MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Welcome to Ethics Matter. I am Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson, and joining us today is Miranda Massie, a lawyer-turned-environmentalist, who is now the founder of the Climate Museum.
Hello, Miranda. Welcome.
MIRANDA MASSIE: Thank you so much. It is lovely to be here.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: I have to tell you, that is quite a leap going from lawyer—I mean, we know you are interested in the environment and climate change, but not everyone wants to go and open a museum. How did that happen?
MIRANDA MASSIE: I was working at a wonderful non-profit organization here in New York City that does environmental and civil rights activist litigation and advocacy, and I loved my work and I loved my colleagues. I was legal director there. But we were not really focused on climate, and as I started to learn more and more about climate change, I came to feel it was both the determining civil rights and equality question for us as a civilization and a community, and also that it was kind of an overriding threat to human well-being at the same time, obliterating those social distinctions.
So when Hurricane Sandy hit New York—
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Which was the catalyst for you.
MIRANDA MASSIE: It was the catalyst for me. I had been having all these worried thoughts to the effect of, Why am I not working more on climate? Hurricane Sandy came, and it was perfectly clear to me in that moment that I had to dedicate myself to climate, period.
The second thing that came into my head unbeckoned and as if from an outside source was a climate museum. I assumed one was already underway. I actually figured I had probably read about it and just forgotten and was astounded to learn that this is not something that we already have. It seemed so necessary to me.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: When we say "museum," we are thinking of a physical place, that there is actually a structure where you go in and check in and maybe pay a fee or something. But your museum is actually not a traditional museum yet. Tell me about it.
MIRANDA MASSIE: Not yet. We have a developmental process, and we are still really quite early on. We are only a couple of years in. We will be launching our first exhibitions quite soon, in fact, and we have started running public programs, discussions, and panels—we are launching a panel series—but eventually we will work our way through a laboratory interim space and then to a permanent museum space.
The idea is this: Museums are incredibly popular. Counterintuitively for most people, attendance in the United States of museums is equal to national parks attendance plus all major league sporting events attendance plus all the major amusement and theme parks per year. It is 850 million visits a year. People love museums, they trust museums, and people actually have in polling data said that they want to learn more about the climate from museums.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: And they come to New York.
MIRANDA MASSIE: And they come to New York to go to museums.
So the idea of a climate museum as a way to focus public attention and build civic dialogue just seemed so self-evident intuitively, and it turns out the research backs that up. I did not know it at the time. It was an intuition that felt like it was a nickel dropped into a piggybank. It arrived to me fully formed.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: I have to ask you, what is the museum's message? How should people feel inspired when they walk through this eventual space? This is the topic du jour, right, but how do you keep people engaged? Is that the point?
MIRANDA MASSIE: I think there are three main messages. The first is a bit of a sounding of the alarm, so this is something we need to focus on as a society. The second is there are solutions afoot, and we can all participate in them. And the third thing is it depends on what we do. We have two counterposed realities—increasing climate disasters, increasing climate solutions. The needle can tip either way, and it depends on what we do together. Those are three themes of the museum.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: It is true. Of late we have seen a lot of disasters, and it is bringing up this debate again between "believers and non-believers," we will call them. Are things going to get worse before they get better? Where are we now?
MIRANDA MASSIE: Where we are is, first, the science is very clear on some things and not at all clear on others. One thing that is very clear is that storms have gotten more intense, and the wildfire season has grown longer and more intense as well. We now, as of quite recently, have scientists working in a global network called the World Weather Attribution project, and when an extreme weather event occurs, they assess it for analysis.
For example, the extreme heat wave that hit Europe this summer was made 10 times more likely by climate change. Right now they are doing an analysis of Harvey. And sometimes the answer is, no, this was not affected by climate change at all, but increasingly often the answer is, yes, this was so strongly affected in likelihood by climate change that we can use the word "caused."
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Caused. Really?
MIRANDA MASSIE: Yes. When something is 200 times more likely to happen because of climate change, then it becomes a little bit of hair-splitting to avoid using the word "cause."
