Notre Dame Is a Metaphor for the Planet

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Everyone says we should do something, but nobody ever wants to pay the price.

According to Wikipedia,

Victor Hugo began writing Notre-Dame de Paris in 1829, largely to make his contemporaries more aware of the value of the Gothic architecture, which was neglected and often destroyed to be replaced by new buildings or defaced by replacement of parts of buildings in a newer style. For instance, the medieval stained glass panels of Notre-Dame de Paris had been replaced by white glass to let more light into the church.

After his book became a hit, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc was hired to restore it, but they did it the quick and dirty way.

Not everyone loved it then, nor more recently as Oliver Wainwright reminds us of a more recent critic:

The spire that collapsed was added by Viollet-le-Duc in his massive renovation and restoration of starting in 1844, fixing the damage done during the French Revolution, so – like so many great buildings – it is not an original.

Interior of Notre Dame before fire

Interior of Notre Dame a few years ago/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Even Victor Hugo wrote: "Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of centuries." It's not surprising that environmentalists also made a natural connection:

Bill McKibben and Eric Holthaus exchange thoughts:

Construction fires are particularly tragic because they are preventable, but the major reason that these fires of significant buildings keep happening is lack of funding. Brazil's National Museum and its 20 million item collection was a "tragedy that could have been avoided". The museum had been trying to get money to protect its collection for years.

school of art burning

© Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

In Glasgow, the School of Art was destroyed because of poor management of fire risk during the restoration after an earlier fire, which occurred because a sprinkler system was not completed.

The late Andrew Tallon was quoted in Time two years ago:

“The damage can only accelerate,” says Andrew Tallon, an associate professor of art at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and an expert on Gothic architecture. Having carefully studied the damage, he says the restoration work is urgent. If the cathedral is left alone, its structural integrity could be at risk. “The flying buttresses, if they are not in place, the choir could come down,” he says. “The more you wait, the more you need to take down and replace.”

The more you wait, the harder it gets to fix. You can say that about buildings, infrastructure, and, of course, climate. But nobody wants to pay the price.