Saying Goodbye to Cultural Landmarks

Sea-level rise is an unavoidable threat facing our planet in the coming century. Even avoiding increasing global temperatures above 2°C likely wont save us from a twenty-foot rise in sea-level by 2020. This kind of devastating sea-level rise will have disastrous effects on worldwide economies, agricultural, and livelihoods. It will also irreparably change the face of some of the world’s most treasured landmarks.

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Historical treasures the world over may be threatened, even if we stay within the 2°C target limit agreed on in Cancun. Further, a recently released study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that if we don’t hit this target limit, a global temperature warming of 4°C could cause anywhere from 22.6 to 35.4 feet of global sea-level rise.

So what does this mean for coastal communities, and the many global icons located there?

A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists last year outlined thirty national landmarks across the United States that could be lost or severely damaged from the effects of climate change. Among those monuments was Faneuil Hall in Boston, where the Sons of Liberty Planned the Boston Tea Party. Also included were the U.S. Naval Academy, the Kennedy Space Center, Jamestown, NASA’s Langley Research Center, and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument. Around the country 118 national parks are considered to be at risk. Additionally, the U.S Interior Department released a report in June that revealed sea-level rise from climate change will damage the national park infrastructure and historic and cultural resources totaling in over $40 billion. And that’s just in the United States.

Climate change has the potential to cause rises in sea-level that may submerge areas currently home to between 470 and 760 million people on six different continents. Climate Central recently compiled a series of photographs that depict what sea-level rise will look like in cities such as Mumbai, Sydney, Shanghai, Rio, New York, Durban, London, and D.C. These cities are all major cultural and economic hubs for their respective countries, and any damage to them will likely also damage their countries as a whole.

In the battle against climate change, sea-level rise represents more than just economic losses. It means significant losses to culture, history, and livelihoods- not to mention lives. A study published in Environmental Research Letters found that 136 UNESCO World Heritage Sites will disappear with a warming of 5.4°C, warming that falls within projected ranges from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sea-level rise may force us to say goodbye to cultural treasures such as Japan’s Itsukushima Shrine, the Sydney Opera House, the Statue of Liberty, Venice, Chile’s Rapa Nui National Park, and countless others. Further,
for cities such as Miami and New Orleans, its not a question of if they will be underwater, but when.

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For those cultural icons that are still salvageable, it is imperative that we reach an ambitious binding goal for limiting global temperature increases. After all, we can certainly survive without some of these historical landmarks, but why would we want to?

Images Courtesy of Climate Central.