Wednesday , April 17 2024
Hagia Sophia
Inside the Hagia Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey. Photo credit: Critical Lens Media

Climate Change’s Growing Toll on Culture and the Arts

We all need food, clean water, and a place to live. And climate change threatens them all. Global heating is already damaging agriculture, water access, and the environments that hundreds of millions of people call home.

But the warming trend threatens more than our basic necessities. It’s eating away at many of the things that make life worth living as well. From historic buildings to electric guitars, and from fine wines to ancient statues, irreplaceable pieces of culture and the arts around the world are falling victim to our runaway use of fossil fuels.

Fenders and Benders

Increased flooding and encroaching beetles have cut severely into the supply of swamp ash, the wood that has helped Fender give its Stratocaster and Telecaster electric guitars their famous sound for more than 70 years. As a result, Fender announced last year that it will no longer be using the wood in its production guitars.

The ash is harvested seasonally along the Mississippi River. But as Executive VP of Fender Product Justin Norvell told Guitar World last year, “the floods have not been receding, so these areas are underwater for two thirds of the year and it’s gotten to the point where we are sitting there for six or eight months waiting for ash we can’t get reliably.” Meanwhile the emerald ash borer beetle “is still coming [whether] there’s floods or not, so it’s really narrowing down. There will be a day where there’s nothing left.”

Meanwhile, at a vineyard near Santa Cruz, California, grapes are ripening three to four weeks earlier than they did 20 years ago. For the region’s winemakers, as Steve Lopez reported in September 2020 in the Los Angeles Times, “climate change is not some abstract, distant worry. It’s creeping into their vineyards right now.”

Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2012, Caparza Winery, Walk Around Tasting, NYC Gotham Hall Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino
Photo credit: Carole Di Tosti

Vintners are already trying hard to adapt. One area winemaker told Cruz that the grapes that made the Napa and Sonoma Valley regions famous – varieties like cabernet, pinot noir, and chardonnay – may no longer grow well there at all in the coming decades, and producers may need to try different ones.

All their work may come to nought, though, if California suffers more wildfire seasons like last year’s, which according to CNN caused structural damage at more than 30 wineries.

Cultural Heritage at Risk

Australia’s terrible wildfire season of 2019-20, exacerbated by a prolonged heat wave that scientists have linked to climate change, burned priceless artifacts of the continent’s cultural heritage. The fires ravaged national parks and forests where thousands of Indigenous sites, many yet to be discovered, are now damaged and may in some cases be lost forever.

Meanwhile, in Italy, as the Art Newspaper reported, an artistic light installation in Venice depicts the level to which the sea is expected to rise there by 2100. And if the year 2100 seems far off, think about this: It’s within the lifetime of many of today’s children.

The rising water is “a chronic condition,” says the paper’s founder Anna Somers Cocks, former chair of the Venice in Peril Fund. While the bases of the city’s structures are of impermeable stone, water is now “reaching the brickwork of many historic buildings; it is soaking into their foundations.”

Venice is by no means the only world heritage site that might not survive human-induced global warming. Most of the cedars of Lebanon are losing their habitat to rising temperatures. Erosion caused by increasingly heavy rains threatens to erase Scotland’s Stone Age archeological sites. Istanbul’s low elevation may doom historic sites like the Hagia Sofia. Workers are reinforcing cliffs and rescuing fallen statues from the sea on Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

Altogether, because throughout history people have located so many of their important centers of civilization on coasts, dozens of UNESCO World Heritage Sites may not survive the present century. To local economies the cost will be huge; to world culture, incalculable.

We’ll Always Have Paris?

The good news is that we have the tools and technology to put the brakes on the worst effects of global heating. The Biden Administration’s rejoining the Paris Agreement is a step toward mustering the political will to make that happen.

But some of the damage has already hit us, and more is on the way. The sea is rising. As Bob Dylan sang on that famous day in 1965 when he unveiled his swamp ash Fender Stratocaster at the Newport Folk Festival: “Whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast.”

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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