Year in Review—Archaeology and Heritage in the News, 2016
By Richard M. Hutchings | 28 December 2016
With 2016 in the rear-view mirror, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on the year that was. For me, two stories stand out. First, I believe 2016 may be regarded as the year the archaeology world became aware of the scope and scale of the global heritage crisis, particularly as it relates to climate change impacts (Hutchings 2016; Kawaja 2016; Markham et al. 2016).
This awareness is timely because 2016 is set to be the hottest year on record and a new high for the third year in a row, meaning 16 of the 17 hottest years on record will have been this century (Carrington 2016a; Thompson 2016). This is of particular concern for coastal communities (Hutchings 2016) as sea level rise estimates doubled this year, a result of Antarctica’s rapid meltdown. Previously expected to rise 1 metre by 2100, 2 metres by 2200, and 3 metres by 2300, global seas are now estimated to rise upwards of 2 metres by the end of this century (Carrington 2016b) and 3 to 5 metres by 2200. The loss of ice on Antarctica alone could cause seas to rise more than 15 metres (50 feet) by 2500 (Dennis and Mooney 2016).
The fear now is that climate change is escalating so fast it could be “game over” in terms of stabilizing global temperatures below “dangerous” levels (i.e., below 2C [3.6F] above pre-industrial levels by 2100) (Johnston 2016). While previous “business as usual” models—characterized by continued use of large amounts of fossil fuels—have meant the Earth’s average temperature will rise by between 2.6C (4.7F) and 4.8C (8.6F) degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2100, new estimates suggest the actual range could be between 4.8C (8.6F) to 7.4C (13.3F) degrees by 2100 (Friedrich et al. 2016). As Ian Johnston (2016) writes,
It is a vision of a future so apocalyptic that it is hard to even imagine. But, if leading scientists are right, planet Earth could be on course for global warming of more than seven degrees Celsius within a lifetime. And that, according to one of the world’s most renowned climatologists, could be “game over”—particularly given the imminent presence of climate change denier Donald Trump in the White House.
Along with “Anthropocene” (Fassbinder 2016) and “President Trump” (King 2016), it appears we must also now add the term “runaway global warming” to the heritage lexicon.
The second story is important because it illustrates perfectly the problems inherent to archaeology and the modern heritage-industrial complex in which it is so deeply enmeshed, as well as how that system is connected to the climate crisis (Hutchings 2016). On August 9, Amnesty International (2016) called for a stop-work order on British Columbia’s $8.8 billion plus Site C hydroelectric dam, saying the Peace River megaproject threatens the human rights of Indigenous peoples. …
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