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Climate Change and Cultural Heritage

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The climate crisis has multiple dimensions. One of which is the impact on our cultural heritage and the loss of our historical buildings. See what is happening in England, as one of many examples.

Fearful of a French invasion after breaking with Rome, Henry VIII erected a line of massive coastal forts along the English Channel, and one of the most imposing is called Hurst Castle. It has stood on its sandy spit since 1544, through the Napoleonic Wars and World War II. Its garrison protected the Allied forces on D-Day.

But earlier this year, a large section of the castle — a wing constructed in the mid-19th century by the best military engineers in the world — tumbled into the fast currents of the Solent strait.

Hurst Castle has done its duty, but it is hard to fight the sea — specifically, its caretakers say, the steadily rising waters and more intense winter storms of a warming world.

All nations stand to lose cultural monuments to climate change, including the United States. But Britain is especially vulnerable. The country is stuffed to the attic with heritage properties.

Whereas animals might migrate, seeking more hospitable habitats, a Norman church, Roman villa or neolithic stone circle cannot move. They’re stuck where they are, built for preindustrial climates, centuries ago.

Britain’s preservationists find themselves trying, sometimes struggling, “to protect the past for the future.” They know not everything can or will be saved. There will be triage — and loss.

“It looks impregnable, like it’s been there forever, doesn’t it?” said Roy Porter, senior curator at Hurst Castle, as a small ferry puttered around the point.

Nope! We are going to lose an awful lot of our history. It’s a grim time.

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