- Knowing that you are also an environmentalist, what ways have you or the museum integrated environmental preservation, into the museum's mission and goals?
- Well, it's one of our five major goals, is work on climate change. I don't know if you're aware, but Australia has been very slow to the table on climate change regulation. It has a lot to do I think with tyranny of distance, but also we've relied on our fossil fuel industry for a very long time. We've had a very productive coal industry, we are a major exporter of coal around the world, and of course that has made Australia a very wealthy nation. But at the same time, it's put us in a terrible bind, where we're so reliant on that. Renewable energy of course is moving ahead in leaps and bounds because a business wants it, economies of the world know that it's incredibly important. Yet we have no incentives here for example, for electric cars, it's crazy. So one of the things we've done at the museum has made awareness of climate change really important, we've done it in a few different ways.
One is through a citizen science project called FrogID, where Australia has about 240 different species of frogs, which is, which is a vast number. And frogs are identified by the call they make, not by what they look like. And yet no one knew what was happening to frogs, now, frogs are among the most endangered groups of animals, or species of animals in the world, they're incredibly impacted by changes in climate and biodiversity.
So our chief herpetologists, Dr. Jodi Rowley, came up with the idea that if we could get citizen scientists, i.e. the public, to count frogs, you know, to listen for them then we could maybe get an idea. So with IBM, we created an app, an amazing app called FrogID. And you record the frog calls, and you record that call and it's uploaded to us, the GPS coordinates are also recorded.
And so far we've recorded well over, a couple of hundred thousand frogs around Australia. We know exactly what's happening to those frogs, what communities frog species are under threat, what ones are thriving, and believe it or not when those horrendous bushfires struck the East coast of Australia a couple of years ago, what happened to the frogs? Everyone was very worried, well, of course, we had the only, set of data, available on any group of animals that was complete, and so we were able to actually monitor after that all the work we're doing back in the field now about what happened to the frogs.
Fortunately, there's some good news there, that number of them were able, to burrow into the ground and survive that way, where many other species couldn't, of course. But the reason FrogID is a climate change project, is it’s sort of climate change by stealth. We have hundreds of thousands of people in the community now recording frog calls for us. And yet it's not promoted as a climate change project, but that's exactly what it is. And people love doing it, families love doing it, schools love doing it, and it's a great way to contribute in a very positive way to science and scientific research, so that's just one thing we're doing.
Another thing we've done is to make sure our own house is in order, of course, which means that our entire sustainability plan and looking at the UN's sustainable development goals as part of that. And we have ensured that everything across our organisation is being pushed to the limits of how we can be even more sustainable each time. So given we’re a very old institution and have a number of heritage buildings, it's always more challenging, but we've been able to install solar panels on parts of the roof to offset our energy, we’re a big user of energy, because of course we have to keep the collections, at a constant temperature all the time.
So we're always looking for ways to reduce the impact, our environmental footprint there. Just all of our practices, we just built, as I said, we did a big building project recently, a renovation of the museum and 94% of the building materials that in the demolition were diverted from landfill and reused. And that used to make me so excited every day to see the little skips full of, you know, different types of metal and the builders sorted everything. So the days of just shipping it off to landfill are gone, so I'm thrilled to say that 94%, of the materials were diverted from landfill and there was a lot of stuff, and it really makes you think about building renovation, and the amount of embodied carbon in those materials.
So that's another way we've done it to get our own house in order. But the thing that, I guess I'm most excited about right now is we're launching the Australian Museum Center for Environmental Solutions. We've brought Tim Flannery back into the fold, Tim Flannery is one of the world's leading climate change advocates, he's well-known as writing The Weather Makers over a decade ago. And Tim spent 15 years at the Australian Museum, as head of mammalian biology originally before he became a climate change advocate.
So he's rejoined us as our climate change fellow, and we're establishing this center, which will highlight all of the technological developments happening. Because we've done a lot of research and worked out that the public, who is still a bit skeptical on the issue of climate change here, if we show them what those new technologies are, and how exciting the space is, and how there are, possibilities to change things in the future, an economic opportunity out of it, we believe will go a long way to changing and influencing public opinion.