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: I read recently somewhere—and it has been reported actually—that the increase in airplane turbulence is due to climate change, which probably does not put a lot of confidence in fearful fliers. What is that?
MIRANDA MASSIE: I have read about that, too, and I do not know as much about it as I should, so I should flag that I am not a subject matter expert on it.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: I guess it shows that there are certain examples of things going on that are correlated directly to—
MIRANDA MASSIE: Directly to climate. It is affecting everything from the tick season in the Northeastern United States to the migration of Syrian War refugees. Climate change is affecting dramatic swaths of the human experience, and we need to come together as a world and as a national community to understand that better and to act on it.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: It is interesting that you bring that up, because the climate covers a broad spectrum. Break it down for us through health and social impact. How can that be more tangible for someone who just sees this as a broad topic?
MIRANDA MASSIE: Tangibility is one of the key reasons for having a museum, actually. Museums offer physical learning, emotional learning, and learning together—social learning. In that way, place and having a physical building for exhibitions is particularly important because we can show people through all five senses what is going on in the climate.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: You are saying all five senses. The most important is probably what they can see, right?
MIRANDA MASSIE: Sight being the most important, absolutely. And touch as well. There are museums experimenting actually with smell and taste. I do not know that that would be so relevant for the Climate Museum, but multisensory learning and multidisciplinary learning are much stickier, they are much more attractive to people, and it is one of the strengths of museums.
So there again, if I can go back on a question that you asked, I think climate is affecting so many different aspects of the human experience, and we can offer exhibitions on climate and food production, climate and human migration, climate and national security. There is a whole range of topics that are being dramatically affected already by climate change, which will continue into the future even if we make aggressive efforts.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: You are saying climate and food production, for example. We are talking about a place that—I am just giving this as an example—the state of Florida that produces a lot of oranges and then suddenly they are in trouble.
MIRANDA MASSIE: Exactly. The peach crop in Georgia was dramatically affected by climate change this year. I just read a story about the oldest apple orchard in Wisconsin buying crop insurance for the first time this year because 75 percent of their crop was wiped out. There were early spring blossoms and then a spring freeze. We have weather disruptions affecting crop production all over, and it will be hardest across the Southern states where climate denialists are most concentrated, in a kind of cruel and terrible irony.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: You were talking about places where it affects these populations. For people who are not read-in or who are not aware, but then they are suddenly seeing their crops in trouble—this is their bread and butter, so to speak—how do you engage that population in believing in and wanting to do something to reverse these effects?
MIRANDA MASSIE: It is incredibly important to try to engage every sector of the population. With that said, our theory of change is that it is important to focus on the big middle in American culture.
Most people understand that climate change is happening, and they think it might be or probably is caused by humans. Some of them are unsure whether we can do something about it, and some of them feel we can. The people in the middle are the people who can change everything for all of us, including those who have been convinced by a fossil fuel-funded campaign, among other things, that climate change is not a real phenomenon. So by focusing on the people who can change their minds and be brought into civic action on climate, we can change the odds for everyone.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Taking what you have just said in mind, why then have a climate museum in a place like New York? This is a population that you do not really have to convince. Why not have it in that middle that you are talking about?
MIRANDA MASSIE: The reason for having the climate museum in New York has several different layers. The first thing to say is that New York is a huge center for museum visitation. People from all over the United States come to New York for its fantastic cultural institutions. In terms of domestic tourism, if you are not going to Disney World or Vegas, you are coming to New York. That is what the numbers are. Internationally it is a huge Mecca as well, and this will be the first major international museum dedicated to climate change and climate solutions, so we expect to be a big draw both domestically and internationally. We, of course, also want to be a museum for and of the people of New York City, and that is a more variegated population than you might imagine.
Finally, even people who are utterly convinced that climate change is happening and that we are doing it often feel so overwhelmed by the scale of it that they do not have a sense that there is something that they can do, and that causes them to draw focus away from climate change and toward other concerns.
