At least Machu Picchu is probably safe from sea level rise.
At least Macchu Picchu is probably safe from sea level rise.
Chris Chabot

You know how we sometimes like movies in which famous world landmarks are dramatically destroyed? Climate change is about to bring those scenes to a museum near you, albeit with fewer meteors and more meteoric sea level rise.

According to a new report published Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters, everything you love is going to disappear, assuming you are the kind of person who loves old art and history and stuff. The researchers looked at UNESCO World Heritage sites, which, like humans, tend to cluster near the coasts. They simulated flooding the world with an average of 6.6 meters of sea level rise over a couple of centuries. The result was a very soggy situation: About 140 of 720 sites surveyed would be underwater, or at least in the kiddie pool — and that’s without even accounting for storm surge. As one of the researchers encouragingly clarified, these are the low-ball estimates.

Among the soon-to-be-amphibious landmarks are Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, the Leaning Tower of Pisa (soon with extra leaning!), some old important-sounding German cities, downtown Bruges, and Naples (unless the volcano gets it first). If your tastes incline to the New World instead, you can focus your anxiety of impending loss on the Statue of Liberty and historic Havana. In any case, Atlantis is about to gain a whole bunch of cultural capital:

The purple dots are in trouble even if the thermostat stays where it’s at; everything else up to yellow is what we can expect with just 3 C extra.. Click to embiggen.
The purple dots are in trouble even if the thermostat stays where it’s at; everything else up to yellow will drown with just 3 degrees C extra. Click to embiggen.
Ben Marzeion and Anders Levermann

Though the study takes a slightly longer view than we in the climapocalyse business are used to fretting about — 2000 years — it’s not so long when you’re considering, say, Pompeii — also on the to-be-(re)submerged list. And in any case, the researchers assure us that serious problems will “definitely” arise sooner. From The Guardian:

“It’s relatively safe to say that we will see the first impacts at these sites in the 21st century,” lead author Prof. Ben Marzeion, of the University of Innsbruck in Austria, told the Guardian. “Typically when people talk about climate change it’s about the economic or environmental consequences, how much it’s going to cost. We wanted to take a look at the cultural implications.”

Venice is also on the list, because, duh. With high tides that turn San Marco into a swimming pool twice a day, the city is basically a poster child for the fragility of human accomplishments in the face of time and indifferent nature (shit just got real) as well as for how much rich people will pay to defy the forces of entropy.

While the residents of Kiribati probably wish someone would throw them a gala to save their low-lying island, or at least help them get off it, we’ll concede that artistic heritage is worth some protection. After all, if we’re not worried about staying in touch with past generations, why should we worry about leaving some nice things for the future generations? (Slip-’n-slide at the Doge’s Palace!)

But don’t panic! Luckily for everyone, I have some ideas about what we can do. So pour yourself a glass of Bordeaux to steady your nerves, maybe put on a nice aria — we’ll wait. OK, here goes:

Plan 1: Start spending a lot of money on expensive and questionably effective flood-control measures.

Plan 2: Just get it over with and convert all historical landmarks to water parks.

As far as the first goes, art lovers are on it. I don’t know of anyone working on the second, but changemakers, feel free to get in touch for my blueprints for the Leaning High Dive of Pisa. I guess it’s also worth mentioning the third plan, where we get serious about cutting carbon emissions and successfully restrict warming to a mere 2 degrees C, but even that doesn’t mean you won’t be wearing gaiters on your next stroll through the Accademia.