33 Things to Eat, Drink, See, and Do Before Climate Change Ruins Everything
Illustrations by Kurt McRobert
Photo-illustrations by Richard Petrucci
You’re the kind of person who likes his boardwalks above water. You don’t have allergies. You like winter. You want your champagne to come from the Champagne region of France—not some unromantic corner of England hundreds of miles to the north. You like cherry pie. You like oysters. You eat fish. You don’t eat jellyfish. You’re the kind of person, then, who needs the Matter handbook to a burning planet, a compendium of real scientific findings that look at how the globe may change over the next fifty years and beyond. Think of it as your guide to the good life before climate change melts it away.
Was it a bad idea to name a national park after a tree that can’t handle the heat? In retrospect, yes. The Joshua trees of Joshua Tree National Park need periods of cold temperatures before they can flower. Young trees are now rare in the park. Older trees are beginning to sag. Suggested rebranding for 2065: “Death Valley Annex.”
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. With more pollen in the air due to climate change, everyone is worried about allergies. But focus your attention where it really counts. Common sense suggests the best time to lock up a world-class urologist is now.
America’s Favorite Spaceport
The Kennedy Space Center, the launch site for the Apollo missions and every other manned space flight over the past 45 years, is just as endangered as the rest of the U.S. space program. The popular tourist attraction sits at the water’s edge on Cape Canaveral. Elevation: between six and 10 feet above current sea level, in the danger zone as oceans expand over the next 45 years. Other NASA outposts are just as threatened. “Retreat is the way to go here,” says a member of NASA’s climate-impacts team at Langely Research Center in Virginia.
Take, for instance, the ones found in your favorite cherry pie. Eighty percent of tart cherries come from a single five-county area in Michigan, all of which is threatened. So if the anti-climate change “Save the Cherry” campaign, which was launched in July at the National Cherry Festival, is a bust, look forward to later blossoms, unpredictable cherry harvests, and empty fruit stands, as happened in 2012, when an abnormal freeze-thaw cycle decimated the state’s crops.
Whatever it is People Go to Vegas For
Seven U.S. States plus Mexico share the waters of the overstretched Colorado River, and Nevada’s legal share is tiniest of all: less than two percent of the flow. If the current drought continues to shrink Lake Mead, the reservoir on the Colorado that keeps Vegas alive, Sin City’s water could be gone before Britney is. (She will then be 67 and in the Dolly Parton phase of her Vegas run.)
The Ruin Porn of Old Havana
The ’57 Chevy, the unofficial car of Cuba, weighs well over 3,000 pounds. It doesn’t float. Nor, unfortunately, will Havana’s beautiful, crumbling colonial core, parts of which are barely six feet above sea level.
The Hot Dog Eating Contest
Or at least the place where they hold it. Coney Island, the most famous boardwalk and beachside amusement park in America, barely survived Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The bad news: By 2100, storms like it and Hurricane Katrina could hit the East and Gulf Coasts every other year or so.
Oysters. Damnit! Oysters?
Yeah, sorry. Warmer waters may mean poisonous shellfish. The most common cause of seafood-related stomach illness, the bacteria Vibrio parahaemolyticus, is at its most virulent in the Pacific Northwest. But health authorities on the East Coast and in northern Spain got a recent surprise when two of the worst strains appeared in the Atlantic Ocean.
The North Pole
So here’s how wet things are getting at the North Pole: To reach the actual site of the actual pole, twin Russian submarines dove 14,000 feet to plant a flag. Under the water. The floating Arctic ice cap shrank to a record low of 1.32 million square miles in the summer of 2012—half its summertime size in the 1980s.
The Ice Roads of Greenland
Ice taxis—in some cases Ford SUVs—have been the cheap, fast way to travel village-to-village across frozen fjords in parts of west Greenland. Recent warm winters have left the fjords with only thin sheets of ice (enough for a smart car, maybe) and left villagers and visitors with a choice: Hire a helicopter or stay at home.
Fish that Doesn’t Taste Like Chewing Gum
Important cold-water fish species, including cod, pollock, and Atlantic Salmon, face a growing threat of population collapse as the oceans heat up. Studies suggest a radical fix: Eat lots of jellyfish, which will thrive in our new climate.
Coffee. Holy Shit! Coffee?!
A two-degree Celsius temperature rise in the coffee regions of Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico, along with a projected five- to 10-percent decrease in rainfall, could lead to a nearly 40 percent decrease in land suitable for growing coffee crops in those countries. Your $10 latte is almost ready.
The Panama Canal
This engineering marvel depends on freshwater from the Chagres River to run its locks—52 million gallons per passage—and is imperiled by shifts in rainfall. Also, climate change is creating a competitor: Ships choosing an ice-free Arctic over the Panama Canal could save weeks of transit time and hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Peru’s Favorite Glacier
A top South American spot for tourists and school kids to see glacial ice is going through an identity crisis. The Pastoruri Glacier has shrunk in half and retreated from the roadside, and it’s calving so unpredictably that it has been closed to climbers, lest they get crushed. Peru’s tourism authorities already have a Plan B: On the new Climate Change Route, tour buses take you where the glacier has disappeared.
While heroin addicts have it better—according to one study, poppy plants will thrive in the coming climate—coke addicts have reason to get the shakes. Deforestation from illicit Colombian coca plantations is a significant driver of climate change, thus a target in the war on warming. Worse, century-old research suggests that the concentration of the plant’s active ingredient, an alkaloid, may be reduced as temperatures rise.
