Say goodbye to America’s landmarks this Independence Day

As we celebrate the nation’s birthday, let us all take a moment to say goodbye to some beloved members of the American family. Ellis Island, Jamestown, Mesa Verde and 27 other national landmarks could soon disappear thanks to climate change.

A national celebration with a dash of mourning won’t be so different from many of the family cookouts taking place from sea to shining sea this weekend.

Generations gather for good food and good company, but grandma and grandpa are on everyone’s mind. Maybe they’re slowing down. Maybe the doctor had some bad news. Maybe they’re not remembering all of the grandkids’ names like they used to. Everyone knows that this might be one of the last times that the whole family is together.

Liberty Island after Hurricane Sandy. (National Park Service)

Liberty Island after Hurricane Sandy. (National Park Service)

Adults will want to savor the family stories that will eventually be lost with generations gone by. Everyone knows that one of these years will be the last, and the family will be forever diminished.

Likewise, while our cherished national monuments will certainly make it to next year, their end too is in sight.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently documented more than two dozen iconic American sites that are most at risk. They will succumb to the rising sea levels, floods, storm surges, wildfires and other localized disasters that a warming planet unleashes.

The Statue of Liberty, which welcomed millions of immigrants to our shores, will have a hard time standing when the waves lap at its feet. Seawater inundated 75 percent of Liberty Island and most of Ellis Island when Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012.

Rising sea levels could soon submerge Jamestown in Virginia, America’s first permanent English settlement.

Ruins of Jamestown Church at the turn of the 20th century, prior to the Tercentennial in 1907 A photochrom postcard published by the Detroit Photographic Company Photograph of ruins of the Old Church at Jamestown, Virginia, circa 1902. This is an image of a place or building that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States of America.

Ruins of Jamestown Church at the turn of the 20th century, prior to the Tercentennial in 1907.
A photochrom postcard published by the Detroit Photographic Company Photograph of ruins of the Old Church at Jamestown, Virginia, circa 1902.

Coastal erosion is eating away at the Everglades in Florida and the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

Wildfires increase in frequency and severity, especially in the West, threatening not only landmarks but also national forests and other public lands.

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ list, below, is by no means comprehensive. It offers only a taste of what America has bargained away because it is unwilling to take the steps necessary to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

National-Landmarks-at-Risk-Map-of-Case-Study-Sites_Full-Size

Here’s a list of the national monuments in peril:

Alaska: Cape Krusenstern National Monument and Kivalina — Bering Land Bridge National Monument and Shishmaref
California: GrovelandCésar E. Chávez National Monument — NASA Ames Research Center
Colorado: Mesa Verde National Park
Florida: Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Mose, St. Augustine’s historic downtown, and the Lincolnville Historic District in St. Augustine — Prehistoric shell structures at Ten Thousand Islands and Canaveral National Seashore — NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral
Hawaii: Kaloko-Honokōhau and Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Parks
Louisiana: NASA Michoud Assembly Facility
Maryland: Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument — Historic Annapolis and U.S. Naval Academy
Massachusetts: Boston’s Faneuil Hall and the Blackstone Block Historic District
Mississippi: NASA Stennis Space Center
New Mexico: Bandelier National Monument and Santa Clara Pueblo
New York: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
North Carolina: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
South Carolina: Charleston’s Historic District
Texas: Johnson Space Center
Virginia: Historic Jamestown — Fort Monroe National Monument — NASA Wallops Flight Facility and Langley Research Center

Republicans in particular have proved a roadblock to addressing the threat. They won’t even acknowledge the problem; faith-based reality has little room for fact-based science. For all their devotion to “independence,” conservatives rarely welcome independent thinking.

The eggheads at the Union of Concerned Scientists are not alone in sounding the alarm. The Government Accountability Office this week reported on efforts by the Department of Defense to prepare for climate change. The GAO concluded that the military isn’t ready yet. Leaders at at-risk installations lack the tools they need to implement strategies to keep their facilities ready to defend America.

In the grand scheme of things, these losses are minor. What are a few lost landmarks compared to the billions of people worldwide who will face catastrophic challenges as the Earth warms?

At least, it's not nukes.

At least it’s not nukes.

But maybe when Faneuil Hall, in Boston’s historic wharf area, is under water even Republicans will be finally forced to act to save the planet. That, after all, is where Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty met to plan the original Boston Tea Party.

Perhaps a bit more water can inspire a second call to action, before our nation, and its heritage, are permanently diminished.


Christian Trejbal is a member of the board of directors of the Association of Opinion Journalists, writes for Opinion in a Pinch and is an open government chairman for the Association of Opinion Journalists. Overcoming graduate degrees in philosophy, he worked as an editorial writer at The (Bend) Bulletin and The Roanoke Times for more than a decade. In 2013, he and his wife moved to Portland, Ore., where he writes freelance and provides public policy analysis. Follow him on Twitter @ctrejbal.

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  • emjayay

    The likely problems of global warming are from really bad to catastrophic, but the Mesa Verde concern is a bit overblown. It is true that the pinon trees all over the West are dying off due to the bark beetle, which is surviving through warmer winters. The landscape at Mesa Verde is a Pinon-Juniper forest. The pinons are mostly dead by now, and the dead pinons have contributed to the fires which are a part of the normal ecology of the area. The other contributor to the bigger fires is the fire suppression of the last century that allowed more flammable stuff to grow. It will turn into a juniper forest with mountain mahogany and other bushy plants.

