The other day I perused the well-stocked magazine rack at my local Kroger and surprisingly came across a special Newsweek issue intriguingly entitled, “100 Places to Explore Before They Disappear.” Teeming with stunning photography you’re accustomed to seeing in magazines like National Geographic, it whets your appetite to get about and see some of these places, six of them right here in the USA. But the rub is that, given the rapidly accumulating consequences of climate change, you’d better do it soon.
As Christiana Figueres, United Nations Climate Chief, cautions, “There is no doubt, if elevated climate is not addressed, it presents a huge risk to many geographic regions around the world, particularly to low-lying islands and to coastal cities.”
As I see it, the catalyst behind these impending geographic upheavals comes down to water, either too much of it (e.g., rising sea levels) or too little (drought).
Let’s start with the USA: If there’s one place I absolutely adore above all of California’s myriad tapestry of exotic beauty, it’s Big Sur, hugging the central California coast for 90 miles between Carmel and Ragged Point. For me, it’s a sacred place in its remoteness, adored by one of our most articulate poets on the environment, the late Robinson Jeffers, whose home is there. Severe drought conditions have converted this once verdant mountain area into a virtual tinder box. Just last year, a devastating forest burned 1000 acres and destroyed 34 homes. It happened in December, not in summer. Last year was California’s hottest year ever recorded. Severe drought and record temperature highs are continuing this year.
Other American vistas in danger:
The Florida Keys from Key Largo to Key West has experienced a sea-level rise of nine inches over the last century, threatening its ground water supply. In the next fifty years, experts are predicting that figure will double.
New Orleans, devastated by Katrina a decade ago, continues to struggle to find ways to protect itself from future storm surges, while concurrently sinking six feet below sea level.
New York City, much like New Orleans, faces a future onslaught of rising sea levels, something hurricane Sandy made very apparent.
The New Jersey shore, stretching 130 miles, has increasingly been exposed to flooding and erosion. Experts predict worse flooding over the next several decades.
Hawaii’s island gem, Kauai, with tourist meccas like Koloa, are now threatened by torrential rain.
The Newsweek issue doesn’t mention other American places under siege like Miami, Boston, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, the latter two running out of water.
It doesn’t get better anywhere else: In fact, it gets worse, especially in Africa with its already burgeoning population confronted not only by poverty, but political, religious and ethnic instability. Its once teeming wildlife, increasingly encroached upon by poachers, will in all probability disappear into memory, given the added stress of climate change with diminished rain and rising temperatures.
Meanwhile, in a throwback to Nero, Congress fiddles while America–and the world– burns in a costly game of partisan politics and subservience to fossil fuel lobbyists. Some not only deny the human contribution to climate change, but climate change itself, ludicrously placing themselves on equal footing with credentialed scientists.
I think again of Robinson Jeffers and his prescient poem, “Shine Perishing Republic,” with its theme of the American dream settling into “the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire/And protest, only a bubble in the Molten Mass, pops/And sighs out, and the mass hardens.
It doesn’t have to be this way. While we aren’t able to halt climate change, the consequence of our dependency on fossil fuels, we can mitigate its effects. The lesson of evolution is the necessity of adaptation for an entity to survive. Thus far, we’re not doing very well at that.