A museum can build what is called "collective efficacy." It is a clunky, kind of academic term, but what it means is the two ideas of strength in numbers and a virtuous self-fulfilling prophesy, so this idea that if you and I come together we can solve this really tough problem that looked intractable just a minute ago. It is how every kind of social progress has happened in our country, from coffee shop sit-ins to marriage equality. That is how we moved forward, by people coming together and believing they can make a difference.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: You did use one word here, which is "overwhelmed," that people are overwhelmed by this. I want to take you back to that again. How do you make people focus a little bit better on this issue, because it is very broad?
MIRANDA MASSIE: It is very broad, and it feels huge. It feels like, "How could I get a foothold into the climate conversation, into helping?" because as a rational individual you know very well that changing your own light bulbs out for more efficient ones may be a good thing to do, but it is not going to solve the climate crisis. It is not going to keep a third of Bangladesh from being under water as it was a couple of months ago. So, for people to have a sense that others are involved is absolutely critical.
The second thing is that we have to de-stigmatize the subject. Right now we do not talk about climate in this country.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Not at all, not with friends, not with family. It is not dinner conversation.
MIRANDA MASSIE: It is not dinner talk, much less is it talk where you call up your congressional representative and say, "Hey, this is a priority for me, so you should know that since the election is coming up." We need to build that kind of conversation around the dinner table, starting there, of course, working out to co-workers, colleagues, people in other community organizations, in unions, in our places of worship; we need people to be talking about climate and registering it as the enormous social challenge that it is, and breaking that "climate silence," and that is what the communication experts actually call it, is our first task.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: You were a lawyer focusing on civil rights. Is there any overlap between what you are doing now and what you did as an attorney?
MIRANDA MASSIE: Yes, absolutely. I think that climate change is the equality and the civil rights issue of the 21st century. I think that both domestically and internationally it is along the axis of climate change that we will either see intensifying inequalities or a coming together and an overcoming of tribalism so that we live in a more just and integrated society.
Climate change gives us—as is so often the case that it has become a worn cliché—a massive challenge and a massive opportunity for us to build a better and more equal society that is more open and where we are more in dialogue with each other. And that is in part true because if you look at it right now, the nations—just looking at it internationally—that contribute most to climate change are the places that suffer least, even though we have just suffered enormous hits here in the United States in the last few months, just overwhelming hits. Elsewhere in the world it has been far worse, and in general those places that are most vulnerable to climate change are the places that have least contributed to it.
Even domestically, though—and that is more intuitive for a lot of people that internationally it would work that way—we have put much more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but we have the resources here in the United States to be more protected against climate change, though not protected enough, than many other nations. But even domestically within the United States it is communities of color and poor communities that to a radically disproportionate extent are hit by climate disasters and do not have resiliency measures in place to recover from them.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Why is that? Is it where they are built? Because I do not know that people go out of their way to make a certain group suffer on purpose, right?
MIRANDA MASSIE: The main problem that we have to deal with is not conscious acts of bigotry in terms of environmental injustice and the way that racism can express itself through differential impacts of climate change, it is how we distribute risk in the society in general. For example, in New York City, if you think about Hurricane Sandy, which came up a moment ago, there are many poor communities, working class communities, and communities of color built in industrial, low-lying areas that are coastal. And the flooding there not only posed risks of toxicity because of the facilities that are there, but those are already communities that are overburdened with polluting facilities that have created health risks that out-scale those imposed on other communities in the first place.
The military talks about climate change as a risk multiplier or a threat multiplier. That is very true. It is also an inequality multiplier. So it is not causing the inequality; the hurricane does not decide to hit Puerto Rico. But Puerto Rico, because of years of policies that express institutional underlying inequalities and racism, is already in poor shape, does not have the resilience—
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: So it is already susceptible.
MIRANDA MASSIE: Yes. This may or may not be the time to talk about the response of an administration that is a little bit like environmental injustice on steroids to the situation in Puerto Rico. That is historically very specific, but even leaving this administration, which is both terrible on climate and terrible on questions of equality, out of it, the general underlying dynamics obtain and are really crucial for people to understand.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Do you think that that understanding should be implemented, for instance, in schools? Is there enough of that in schools? Should children be the messenger when they come from a day at school to their parents, "Hey, mommy, we shouldn't be doing this?" Or maybe, "We don't have to leave the car running for so long," these types of little—they are the messenger.