    The cliff dwellings have a small amount of remaining wood parts. Unlike similar surface dwellings, they are still largely there because of the protection from the elements of the cliffs. They have some remaining wood bits, but the rest is sandstone and mud mortar. Being in cliffs, there isn’t much around, and removing trees that are close would protect them.

    Certainly erosion and changes in soil due to fires, which again are normal if a lot more numerous and extensive lately, is a problem. But burnt areas also provide the environment for a new succession of growth. It’s how it works. As it gets hotter or wetter or dryer different stuff will grow. Maybe it will get too hot for the junipers too.

  • perljammer

    The altitude at Mesa Verde ranges from 6,000 ft to more than 8,000 ft above sea level. A sea level rise causing it to sink beneath the waves would turn the entire planet into a small collection of widely scattered islands.

    For Mesa Verde, I believe the concern is more frequent brush fires and erosion due to flooding from rain and melting snowpack. Of course, there have been quite a few brush fires and floods in the time since the Anasazi abandoned Mesa Verde 1500 years ago.

  • Bill_Perdue

    The loss of monuments, infrastructure and historic places are a cause for alarm, but the loss of life from superstorms of all kinds, including fire storms, drought and flooding, desertification and sea rise will have far more impact.

    And so will the die off of thousands of species of flora and fauna. GM, BP, Haliburton and similar corporations in any number of nations are the murderers of whole species. As are the politicians like Obama and his counterparts across the world who enable warming and climate change.

    We’re well into changes that will make our lives and those of succeeding generations much more difficult and problematic. There is a point at which global warming and climate change becomes impossible to stop. We’re past that point.

    Researchers have discovered two of Earth’s ancient mass extinctions wiped out life on the planet in a similar way to one another and that both were associated with global warming conditions.

    Research led by Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia, and published in Geology, demonstrated the cascade of events during the fourth largest extinction, at the end of the Triassic period 200 million years ago, were remarkably similar to those of the largest extinction that occurred at the end of the Permian 250 million years ago. … “Of the five mass extinctions to have ever occurred in the past 600 million years, four were associated with global warming.” http://www.reportingclimatescience.com/news-stories/article/does-global-warming-cause-mass-extinctions.html

  • milli2

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  • Denver Catboy

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  • 2patricius2

    Looks like the changes are happening faster than originally predicted. Does it really matter the exact date? What we are dealing with are some changes that are now inevitable. Do we still sit back and deny? Do we continue to obstruct? Or do we act to forestall the worst if we can, and do we put in place plans to deal with the changes that are in process? We have brains and can do something to save what we can for generations to come and to save perhaps our species as well.

  • Indigo

    Uh-huh. And the time frame is what . . . ?

  • Denver Catboy

    Consumerism could use a little condemnation now and then. Doubly so for rampant consumerism.

    The consequences of climate change are happening _today_ and have been affecting us for at least the past 10 years, across all sectors. Not too long ago, hard drives became hard to get and expensive because most of the world’s production, centered in the Far East, was flooded out by torrential rains. Not to far from that date, peanut butter got ridiculous in price because the peanut crop failed. There has been climate shocks world-wide, ranging from too much water in one place and not enough in another, unexpected shifts, extensive warmth (May 2014 is the warmest on record, I remember reading), and freak weather patterns (both the usual excessive heat things like drought and counter-intuitive things like the Snowpocalypse a few years back).

    And we don’t need theoretical weather models to know what CO2 can do to a world’s climate. Take your eyes off this pale blue dot and carry it about, what, 45m miles sun-ward? You’ll find a planet that on one hand could be almost Earth’s twin, yet on the other could hardly be more different. That planet is named Venus. On the one hand, Venus is roughly Earth’s size, weight, and composition, with a few differences brought on by being, well, a different planet than Earth. It is called Earth’s twin, and save for the OTHER hand, it would make a potentially habitable world. But, on that other hand, Venus is by far the hottest planet in the solar system. Despite Venus receiving only 1/4 to 1/2 the intensity of sunlight of the closest planet (Mercury), Venus is hotter on its night side (735K, same as the day side) than Mercury is on its day side (700K at max, to say nothing of the night side, 100K). Why is that? Because Venus has a thick atmosphere comprised of CO2, the same gas we’re worried about warming things up on Earth.

    This is the thing about Science. It doesn’t care for your faith or your uncertainty. We know that increased levels of CO2 increase our planetary temperature — science has told us this in no uncertain terms and both observation and modelling have backed it up. The only questions we have right now are how much play do we have in the feedback systems that try to keep our climate in this zone. Push too hard and soon, well, things will start reacting.

    So, while you try to equate Global Warming/Climate Change with things like Herald Camping or the Mayan catastrophe, the globe continues to accumulate more CO2 in the atmosphere and seas. And one day, even if you don’t have to deal with it, the chickens will come home and roost. I’m just hoping that they roost strongest in the houses of the people who blindly continue to advocate unrestrained consumerism so they (or those that pull their strings) can get fat with green….

  • Indigo

    There’s plenty of those lists around but, like occasional doomsday predictions of other sorts, they’re long on moral indignation and short on specific dates. When, oh prophet of doom, do these monuments sink beneath the waves? In the year 2025? Or is it in 2075? Or is it something 22nd century technology is going to solve? Or is this another gleeful condemnation of consumerism gone mad?

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