And that was the brief I gave to our team was, I only wanna do things which change the dial, which get more people to understand that not only is climate change real here in Australia, but what the impacts of it are and what our mitigation strategies will be. I mean, being an island nation, we have a coastline of over 37,000 kilometers, which could be hugely impacted by climate change, and given over 88% of our population lives in the coastal zone, you know, incredibly impacted by sea level rise.
So we really need to be thinking about the future, but the way to do that, I think is to cast it in a positive way, to say, look there are technological solutions, there are steps we can take. We've just opened a new climate change gallery, at the museum, so there's a permanent gallery where people can go and find out the latest information as well, and the impact on our biodiversity, our way of life in general. And we're seeing that, I mean the huge bushfires here, they weren't usual bushfires, it was at an intensity never seen before.
And we think, well over a trillion animals were lost during that time, and it's because of the insects, you know, the insects of the scaffolding of biodiversity. And the loss of those insects, you know, the loss of birds, the loss of mammals, it is just extraordinary that those impacts and I've been out into many of the bushfire affected areas. And the devastation that was wrought was significant, and we had all the museums of Australia join together and issue a statement about it, to say that, in our research, in our times, we have never seen such destruction.
So we've got a voice, an advocacy voice, within a museum to play and there many museums now, around the world joining up together to become advocates for climate change. And we hope we're leading the way there and we're sharing our information with museums right around the globe.
- You told us quite a bit about inspiring people to act, could you tell us a bit more about your project, 1 Million Women.
- I'm very fortunate to be an ambassador for 1 Million Women, it was created by a wonderful friend of mine, Natalie Isaacs and Natalie has done a remarkable job to sign up women to climate change action here in Australia, and now in other countries as well. She believed, you know, she was a woman who hadn't thought much about climate change in her life, but when she sort of had her epiphany moment, she thought I'm going to take action.
And she realised that as women, as the basic consumers in the household, we’re the ones who go out and do the shopping, that we are the ones who could make a really big difference very easily, at a local level.
So Nat got a group of friends around her, who all supported this concept, and she has really enjoyed a lot of success with the campaign, about inspiring women to make a difference themselves.
And, you know, for all of us, it's only a decision we make every day about how we live. It's not that hard, and if you make it part of everyday life, you know, whether it's cutting, you know, looking at the ways you get to work, so using more public transport, rather than driving to work, or using less electricity in the home, because you've got solar panels, whatever it might be, whatever those easy things are to do, we can all do them. Of course, we know that if we all became vegetarians, we'd go a long way, to reducing greenhouse gases within the community as well, so, I'm trying to only eat meat a few times a month now. I don't wanna go vegetarian entirely, I don't think I'm quite there yet, but we'll see how we go. But so 1 Million Women is a wonderful campaign about community action making a difference.
- And I know you wrote a series of books, with advice on how to live better, and more in a better way for the environment, and one of them was for children, and how does it communicate this kind of things to children?
- That was so much fun, so we started writing a series of books in 2007 under the True Green banner. And we had True Green home, and True Green life and True Green for kids. And it was tremendous actually, to work with children on the sorts of activities that they could engage with, and we wrote it for both use by schools, but also in the home.
And as we just saw with COVID, it was so interesting, parents were having to, come up with ways of teaching their kids all the time, and we had a lot of people approach us and say, "Can we use your True Green kids information again?" Because it's timeless, and just lots of ways in which you can, children are very concerned about climate change and the environment, you know they like, what person doesn't love going out in the natural environment, and enjoying it and enjoying the wildlife.
So there were lots of projects that kids could do in their own backyards, as well as things for them to make, and why is that they could come up with reducing their own footprint, and that was everything. Here in Australia, we don't usually buy our lunch at school, we take our lunch to school with us. So it was about how you take the lunch to school, so that you're not using plastic wrap all the time, that you can use paper wraps that can go into landfill easily and be compostable, or not needing wrapping at all, with different reusable containers.
