a moment to respond. The team reads all the responses, and we're really interested in your input.

So thanks again so much, everyone for the wonderful questions and for all of your engagement and for being interested in this topic, which is massively important. So hope to see you next time. And with that, take care.

Archived Webinar

This Zoom webinar with Victoria Herrmann aired March 16, 2022. Watch a recording in the player above.


United States Coast Guard White House Fellow and researcher Victoria Herrmann shares stories of women leaders in Arctic communities working to preserve their cultural heritage from climate change impacts. She interviewed and worked with hundreds of community leaders in the Arctic to identify needs, document traditions, and secure resources to keep those communities culturally safe. Hear stories of the women leading these efforts from Herrmann while in conversation with National Museum of Natural History exhibit writer and editor, Juliana Olsson. As an AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassador, Herrmann shares how IF we collaborate across borders, THEN big problems become solvable.

This program was presented in celebration of Smithsonian’s Women’s Futures Month and the #IfThenSheCan - The Exhibit.

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