MIRANDA MASSIE: Children are fantastic messengers. In fact, a study was done of a sustainability education program for the Girl Scouts where almost as a happenstance the behaviors of parents were also tested; but that was not what the researchers were looking it, it was just a question they thought to ask. And it turned out that six months after the Girl Scouts had received the sustainability training, their parents were still behaving differently, without any intention for that to be an impact. Nobody asked the kids to talk to their parents.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: That is fantastic.
MIRANDA MASSIE: So we definitely need to integrate climate into school curricula. At the museum we intend to work really closely with schools on school visits and to draw on existing school curricula and do whatever we can to help enrich those curricula and make the experience of climate education multidimensional and multisensory.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: You mentioned the Syrian refugees, so refugees in general as a reason—let us call them "climate refugees." Is that a term? Can you explain a little bit who they are and how they are affected?
MIRANDA MASSIE: Absolutely. In the world of climate advocacy, "climate refugees" is indeed a term. In the world of the law, interestingly and importantly it is not yet a term, so that is going to be one of the big challenges for the next decades,getting UN and international law recognition, and of course American law recognition, of the status of climate refugeeism. There is no question scientifically that that is going to be increasingly a phenomenon that we see.
If you take the example of Syria, clearly the refugee crisis was not caused by climate change, but climate change almost certainly intensified and lengthened the drought that itself was one of the main drivers of the Syrian refugee crisis. Similarly, just as the military talks about climate as being a threat multiplier in other situations, there too it is a threat multiplier because a refugee crisis causes conflict and is itself destabilizing of the international situation. So there is a definite contribution there.
The UN commissioner for refugees estimates conservatively that there will be 250 million climate "migrants"—the term the United Nations currently uses—over the next 30 to 35 years. And it could be much more than that.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: We do not have to go that far back. In 2005, after Katrina, there was migration of people from New Orleans to Houston, and then now recently when Hurricane Harvey hit that area, these same people were going through it for a second time, so it seems to be moving along the way.
MIRANDA MASSIE: That is a perfect example.
A couple of years ago, I believe in 2015, the first community was officially moved as a climate migration question by the U.S. government, which funded the full-scale displacement of a town in Louisiana because of this. That was starting to happen in Alaska as well. There are villages that have to move inland. They simply cannot keep the sea out anymore.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Is that something that we hear about, because I do not think that we do? It is very much under the radar. How do you move an entire community without addressing—
MIRANDA MASSIE: You are so right. There is not enough on this subject or so many other subjects relating to climate change.
Ten thousand years ago, as modern humans, we would have picked up our tents and moved them inland. We now have massive infrastructure on the coasts, and even if you are a small Alaskan village, your entire sense of local culture and place is—even if you do not have huge, expensive buildings like we do here in New York City—rooted physically in a terrain that is under threat and that is changing. Imagine being the U.S. Navy with billions of dollars of infrastructure at sea level.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: There is a side of me that always thinks, Well, who doesn't want that ocean or river view? People save their money to get an apartment or house by the water. Bad idea?
MIRANDA MASSIE: Yes. I think it is very important to weigh climate risks, and that is starting to be expressed in the unavailability of flood insurance in a lot of places up and down the East Coast. It was recently reported that flood insurance is becoming harder and harder to obtain in a lot of communities up and down the East Coast of the United States because, like the military, insurance companies are not environmentalists by trade, they are not green, they are not tree-huggers. They are very hard-nosed, pragmatic people.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: But they see the same things.
MIRANDA MASSIE: They see the risks. They are in the business of risk assessment. So for people who are thinking about real estate, consider that the shoreline is changing and will continue to change because of the inertia that is built into the climate system. This is one of the many major ways in which climate change is affecting all of us already.
