April 10, 2023

Building New Partnerships with Future Climate Leaders

In 2014, at the UN Climate Change Summit, then-President Barack Obama said, “As one of America’s governors has said, we are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.”

A group of people sitting around a table talking while two presenters stand in front of a large monitor screen.

photo by: James Lindbergh

In March 2023, James Lindberg, Kate Lenzer, and Edward Whitaker presented at the Aspen Future Leaders Summit.

The preservation movement has since shown not only the impact of climate events on historic sites, but also how the work of preservation itself is critical to slowing down the impacts of climate change. An essential part of this work is ensuring that audiences new to preservation are aware of the important role it can play in tackling climate change.

In March 2023, the Aspen Institute’s Future Leaders Climate Summit brought together 250 young, diverse climate leaders from communities across the U.S. and from countries around the world for four days of sessions on climate action and communication. Participants represented a range of backgrounds, from biology and land conservation to public policy and business development.

During the summit, the National Trust for Historic Preservation led two interactive sessions, in which participants shared how places they care about are threatened and learned about some of the ways that historic preservation connects to climate action—specifically, how saving and reusing older buildings can help mitigate climate change by avoiding the carbon emissions from new construction; how the need to protect vulnerable historic places from the impacts of climate change can inspire action; and how we can learn from historic examples of sustainable design and adaptation.

Each session also featured strategies on how to develop effective communications for any audience, including how to develop talking points. Then, each session hosted breakout discussions organized around case studies of three sites previously listed as part of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places: Olivewood Cemetery in Houston, Texas; the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.; and Little Havana in Miami, Florida.

Then, using these key communication principles, small groups drafted talking points, using the case studies as a guide, first by identifying an audience and then the best way to communicate the situation, threat, solution, and call to action to them. This exercise was designed to gain support for the preservation of these historic places, illustrating how historic preservation connects to other fields, and how participants can use talking points for their own climate projects.

The session proved eye-opening for climate activists, who saw how preservation can play a critical role in reducing carbon emissions as well as delivering a more sustainable world. In the process they also picked up communications skills that will serve them well with any issue or audience.

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By: James Lindberg, Kate Lenzer, Ed Whitaker

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