Just little things like that but there are lots of ways kids can engage, and it was a really fun project, and I really enjoyed doing the research for that book of working with kids and finding out the sorts of things that they love doing.
- So you've told us some really important things on the ways museums can fight climate change, and the important roles especially with your museum as well, and the work you've done, the work the museum has done, the work some museums around the world are doing as well. But for museums that might not know where to start on and find it important to be part of this change, where do you think or how do you think such museums could take that step?
- We'll they can join with us, so we have a wonderful leader of our climate change programs, Dr. Jenny Newell, who has also got a voice at many international museum forums on this. Jenny was a Pacific expert to begin with, but through that, she started working with First Nations people in the Pacific and discovered that their livelihoods were already being directly impacted by climate change.
And of course many Pacific nations will lose their countries due to sea level rise, I mean, we already have climate change refugees coming into New Zealand and Australia from the Pacific, so this is something real it's happening now. So for those museums around the world who would like to engage more with climate change they can contact the Australian Museum.
They can also contact a wonderful virtual museum in New York, it's The Museum of Climate Change, in New York city. And it's not a venue, it's a community of people, and they run different events at different times. But we're all linking up to show that this is an agenda item that is so relevant for museums in this day and age. And so if anyone wants to be part of it they can reach out to the Australian Museum and we can put them in touch with everyone and help.
- Do you think the institutions when working together and across kind of the world, can they make a bigger change? What would be the way for like, you know, different museums across the world to work together on different causes, for example, the climate change?
- Well, I think we already are, I think a number of us are working together now, and yes the more the merrier, the more people, the more organisations who joined together and committed to action around climate change, the stronger we will be.
I mean, the British Natural History Museum has an extraordinarily good project around climate change, the Natural History Museum in New York does too, and I just think the more of us, who can work together the better. I mean we're seeing now museums of the Anthropocene develop in Europe and also in Brazil, there is an incredible museum along this line, looking at the age in which we live now, dominated by climate change.
So I think together, we can be quite a strong voice, you know, as I said earlier, we are the most trusted of institutions, Natural History Museums in particular, and that comes out of research in the U.S and in Europe. And that is because I think we grow up visiting museums, we enjoy them as kids, but we trust the information imparted, the only agenda we have as an institution is to tell the truth.
You know, I'm not interested in people's politics, I'm interested in putting the science out there, the truthful science, and I'm interested putting it out there in a really engaging way for people. And I think we can be very effective at doing that, the more of us who do it together, so I urge everybody if you're in a small museum even, there is a role for you to play.
Oh, well thank you for having me talk about the Australian Museum and our worth, but also I think the important role that museums play globally in terms of engaging with the public and continuing to be relevant, and I think there's a vast opportunity for us to do that.
But I think it's also through storytelling and that's exactly what your organisation is helping with, is telling us stories of extraordinary women, out there who are making a difference, whether it's in the world of art or in the world of science or culture. It's fantastic to empower women in that way, but through storytelling and the more we hear these good stories and the more we see the good films, about them and the more we see great exhibitions, the more inspired you can be, and there's nothing better than I said, than seeing a young person with that light bulb go off.
- I think we made a very nice connection between different issues, which are very important now 'cause we spoke about the environment, we spoke about women leadership, which is very different from what we are used to from history, but you inspired us, and hopefully you will inspire the members of our networks, our colleagues, who are also young cultural professionals, and we'd like to make a change, but need to know how and need a little push in it. Is there anything we didn't ask you about, what you'd like to talk about?
- Running an institution like the Australia Museum is an incredible privilege, and I do recognise that, and that I'm at a particular time in history where the decisions I make for the museum, and that my trustees make, will influence, how we can influence others in the future.
So, you know, recognizing, that you're at that critical juncture in history on a few key issues is incredibly important. And I think the support that I get from the government here, in New South Wales and those around me, really enables our team to blaze a new trail, and that's what we're very committed to doing.