Climate change impacts on cultural heritage: Facing the challenge

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

From His All-Holiness
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
(Athens, June 21-22, 2019)

Distinguished participants and esteemed guests,

It is a pleasure to greet the International Conference on “The Impacts of Climate Change on Cultural Heritage,” which is organized in Athens by eminent friends, many of whom attended our symposium “Toward a Greener Attica” exactly one year ago in Athens, Spetses and Hydra. We are delighted and moved that the challenge of the human effect on the natural resources and cultural treasures of our world is being addressed in a scholarly manner in Greece—a land of splendid environmental beauty, as well as an epicenter of rich and incomparable culture.

In recent years, we have learned – all too painfully, yet all too plainly – that the ramifications of our lifestyle on humanity’s history and cultural heritage are directly associated with the lens through which we perceive our role and responsibility toward the environment. The way we respect material things and human beings reflects the way we will relate to them. And the way we treat historical objects and cultural symbols reveals the way we think about them. Therefore, after over three decades of raising awareness and persistently advocating for a lighter human footprint on the face of the earth, we have come to recognize that we cannot properly address our pressing ecological issues unless we are prepared to change ourselves and transform our habits with a sense of urgency and commitment.

We have indisputable and undeniable scientific consensus and data. We observe the tangible and irreversible destruction of the natural environment and world monuments, as well as the weakening of social cohesion and the ever-growing refugee and migrant crisis. The ecological problem, together with its social and cultural impact, is obviously one of the greatest global threats in human history. We must honestly ask ourselves why we are not taking more pressing and comprehensive action? Why are we still only communicating proposals and discussing changes without taking direct and effective action? Why do we casually attempt to remedy the symptoms and persistently remain indifferent to addressing the causes? Why are we not insisting that our political leaders embrace the sensitivities and expectations of civil society’s initiatives and demands? What does it really mean to believe in God or to boast of a revival of religion, when we simultaneously devastate God’s “very good” (Gen. 1:31) creation?

We recognize that climate sustainability is universally related to our attitude and action toward the environment, just as climate variations are intimately and inseparably linked to the preservation of our cultural monuments. Thus, we cannot allow human greediness, apathy and carelessness to keep destroying humanity’s most impressive artifacts and creations. By addressing climate change, we are actively engaged in the protection and safeguarding of humankind’s precious cultural heritage.

Still, there are signs of hope in upholding the integrity of the world’s monuments. Your conference—in plain site of one of the most magnificent cultural and architectural wonders of the world, the luminous Parthenon, which is constantly threatened by the adverse effects of air pollution—is proof that human responsibility and awareness for the protection of humanity’s cultural legacy are a crucial step in the right direction toward addressing this challenge. Therefore, this gathering constitutes a significant opportunity for broader mobilization, multifaceted sensitization, the adoption of effective policies and the implementation of efficient practices.

God bless you all. May you enjoy creative deliberations and constructive decisions. And may the Holy Spirit sustain you to take bold steps and beneficial initiatives.