Jenny Newell (Curator, Climate Change, AM), ‘Spark’ climate solutions exhibition, Australian Museum, Sydney, 2021. Photo: Anna Kucera.

We happened across a nice little video the other day featuring emerging energy efficiency guru and author Saul Griffith, and well-known Passive House aficionado Chris Nunn explaining why they advocate for a low energy present – and future.

According to Jenny Newell, manager of climate change projects at the Australian Museum, around 9 per cent of the population are climate deniers. Still.

The number drops for people who attend museums but, the surprise is it’s still 6 per cent of museum-goers. You might be a tad shocked that so many people can cling to a notion that to the rest of us seems like dogged wishful thinking in the face of a tsunami of bad news around climate – floods, droughts, fires etcetera.

(Interestingly, another recent survey we quoted this week finds a whopping 82 per cent of job seekers want to work in climate change. So, in some ways the numbers more or less add up.)

These assessments of the sentiment around climate come from surveys the museum has conducted to find out the level of understanding about climate change and the appetite of people to do something about it commissioned through social research group Fifty Five 5 and Rebecca Huntley.

“All tell us they have a high level of concern. People are alarmed and concern is rising all the time but there is still a lot of unease and lack of knowledge of what they can do. People feel they just don’t know,” Newell said in a conversation with The Fifth Estate on Monday.

One of the options in the survey is to ask respondents what question they would most like to ask a climate scientist or expert.

So often it’s, “what can I do most effectively; what are the top five things I can do to help?” Newell said. 

Newell has used the surveys to back an interesting campaign to push out knowledge about what people can do about climate change through the museum’s climate change solutions centre launched on 2 June. 

She’s focused on the most often asked question from the respondents around practical solutions.

With her team of advisers and providers Newell is rolling out a program of exhibition dioramas and videos to inform people with some answers.

First phase is focused on Stockland centres around Sydney and soon it will move to regional areas where it will pick up local content and incorporate it into the work.

In one video emerging energy efficiency guru and author Saul Griffith discusses some of the ideas Passive House aficionado and former chair of the Australian Passive House Association Chris Nunn is seen with his wife Maylyn explaining why they built their own Passive House.

The video is one of 10 already produced, with more to come.

YouTube video

The dioramas, classic three-dimensional miniature displays, show scenes such as “sustainable landscapes that are slightly futuristic”, “urban house and gardens, regenerative gardens, forests with cultural burning taking place and oceans with seaweed harvesting and wave turbines”.

Newell says the stats on the museum website underscore the growing appetite for practical insights: the average dwell time is a massive 17.3 minutes.

According to Newell it’s part of the museum’s mission to advance action on climate change and biodiversity protection as well as ensuring understanding of First Nations history and culture.

With 500,000 visitors last financial year, and more expected to the museum this year you could argue Newell has a head start in reaching people who might be interested to help create change.

Among the advisors for the Climate Solutions Centre are climate scientist Tim Flannery, Saul Griffith, Sam Elsom who runs Sea Forests, materials expert Veena Sahajwalla, climate expert and writer Blair Palese, Richie Merzian, a director with The Australia Institute, Tishiko King, a Torres Strait Island woman and climate activist and Katerina Teaiwa, a Pacific scholar at ANU. 

Newell’s background is as an environmental historian and working with Pacific communities – she has been working on advancing engagement in climate change through museums for the last 12 years, here and internationally.

She’s not alone. The Australia Museum is part of a movement of other museums around the country such as in Canberra and Melbourne and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney that are working on programs that align with these climate goals.

“We’re developing a strong network between museums and galleries to create a groundswell of action on climate.”

The hope is that this swell turns into a tsunami of action. 

The Australian National Museum is running a pop-up exhibition about sustainability that’s touring Stockland Retail Town Centres. Image: Australian National Museum.

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