We've all heard about the harmful effects of global warming on the world's plants, animals, and other environmental elements, but there's another, less obvious component that suffers, too: tourism. Some of the world's most beautiful places are the same ones most threatened by climate change. Interestingly, the imminent threat of global warming to tourist sites echoes history. For example, in 2018 scientists from the University of Sydney discovered that climate change was a key factor in the crumbling and demise of Angkor Wat—a tourist site in Cambodia and cradle of the ancient Khmer empire. In Greenland, similarly, the Ruins of Hvalsey and other tourist attractions are the remnants of Viking societies that scientists believe were likely destroyed by climate change.
So how does climate change lead to these devastating consequences? It's perhaps easiest to consider in terms of immediate and secondary consequences. Most obviously, as the Earth heats up, glaciers and ice caps melt. This causes immediate and easily identifiable impacts such as land shrinking—we've all seen the photos of the polar bears stranded at sea without food or habitats in which to roam. But there are other, less obvious consequences, too, most of which have to do with rising sea levels. As the ice melt-off runs into the ocean, the water rises everywhere, flooding wetlands, eroding coastlines, and over-salinating the soil. Not only that, the freshwater changes the temperature and composition of the water, shaking up marine ecosystems and disrupting how ocean water circulates worldwide. Coral dies off and large swaths of marine life suffer. Plus, the air temperature rises too because ice is reflective—without it more heat can penetrate the atmosphere. This causes further destruction of land habitat and increased natural disasters such as storms, wildfires, and flooding.
It's a complex blend of interwoven factors and one that affects tourist destinations with particular force. Further complicating things, tourism itself contributes to climate change, so in many ways it is a cycle. The World Tourism Organization, for example, says tourism is directly responsible for responsible for about 5% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Ironically, the places many tourists are saddest to see disappearing are victims of that very industry.
To give you an idea of the scope of the issue, Stacker has created a slideshow of the 25 most famous tourist destinations that are impacted by climate change. Each place has been confirmed by a minimum of two authoritative sources to be at risk from climate change-related threats. Take a look so that if any of them are on your bucket list, you can plan a trip before it's too late.