More imminent than deadly viruses or terrorists at national events is the phenomenon of climate change, a force examined in a groundbreaking new report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Titled National Landmarks at Risk: How Rising Seas, Floods and Wildfires are Threatening the United States’ Most Cherished Historic Sites, the study examines 30 locations across the nation that face irreparable damage or destruction. Says Adam Markham, director of climate impacts at UCS and report co-author:
“You can almost trace the history of the United States through these sites. The imminent risks to these sites and the artifacts they contain threaten to pull apart the quilt that tells the story of the nation’s heritage and history.”
UCS members include more than 400,000 citizens and scientists. Their concern arises from observing impacts consistent with or attibutable to human-induced climate change. As well as chronicling these endangered sites, the report goes into detail about the science underlying each case. UCS bases its conclusions on multiple lines of scientific evidence. The forces it examines include sea level rise, flooding from megastorms like Hurricane Sandy, and unprecedented wildfires like the one that ravaged Yosemite National Park last year and the recent spate of drought-worsened blazes in San Diego.
You won’t see endangered sites from every state on the climate change map provided in the report (see graphic). The Union of Concerned Scientists only studied 30 places in detail. However, you could easily add iconic American features like the entire state of Delaware, the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, Iowa’s cornfields, Northwest salmon, the mystery and grandeur of the Florida Everglades.
Some of the landmarks at risk reveal important legacies of crossing cultures:
• The Bering Land Bridge in Kotzebue Sound, where North America and Asia meet and populations once crossed between continents.
• Mesa Verde National Park, which contains more than 4,500 Native American archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings.
• Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, which rising seas may claim within this century.
• St. Augustine, Florida, which competes with Santa Fe, New Mexico, as the oldest European settlement in the nation.
• Ellis Island, where the United States welcomed millions of immigrants a century ago.
Some, including Cape Canaveral and four other NASA sites, represent modern exploration of human frontiers. Others are beacons of cultural charm (like the city of Charleston) and history, like Boston’s relics of the American Revolution and Maryland’s monument to Harriet Tubman and others entrapped in the Civil War. A few of these places—like the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras Lighthouse—have already begun preparing for growing climate risks. Others that deny climate variations may simply be lost.
However, UCS does not limit its conclusions to a grim forecast for destruction. We don’t have to just read it and weep. The authors also explore our possible options:
• Making climate resilience a national priority and allocating the necessary resources to it.
• Cutting carbon emissions significantly and quickly, which will slow sea level rise, limit temperature, and recompress an expanding wildfire season.
• Funding President Obama’s proposed Climate Resilience Fund, now in the hands of Congress.
“The stories these sites tell symbolize values—such as patriotism, freedom, democracy, respect for ancestors, and admiration for the pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit—that unite all Americans.”