The truth is that sea level rise gets a lot of attention compared to other climate issues. It does not get nearly enough, but it gets a lot of attention compared to issues like drought and wildfire, health impacts, heat stroke impacts, the heat island effects in cities. There is just a whole wealth of climate impacts that we are starting to see. But also, and really critically for the effort to build civic engagement, climate solutions, too.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: That is my question, too, about civic engagement, exactly. How do you launch something like that?
MIRANDA MASSIE: You have to have people understanding that in coming together and acting together on the successes that have already started to take hold with the transition to a clean energy economy that we can get there and we can restabilize the climate by working together.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: This is what I was going to ask you about restabilizing and getting this back on track: Some things are irreversible, but what is out there? We want to have a little bit of optimism here. It is not all hopeless, I hope.
MIRANDA MASSIE: It is not hopeless at all. There are solutions taking place at scale, massive efforts to decarbonize the economy.
Last year solar energy was the fastest-growing energy in the United States for the first time. That is extraordinary. Coal, which is exceptionally polluting, despite the efforts of the current administration, which are unfortunately just a dishonest sop to some of the voters who elected our president—everybody, including the coal companies, is very well aware that coal is rapidly declining as an energy source, and that is very good news for absolutely everyone, assuming we take action to provide job training for the small number of coal miners still remaining in our society, because coal is super-polluting.
So we are already seeing this transition happening with China and other nations now taking a very strong leading position, which is a blow to American political leadership in the world, but one from which we can recover ultimately. We are taking huge steps forward toward clean energy, and there is a lot of progress yet to come.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: I want to know from you, what roadblocks have you faced along the way in doing this? Because with this museum you are going up against a behemoth here, a part of a society that just does not believe anything that you are saying.
MIRANDA MASSIE: There is a huge part of the society that does not believe in terms of financial resources because so much of our economy is based on the fossil fuel industry. Our whole society is really built on that energy source.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: On a profit basis.
MIRANDA MASSIE: On a profit basis, and that is what makes solving the climate challenge so daunting. It is a truly daunting thing. Our culture is built on this. And the people who profit off of that are very deeply committed to maintaining that line.
It is already falling away from them. That is the truth of it. The people whom they have convinced through a misinformation campaign that it is all a big hoax or conspiracy are relatively few in number in the United States. We have the impression that there are a lot of climate denialists in the general population in the United States, but the truth is much more nuanced, and there is actually a very big middle of people who are more or less concerned and more or less aware of the science. So we are not focused on convincing the hard denialists. They are very welcome to come to the museum once we open, but we do not think that we are the factor that is going to change their minds.
We do know from prior studies of museums in other contexts that we can change the minds of people in that big middle, and that we can also take the 18 percent of Americans who are very alarmed about the climate and give them a sense of collective ability to act on it. If we do those two things, we will have a different level of civic engagement, we will have a different level of policy, and we will be making huge climate progress.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: This recent spate of storms is sort of the tip of the proverbial iceberg, they say.
MIRANDA MASSIE: Correct.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Pardon the pun, by the way.
MIRANDA MASSIE: It is apt.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: We cannot predict what Mother Nature is going to do, but we can put things in place to at least stop the effects. I look at pictures of Puerto Rico, and it is still just so heartbreaking, and it is going to be for years probably to come before they get back on track with this.
What else can be done? I am sure that Puerto Rico will be part of an exhibit perhaps at the museum. How do we stop that? How do we reverse that?
MIRANDA MASSIE: The first thing for us to do, the first step, and it sounds like a small thing, but it is deceptively difficult, is to start the climate conversation, to break the climate silence. Because, as you have pointed out, we do not speak about climate, even with our closest friends and family members. People do not talk about it even though a lot of people are worried about it and thinking about it. It seems too huge.
It also seems so in opposite that the same phenomenon could cause Hurricane Maria, a wall of water, and the wall of fire that we just saw in northern California. Both of those things are almost certainly inflected strongly by climate change. That is what the science tells us.
And yet, how do you intuitively understand that those two things could be related? Even if you get it intellectually, as a lot of people do, you do not experience it the same way that you experience simpler risks. It is just now how we are wired as a species. So that is another reason for the climate silence.
