Ironbridge must accept 'unflattering' climate change role

It has long proudly proclaimed itself to be the ‘birthplace of the industrial revolution’, after Abraham Darby mastered the technique of smelting iron with coke.

Information about climate change may start to appear in Ironbridge museums
Information about climate change may start to appear in Ironbridge museums

But Ironbridge also needs to accept another rather less flattering moniker – as the birthplace of climate change.

That’s according to Nick Ralls, the man who runs the 10 museums at the famous UNESCO World heritage site.

He reckons that by owning its role in the development of fossil fuels, the site on the banks of the River Severn can help teach future generations about the need to protect the planet.

Mr Ralls said: “The iron smelting that took place in the early 1700s signalled the move away from wood to the use of coal.

“It kicked off industrialisation and became the staple fuel that was used around the UK.

“But that process was producing pollution. So climate change, to an extent, started with industrialisation and it started here.

“Ironbridge was an amazing and innovative place, but while you could see the furnaces burning brightly at night, there was also a pool of smoke that hung over the gorge because of this process.

“It is important that we get these stories across to our visitors, because climate change and environmental issues are so important and topical.”

Mr Ralls said exhibitions at the museums were already addressing climate change, with a focus on how the same human innovation that created the industrial revolution now needs to be directed towards “fixing the climate”.

Speaking ahead of next month’s COP26 summit, he said the region was carrying on its tradition for innovation and was now at the forefront of efforts to combat climate change.

Ironbridge Museums boss Nick Ralls says it is time for Ironbridge to recognise its place as the birthplace of global warming so as to educate the next generation of the dangers of fossil fuels to the environment

“There’s an interesting parallel in that some of the answers that people are coming up with, in terms of new forms of propulsion, were seen as important even back in the 1880s.

“We had pioneers like Thomas Parker, who was born in Coalbrookdale, designed the first electric car.

“Now we have local firms looking at battery technology, and recently a Very light Rail vehicle was tested at the site of the old Ironbridge power station.

“There’s a whole story of innovation that led to industrialisation and pollution, but that same innovation has carried on and is now coming up with some of the solutions.

“In many ways it is carrying on that same tradition.”

Mr Ralls said serious flooding in Ironbridge – which badly hit two museums – showed the direct impact that climate change was having on the area and its communities.

“What was a periodic event is now an annual event,” he said.

“We’re having to find ways of adapting and living with the permanency of climate change.

“It is an issue that is very real, and as individuals we should all be thinking about how we can reduce our carbon footprint.

“Our message here – and what our history teaches us – is that it is individuals all making a contribution that will get us through this.”

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