A Student of History

June 9, 2007

Crumbling places

Filed under: Historic Preservation — John Maass @ 6:33 am

In a USA Today article, we learn that environmental issues are threatening the world’s historic monuments. 

For centuries, often millennia, Europe’s monuments have withstood earthquakes, fire and plundering. Now cultural treasures ranging from the Colosseum to Westminster Abbey could face new threats from climate change, a new study says.

Increased rains in northern Europe could wash away layer after layer of ancient stone, while rising heat in southern and central Europe could lead age-old monuments to crack and disintegrate, says the EU-funded study by research institutes in seven European countries.

Although it is an interesting piece, by the time one gets to the end its clear that man = bad, and only by making drastic changes can we prevent the loss of these crucial places.

Now, I think it is a fair thing to argue as this article does by not-so-subtle means that we ought to attempt to preserve these places, and I am certainly a supporter of historic preservation.  I also am quite skeptical when these kind of “reports” come out, because (1) they are usually trumpeted by the media as “news” items demanding immediate attention or else. Also, (2) we often get little background on the basis for this research, who pays for it, and why it happenes to come out when it does.  Was this a 25 year study that just now happenes to be ready for public consumption during the some heated (pun intended) debates on climate change?  Or was it a publicity stunt that was not really news at all.   

Finally, the article assumes that man-made objects or buildings actually can last forever, and that if we’d just not drive through McDonalds so much or run our air conditioners in Florida all year, the Colssium and Stonehenge will be around forever.  They will not.  Man-made structures do not have an infinite life, and the fact that we revere places like Stonehenge, Clonmacnoise, the Parthenon, and the Coloseum is because these few examples are exceptional, not the rule.

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