A third reason here in the United States is the abominable crime committed by the fossil fuel companies in promoting misinformation and doubt about climate and just flat-out lying about the degree of consensus among experts and scientists. That is a crime that they have committed.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Have you heard from them at all?
MIRANDA MASSIE: Not a peep. We have a donations policy that we adopted early on, I am really proud and happy to say, and this is one of the advantages of being a brand new organization. It is a lot harder, and it is a bigger lift than already having all of the infrastructure and funding in place, no doubt, but one of the great things is that you are starting from scratch, and some things that are now clear that were not clear 50 years ago we can take advantage of. So one of the first policies that we adopted as a matter of basic governance is that we screen any kind of donation or sponsorship for consonance with our mission.
We do not expect to hear from them. Should they convert into—it is not a basic fatal permanent moral question from my perspective. If Exxon leaves its assets stranded in the ground, walks away from those profits, and helps us create the clean energy economy we need to thrive as a society, then I am all for allowing them to be a sponsor of the museum.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: That would be a beautiful marriage.
MIRANDA MASSIE: It would be fantastic. But first, they have to make those decisions because right now they are on the side of maintaining the conditions that have caused the suffering that we have seen in—to use just one example but a very poignant one right now for all of us—Puerto Rico.
In Puerto Rico people are so desperate for water. There is still a quarter of the population that does not have access to drinking water. People are begging for drinking water from Superfund sites, that they know to be Superfund sites. You think about what it would take for you to beg for water from a Superfund site to give to your children. And that is in the United States.
As I mentioned before, in Bangladesh a third of the nation was under water, inundated, a couple of months ago. We have to address this. We have to address it urgently, and we have to address it with a spirit of optimism, reasoned optimism, yes, not candy-coated optimism, but true optimism.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Do you ever feel alone in this?
MIRANDA MASSIE: It's funny. There are definitely moments where I think you feel alone taking on a big challenge like this, and I think being the leader of an organization, there are roundtables that directors of organizations in the non-profit sector—and I assume also in the for-profit corporate world—set up because it is a lonely thing organically in one way.
In another way, I have to say we have been met with so much joy and welcome by so many different sectors, so much enthusiasm, that you feel at the same time less alone than you ever have. That has been my experience of it, an incredible—small, still—team of colleagues, an unbelievable network of advisors, people with a range of talents and skills that you would not believe aligning themselves with us, pulling for us, really working to make this happen. And then we have had experiences of public interaction that have been so inspiring.
I will give just one example, if I can. This August we participated in a New York City street fair called Summer Streets. This was not Earth Day, it was not an environmental crowd, it was regular New Yorkers and regular tourists. We took snapshots of people and asked them where our climate museum should be, why do they feel we need one, and a couple of other questions. We had people lined up around the corner to talk to us about their feelings about the climate museum and why they wanted to have one. These were regular people.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: And who felt the need to have one.
MIRANDA MASSIE: Yes. People are hungry to learn about climate. They are hungry to learn about it in a museum context because people trust museums.
Then, too, in terms of breaking the climate silence, museums confer and express social priority. It is one of the things they do.
If you think about, as two examples, the 9/11 Museum and the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, in both cases—obviously very different museums, but they are expressing that our society views the question of 9/11 and the role of black history and culture in the United States as centrally important to who we are as a people. That is where we need to take climate. And the mere fact of creating a museum about it—leave aside the programming and the collective understanding and the connections that develop within the museum if you do it well—helps to do that.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: These two museums in question that you have brought up, one can argue and say that they are attracting people who are directly affiliated with it, the black community or someone who lost someone on 9/11. But that is not true, it is open to everyone. I think that sometimes people misread the label.
MIRANDA MASSIE: Yes. That is absolutely right. There is a really interesting story about audiences and in a sense whether you are just preaching to the converted from just after the presidential election.
