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Op/ed: Conserving Cultural Heritage Is a Vital Part of Climate Adaptation

Archeologist Says More Than Natural Features Are at Risk

By Marcy Rockman

washed out road yellowstone park floods

Intensifying weather events from climate change may have contributed to floods this past summer that caused widespread damage at Yellowstone National Park, including a washed-out entrance road in Gardiner River Canyon. Among the damage yet to be fully assessed are archeological and other cultural heritage sites within the park.

Photo by NPS/Jacob W. Frank

In her former job at the National Park Service, Department of Anthropology Associate Research Professor Marcy Rockman helped oversee efforts to preserve archeological sites, historic buildings and other cultural resources threatened by climate change—which themselves can offer important perspectives on the global problem.

In a new essay in The Hill, Rockman said it’s time to revise our views of climate change as simply a current physical process and to return thousands of years of human experience and values to the equation. In part, she writes, that can be accomplished by directing some of the $1 billion recently allocated to the National Park Service by the Inflation Reduction Act to preserving the parks’ cultural aspects.

Cultural heritage is strangely invisible in U.S. attention to climate change.

I say strangely because every community holds history and heritage. Every community has ties to places and stories that shape our senses of who we are. Heritage is part of human behavior. It’s part of the social sciences that help us understand society and how we live in the world. But somehow, climate change has come to be defined as atmospheric models, ecosystems and economic impacts — and parks that conserve heritage at the national scale as nature alone. We’ve developed a blind spot for the climate connections of deep human connections.

This summer’s stories about flood damage at Yellowstone National Park show this clearly. Damage to cultural heritage of the park was limited to a few sentences at the end of one of many articles about infrastructure and tourism.

Read the rest in The Hill.



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