Why climate change matters: 7 visual reminders

Organizations such as UNESCO help protect the world's shared heritage

Rising sea levels (according to NASA), dwindling biodiversity and habitat (says Harvard), increased forest fires (the David Suzuki Foundation describes the impact), and drought (check out the U.S. EPA’s Palmer Drought Severity Index).

The evidence is overwhelming. Climate change is undeniable, devastating, and affects every last one of us living on earth. This strikingly diverse planet we call home is at risk—now more than ever before.

Climate change is undeniable, devastating and affects every last one of us living on earth

Whenever I travel, whether near my hometown of Vancouver, Canada, or off in the jungles of Argentina in South America, I’m constantly humbled. Humbled by the forces of nature, remnants of the ancient civilizations that came before us, and the simple knowledge that if I explore the world non-stop for the rest of my life—a long and health life, if I’m lucky—I’ll barely scratch the surface of our beautiful blue planet. (Space travel? Elon Musk and Richard Branson can worry about that.)

In Paris, on November 16, 1972, the World Heritage Convention, an international treaty concerning the protection of world cultural and natural heritage, was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO.

UNESCO, and the 193 countries, or state parties, that have ratified the Convention, endeavour to protect the world’s heritage—our shared heritage—which is under threat, not only because of climate change but also civil unrest and poor political decisions. Protecting our shared heritage is the responsibility of each and every one of us. Yet 45 years after the World Heritage Convention was ratified, the United States (a State Party) has decided to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement. This will undoubtedly jeopardize sites that are already vulnerable. 

Today, 1,052 “properties” are on UNESCO’s list. Fifty-five are in danger, including the Belize Barrier Reef System, the second-largest barrier reef system in the world. It’s one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve been privileged to explore. Here is a list of just seven of the stunning World Heritage Sites I’ve travelled to around the world. Scroll through the images above and watch the videos below. Think of it as a love letter to planet earth. 

1. Iguazu National Park, Argentina. The Argentine side of the falls feels more intimate as you stroll along boardwalks shrouded by forests, getting glimpses of cascades and rainbows around every corner.

2. Iguaçu National Park, Brazil. The heart-stopping falls, which spill across the border from Brazil into Argentina (see below), are an amazing 2.7-km wide.

3. Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area, China. In autumn, the leaves surrounding shimmering lakes and misty waterfalls become burnished, but the turquoise waters are so clear you can see fish swimming near the surface.

4. Colosseum, Rome, Italy. This amphitheatre constructed of concrete and stone is smack in the middle of the city, making it surprisingly accessible. Standing in though, it’s impossible to imagine what it was like here when the Colosseum opened in 80 AD.

5. Belize Great Barrier Reef System, Belize. Glover’s Reef Research Station, where I snapped this photo, is as remote as Rome’s Colosseum is accessible. It’s not a stretch to say this pristine place is paradise on earth. Snorkelling the Great Blue Hole was a reminder of how insignificant humankind is.

6. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii, United States. There are few places on the planet where you can (safely) watch a volcano spewing magma from its inner core. Kīlauea volcano, which I’ve visited three times, has been continually erupting since January 3, 1983.

And whoa! Watch this one-minute video, “Experience the Heartbeat of a Volcanic Landscape,” from the National Park Service.

7. Cathedral and Real Alcázar of Seville, Seville, Spain. The lush gardens of the Alcázar of Seville feel like pure fantasy. Perhaps that’s why they were featured in the TV series, The Game of Thrones. Even more notable is that the Gothic cathedral (Christopher Columbus’s tomb is here) is built inside a Moorish palace for Muslim kings. Φ

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