The New York City Tenement Museum is essentially a museum of immigrant history, which is very easy to discern if you go to their website. After the election they started getting very vocal participation from anti-immigration visitors because the museum is such a great museum that it was on a top-10 list of things you should do when you come to New York. So they were not only preaching to the converted, they just made a great enough museum that everybody was going. They actually had to do new trainings for their staff to figure out how to talk in a productive way with anti-immigrant visitors who were newly emboldened—unfortunately—by the election.
Similarly, if you create a museum that is appealing enough and that has a broad enough approach and that relates to subject matters people are already interested in, which is super-easy with climate because it is affecting so much of our common life, then you can have a much bigger draw and really start a conversation that would not have started otherwise.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: And it is true. You talk about that broad approach. I think again, just to circle back to what we were saying about how people need something that they can connect to, and you are doing this with the museum. Can you underline some of the connections that people can have at your museum?
MIRANDA MASSIE: Absolutely. So we have spoken a lot this morning about climate change and issues of equality. There is climate change and issues of international relations. Climate is a huge gender issue. That is less intuitive to people, but particularly in the developing world, getting clean sources of energy means, for example, if you have a solar lantern that you can carry around, if you are a woman or a girl walking through a village that is off the grid, your personal safety is much higher. You also might be able to avoid using a cook stove that is immediately endangering your respiratory health. So climate has a gender inflection as well. Who is responsible for giving food and water to people in developing countries? It is women and girls, and climate change is dramatically affecting the availability of both water and food.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: People do not think about that.
MIRANDA MASSIE: No, they just do not. If you think about an exhibition on international development, women and girls, and climate change, that would be a huge draw.
Or, for a very different crowd, how about an exhibition on climate change and its impact on wine, chocolate, and coffee? I know a lot of people who would be interested in that.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: So do I.
MIRANDA MASSIE: And climate change is already affecting how vineyards grow grapes. And it is affecting cacao-growing regions as well. Climate change is affecting so many different aspects of experience, and there are so many different things to say about it, and also so many different things to say about the solutions that we are seeing.
I was really startled to learn yesterday, thinking about this conversation with my team, that the idea of a solar panel that could create electricity was first imagined or discovered 20 years before global warming was explicitly theorized in the late 1800s. So there are all kinds of—for history buffs, I'm thinking—in response to your question, there are all kinds of ways of talking about the history of these ideas which are fascinating.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: That can draw a crowd.
MIRANDA MASSIE: Yes. Or think about, just as a final example—one of the things we are interested in is modern climate art. I recently had the ability to see how hungry people are for climate art and I can come back to that if it is of interest.
The stable Holocene climate has been a backdrop for all of our cultural production as a species. So, just to focus on the art and culture that I personally know best; if you think about the tradition of Western oil painting, in a climate-disrupted world that would look and will look very different. You can imagine an exhibition exploring how the stable Holocene climate has affected Western literature and fine arts and cultural production, and that would draw yet another group of people.
So we can really offer—because we can be multi- and interdisciplinary and because we are all about building engagement and participation, giving people a foothold into the climate conversation that starts with something they already know and care about. We think there is just no end to the really exciting exhibitions that we can do.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: That is just so fantastic. I guess I have to ask you one final question, which is, where will this physical place eventually be? Are we going to break some news here?
MIRANDA MASSIE: In a couple of years we will be breaking that news. But my question to you is, where do you think it should be?
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Good question. I think it should be somewhere on an elevation.
MIRANDA MASSIE: Yes.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Let us start with that.
MIRANDA MASSIE: That seems fair, although there are plenty of architects who would like to see the challenge of building it on the water. That is what they all say, except for the ones who say, "Let's put it on a boat," which is a fascinating idea.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: A barge, yes.
MIRANDA MASSIE: A barge could be very sustainable. It communicates a lot. It is a resonant idea.
What I will say about where it has to be is that it has to be transit-accessible and tourist-friendly to serve our mission of being a hub for climate solutions and engagement.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: Miranda Massie, thank you so much. This was a fascinating conversation.
MIRANDA MASSIE: This was wonderful. I really appreciate it.
MAGALIE LAGUERRE-WILKINSON: And we look forward to continuing again when the museum opens.
MIRANDA MASSIE: We are excited to keep you updated.