Climate

Do You Have A Climate Change Bucket List?

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May 2, 2013 flooding in Key West, after five inches of rain. In many sea level projections for the coming century, the AP notes that the Keys, Miami and much of southern Florida partially sink beneath potential waves. (AP Photo/The Key West Citizen, Rob O'Neal)

Have you assembled a list of places you would like to take your family before climate change and sea level rise destroys them or at least eviscerates their very essence?

I started to think about that after interviewing Nicole Hernandez Hammer, the Latina climate scientist who was invited to watch the State of the Union address in the first lady’s box.

Hammer, who has mapped the lowest-lying areas in Southeast Florida, takes political leaders, scientists, and the media to visit some of the most at-risk areas during high tide, which flood even on clear days. She and her colleagues have bucket lists. As she wrote in December:

On these tours, I drive by the beaches where I hung out as teenager, my family’s favorite Cuban restaurant, the church where I was married and the building where I was sworn in as a citizen and promised my allegiance to this country. They matter to me because they are a part of who I am and I am saddened and angry that they will be lost.

For me, these tours have become a kind of long goodbye. I know that for many of these places we can’t stop the impacts but I have hope that maybe we can find ways to adapt to them. Because of my work, I face these issues on a more frequent and personal level than most, but this will also change. It will soon be a reality for us all in one way or another.

Some places appear to be unsavable given the much faster than expected response of the great ice sheets to global warming and the much slower than needed response to global warming by the world. Many leading climatologists now believe we are headed toward the high end of sea level rise projections this century — 4, 5 or 6 feet.

“In fact, some of my colleagues are writing up their ‘climate change bucket lists,'” Hammer explained. “These are spots that we know are very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and may not be around by the next turn of the century. I keep a copy of my list on my desk at home, it is my motivation to keep doing the work I do.”

Her post is about a Union of Concerned Scientists report discussing “national landmark sites that are especially at risk to the impacts of climate change.” Three of those atop her list are Mesa Verde National Park, Cesar Chavez National Monument, and Harriet Tubman National Monument.

I asked her what else was on her bucket list, and she quickly said Key West. If you are going to go to Key West, you might want to visit all of the Florida Keys, since a large portion of them (including their roads) will be flooding every day with a mere two feet of sea level rise, which we could see in a half-century or so:

Nearly half of the county roads in the Florida keys will flood almost daily with 2 feet of sea level rise.

Nearly half of the county roads in the Florida keys will flood almost daily with 2 feet of sea level rise.

As long as you are visiting south Florida, you’ll want to see The Everglades, America’s “river of grass,” our largest subtropical wetland — before it is all wet and no land, before it is the Never-again-glades. Sea level rise will overwhelm the low-lying park — 60 percent is less than 3 feet above mean sea level. Salt water is already intruding upon the freshwater ecosystems, endangering breeding grounds for birds and fish, flood control, and fresh water supplies.

Another part of the country for a climate bucket-list tour is the Southwest. A good place to start might be Death Valley, in eastern California, the lowest, driest, and hottest place in North America, which has consistently broken its own records for heat. Be sure to go in the summer. Why? Think of it like Disney’s “Tomorrowland.” If you’re contemplating retiring to the southwest in the next few decades (or moving your family there) as so many have, Death Valley will give you a glimpse of what much of the region will ultimately be like if we don’t reverse emissions trends ASAP — hot, Dust-bowlified, and virtually uninhabitable. Where else in this country can you find a place that routinely gets to 120°F or higher, which will ultimately be commonplace across the Southwest after mid-century?

The Joshua tree. Via Wikipedia.

The Joshua tree. Via Wikipedia.

From Death Valley, your bucket-list tour can go to Joshua Tree National Park. Scientists fear that this national park’s iconic, Dr. Seussian Joshua trees could disappear from the park due to climate change. The tough species, technically a member of the agave family, has evolved to thrive in California’s Mojave Desert. But changes in global weather patterns like increasing temperatures and altered precipitation spell trouble for the highly specialized trees.

As one researcher put it, “It’s already gotten too warm and dry for [the Joshua tree] to prosper at Joshua Tree National Park.” Changing weather is already pushing many plants and animals away from their current ranges — and one study estimates that Joshua tree habitat could be reduced by up to 90 percent within a 60-to-90-year timeline.

You’ll want to visit Glacier National Park before it is forced changed its name to just “National Park.”

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America’s tenth national park was established in 1910 and is famed for its glaciers that are remnants of an ice age some 10,000 years ago. In 2010, 2.2 million visitors visited the park. But now, the glaciers are shrinking due to increasing temperatures. As of 1850, there were about 150 glaciers in the park, but now only about 25 remain. One study estimated that by 2030, most of the park’s large glaciers will have disappeared, and all of them could be gone within the next few decades.

There are so many extraordinary places around the world that are quickly losing their essence thanks to human-caused global warming, but visiting them would require blowing up your family’s carbon footprint.

Still, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and the earth’s largest system of coral reefs. It contributes billions of dollars to the local economy every year, from activities such as fishing and tourism. But climate change is damaging oceans through warming, acidification, and changing the currents. Together, these pose serious threats to reefs. A report from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in 2009 found climate change to be one of the biggest dangers to the park, and the International Panel on Climate Change warned that the reef may be “functionally extinct” by 2050. More recently, a 2015 study found that “moderate warming of 1-2 degrees Celsius would result in a high probability” that coverage of living corals on the reef could decline “to less than 10 percent, a number thought to be important for maintaining reef growth.”

For more ideas to add to your climate bucket list, see Medium.com’s “33 Things to Eat, Drink, See, and Do Before Climate Change Ruins Everything.” Coincidentally (or not), #2 on their list is “A Urologist”:

Um, this is awkward to talk about, but the coming decades promise a stunning expansion of America’s “kidney stone belt,” a band of southerly states where the prevalence of dehydration—and thus kidney stones—is markedly higher. (Yes, the belt exists. Yes, they call it that. Yes, that’s also awkward.) Today the belt covers roughly 40 percent of the U.S. population. Research suggests the number will be 56 percent by 2050, 70 percent by 2095…. Common sense suggests the best time to lock up a world-class urologist is now.

Climate Progress likes to be cutting edge, so I’ve already crossed this one off my list. I can now safely say this is the least fun thing on the list, so maybe just drink lots of fluids instead.

The ultimate reason for having a climate change bucket list was perhaps best expressed by the singer Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got — til it’s gone.

Some research and writing for this post was provided by Jessica Goad, formerly with the Center for American Progress Action Fund, now with The Center for Western Priorities.