Say Goodbye to America’s Landmarks This Independence Day

2014 704 lib fwLiberty Island after Hurricane Sandy. (Photo: National Park Service / Flickr)

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.

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.

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.

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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: Groveland — César 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?

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.