The Moai of Easter Island
Most of the stone sentinels of Rapa Nui National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, stand perilously close to the water’s edge. On the upside, the island’s unpolluted waters are crystal clear—perfect for diving and snorkeling when the statues sink beneath the sea. Look for jellyfish!
The World’s Most Beautiful Bombing Range
Almost 70 years after the United States began a series of devastating nuclear test blasts on the Marshall Islands, the 23 low-lying islands that make up Bikini Atoll are still uninhabitable. Now, the carbon-emitting world is conspiring to keep them that way: The Marshall Islands is one of the countries most threatened by sea level rise.
The Sydney Opera House
The iconic, $800 million building at edge of gradually rising, 11-square mile natural harbor: Photogenic, yes. Long-lived, no.
The Great Barrier Reef—Without Dying of a Terrible Disease
The good news is that you’ll still be able to visit the Great Barrier Reef, even as warmer ocean temperatures hasten the coral die-off. The bad: If you step out of the water, you may get dengue fever. (The mosquito-borne disease is expanding its range dramatically as Australia warms.)
The Part of Australia Where the Food Comes From
Drought in The Murray-Darling Basin, Australia’s breadbasket, is becoming so normal that people have begun using the term “dryness,” to suggest permanence. Along with local milk prices, global rice prices are showing the strain.
Skiing in North Korea
There are a few reasons why dictator Kim Jong Un’s new ski area, Masik Pass, is a bad idea (hint: not the lift lines), and climate change appears to be one of them. Unlike Whistler, and other large resorts in Europe and North America, which are gradually moving facilities higher into the mountains, Masik Pass has nowhere to go when temperatures spike.
A Frozen Homage to Lord Shiva
The Amarnath Yatra, a major pilgrimage route in the Indian Himalaya, leads to a frozen lingam—a phallus-shaped frozen waterfall—in a remote cave. In recent years, perhaps aided by the combined body heat from a crush of visitors, the shrine has melted up to 10 days before the official end of the pilgrimage.
Not Getting Eaten by Bengal Tigers
South Asia’s biggest cat is making one of its last stands in the 540-square-mile Sundarbans, one of the world’s largest mangrove forests, which straddles the India-Bangladesh border at the mouth of the Ganges River. Many of its low-lying islands will slip into the sea by 2100. Visit in the meantime—or don’t. Pushed out of their habitat, the tigers have lately been prowling nearby villages and preying on people.
The Venice of the East
Suzhou, China is a series of canals, pagodas, stone bridges, and lush gardens close to Shanghai, and it’s afflicted by the same problem as the Venice of the West. Its principal attraction, the water, may overwhelm it before the century is up.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial
Like Bikini Atoll, this haunting reminder of the violent power of nuclear weapons is so close to the rising ocean that it may end up reminding us of something else—the slower violence of carbon emissions.
Those Planet-Shaped Islands in Dubai
Construction of “The World,” an exclusive archipelago of 300 artificial islands was halted in 2009 after the financial crisis. Now it appears to be resuming. If completed by the middle of this century, it will be just in time for rising seas to wash them away. The latest project of Dubai’s ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum — a domed, climate-controlled city stretching 4.3 miles through the desert — may be more resilient. Its inventive name: Mall of the World.
The Source of the Nile
Mount Kilimanjaro has Africa’s most famously shrunken ice cap, but the hastening melt in the Mountains of the Moon, which straddle Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, will be more devastating: As geographer Claudius Ptolemy noticed in 150 A.D., the mountains are “the snowy source of the Nile,” the river that is the lifeline for much of northern Africa, especially restive Egypt and South Sudan. The Rwenzoris’ glaciers covered 2.7 square miles more than a century ago, but less than 0.4 square miles as of last year.
Chocolate. Mmmm… Chocolate… Wait, What?
Steep projected declines in yields of maize, sorghum, and other staples portend a coming food crisis for parts of sub-Saharan Africa. But here’s what will probably get everyone’s attention in the developed world: Studies suggest cacao production will begin to decline in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, the source of half of the world’s chocolate, by 2030.
The Site of Carthage
Coastal ruins across the Mediterranean and the world are under threat from sea level rise. The sinking of the 3,000-year-old Phoenician city of Carthage in Tunisia, once the center of a hopeful empire that was founded not far from the modern birthplace of the Arab Spring, would be an unnecessary metaphor.
Cheap Flights to Paris
Blame consolidation, blame Heathrow, blame the Euro, and now blame climate change for the disappearance of bargain fares to Europe. The climate part: Warming is expected to measurably increase air turbulence over the North Atlantic, which will increase travel times, fuel consumption, and thus prices. Just when you need the comforts of first class so you can ignore all the bumps, you especially can’t afford it.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
This off-kilter attraction may be winning its war against gravity, but another force of nature awaits: wave erosion. The tower and the surrounding UNESCO-protected Piazza del Duomo sit at an elevation of barely six feet above current sea level.
Birdwatching in Scotland (People Do This!)
On the verge of an historic independence vote, Scotland is debating the need for a new national bird. Bad timing: By 2100, bird species in the British Isles are expected to move northward by an average of 340 miles to beat the heat, and key Scottish species — crossbills, skuas, petrels, and scooters — will have nowhere to go but extinct.
The Imaginary Line that Divides Switzerland and Italy
Near the Matterhorn high in the Alps, retreating glaciers are causing a geographical quandary. The border, pegged to ridges of now nonexistent ice, has effectively disappeared. In 2009, Switzerland and Italy resolved the first of these potential border disputes through parliamentary action, moving the redrawn line by up to 300 feet. No shots were fired.
A previous version of this story mislabeled the Arctic as Antarctica. Matter regrets this reverse in polarity.