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Scientists warn that climate change threatens national landmarks

The Statue of Liberty National Monument is one U.S. landmark threatened by climate change.
The Statue of Liberty National Monument is one U.S. landmark threatened by climate change.
U.S. National Park Service

Family vacations to many national landmarks may become a thing of the past as rising oceans and wildfires destroy historic sites, a new report claims. The Union of Concerned Scientists’ report, released yesterday, include Jamestown, Historic Boston and Ellis Island among a list of 30 U.S. Landmarks endangered by the effects of climate change. The Society for American Archeology said the loss of these sites “…will be a disaster for future generations of Americans who wish to learn more about the history of the continent and for those whose historical, cultural and spiritual identities are tied to these special places.”

The Society notes that sites in Alaska and Hawaii are already threatened by eroding coastlines. It is inevitable that the coastlines of the lower 48 will suffer the same fate. Rising sea levels are not the only threat. Severe droughts and wildfires put inland sites in peril. The Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, which protects artifacts and cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people, has suffered back-to-back wildfires as temperatures have increased at accelerating rates over the past 50 years.

Hurricane Sandy gave the nation a preview of what’s to come. The Statue of Liberty National Monument Park and Ellis Island suffered severe infrastructure damage from the winds and flooding brought by the October 2012 storm. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, in the wake of Sandy, stressed that extreme weather is now the norm and rebuilding efforts must take into account the new danger. In 2013, Cuomo launched the 2100 Commission. The Commission is tasked with finding ways to improve the state's infrastructure so that it will withstand severe weather events.

“Soon those on the US continental coastline will bear the wrath of tidal surges, wave action, wind erosion, and, ultimately the ocean’s waters, before disappearing, taking with them chapters of our common heritage.” — Society for American Archeology

On the federal level, climate change politics have blocked any significant legislation to address the problem. Lacking national leadership, some regions are acting on their own. In Florida, Four counties have joined to form the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact. Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach Counties are working together to influence climate and energy legislation on the state and federal level. The World Resources Institute estimates a 9-inch to 2-foot rise is sea levels along the Florida Coast within the next 45 years, which could put a quarter of Miami-Dade County under water.