5 iconic places you need to visit before climate change ruins them.

A new report from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has highlighted 31 World Heritage Sites at risk of being seriously damaged by our changing climate.

Many of them are popular tourist destinations, and all of them would be devastating to lose — many represent important pieces of our culture and history.


Here are five iconic landmarks that are in serious danger from climate change and what it would mean to lose them:

1. The Galápagos Islands could see its food web collapse, forcing animals that rely on it to abandon its shores.

Off the coast of Ecuador lies the stunning archipelago of the Galápagos Islands. It's home to many species of animals, including tortoises, marine iguanas, sea lions, and, yep, even penguins! There are tropical, sun-loving penguins in the Galápagos!

It's a magical place.

Photo by Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images.

Unfortunately, the weather system known as El Niño is getting worse, and it could disrupt the livelihoods of the Galápagos' unique collection of creatures. As the UN report states:

"El Niño affects the entire food web, with warmer waters reducing the upwelling of nutrients that usually characterizes the cold waters around the Galápagos, resulting in a reduction in phytoplankton availability and causing small fish and invertebrates to migrate away, as well as reducing the growth of algae on which many species rely."

Food webs are called webs for a reason. Every part of them structurally relies on the other parts; if even the smallest part is in danger, the whole thing is in danger.

Photo by Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images.

After a visit to the Galápagos, Charles Darwin started positing his theory of natural selection, which forever changed the way we look at the natural world. The islands aren't just a beautiful vacation spot — they're home to a historic, culturally important, and fragile ecosystem.

2. Yellowstone National Park could become a dry wasteland.

Yellowstone became the world's first national park when President Grant signed the Yellowstone Act in 1872, designating the region a public "pleasuring ground" (probably right before he realized how weird that sounded).

People from all over the world come to see Yellowstone's jaw-dropping landscapes, cheer for the Old Faithful geyser, and see bison and moose, all the while wondering how to pluralize "bison" and "moose."

Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images.

Unfortunately, according to the UN report, Yellowstone is a candle burning at both ends. Warming temperatures are causing shorter winters and longer summers, which means less snowfall feeding the rivers, lakes, and wetlands during winter months, as well as a longer, more dangerous fire season during summer months.

Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images.

The vibrant forests of Yellowstone could be replaced with drier shrublands. And no one wants to Instagram that.

3. The Statue of Liberty is at "'high exposure' risk from sea-level rise due to the extremely low elevation of the island and its vulnerability to storms," according to the report.

In what is perhaps the greatest metaphor of all time for the threat climate change poses to our national interests, America's giant copper symbol of freedom and security is in pretty serious danger.

Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images.

For generations of immigrants, the Statue of Liberty has been a beacon of hope, an outstretched hand in a world of fists, a light at the end of the tunnel of tyranny where they could finally be free.

It remains a symbol of the promise of a second chance, comforting the tired, poor, and huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.

Rising sea levels, which are already a real-life disaster, could bring to life the iconic disaster-movie image of the "ruined Statue of Liberty." That would be a tragedy.

4. Stonehenge could become unstable and inaccessible due to flash flooding.

Stonehenge was constructed thousands of years ago by either ancient humans or aliens, depending on who you ask, and no one really knows how they did it. First of all, some of the stones were from 200 miles away. Second of all, the wheel wasn't even invented yet — it was barely a glimmer in the eye of some ancient Steve Jobs.

Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images.

There are theories, sure — everything from brute force to druid magic to this guy, who figured out how to move giant stones with the clever use of tiny stones (honestly, my money is on him).

Stonehenge gets over 1 million visitors a year. Climate change, combined with such heavy tourist foot traffic, could threaten the structural integrity of the world's most famous ancient monument.

"Of most concern for Stonehenge are increasing rainfall amounts, more extreme rainfall events and worsening floods," says the UN report. "Flash floods can result in damage through gullying and wetter conditions are also expected to increase the impact of visitors walking on the site."

Photo by Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images.

Frankly, if Stonehenge is in danger, that should be one of the biggest warning signs of all. The monument has stood for thousands of years and has remained in remarkably good shape. If the changing climate has the ability to ruin its winning streak, we should all be shaking in our boots.

5. Venice, Italy, is already sinking — but rising sea levels are making the floating city drown even faster.

Venice is one of the World Heritage Sites "most at threat" from sea level rise.

"Flooding at especially high tides or as a result of storm surges has always been an issue for Venice. But now, with sea levels rising, the problem is becoming much more severe," the report says.

Photo by Franco Debernardi/Getty Images.

The report also suggests that flooding in Venice could damage the buildings that sit on the lagoon, as it did in 1966. Venice's floodgates will also have to remain closed longer and longer, which could lead to worsening stagnant water pollution.

Venice is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, and the city relies heavily on those tourist dollars. If the tourists stop coming because of the damaged buildings or unstable structures, the economic impact on the city will be massive.

Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

Beyond economics, though, Venice is a city filled with history and vibrant culture. Its Renaissance architecture and old-world charm draw so much tourism for a reason. It's a beautiful place, and we should do what we can to keep it around.

The biggest takeaway from the UNESCO report is that climate change, left unchecked, can damage a lot more than we think.

There's a seemingly insurmountable amount of work to be done if we want to save these World Heritage Sites from their impending doom. There are some who say it's impossible, but humans have already done more improbable and incredible things.

We built a giant copper lady on an island to dedicate a nation to liberty. We protected 3,400 square miles of natural habitat by declaring it a national park. We discovered the origin of species. We built a city that floats on the water. We built ... whatever Stonehenge is.

And while that last thing was (debatably) created by aliens, the point is this: Humans are capable of amazing things. Stopping the effects of climate change can be one of them.

All it takes is the doing of it.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less