It's 2009 in Battambang and I'm gripping a piece of knotted rope.
The rains this year have been particularly heavy, leading to floods across most of northern Cambodia. This town is no exception, turning a steep and muddy street into a waterfall as deep as my waist. Residents have tied a length of rope going down the hill to help people keep their feet, for which I'm particularly grateful as I slip for the third time.
The weather report says we can expect more rain later today and again tomorrow. Even for the Mekong rainy season, this has been an extraordinary month.
That was eight years ago.
The awful truth is that it is too late to stop global warming completely. For the past few decades, a dedicated campaign of disinformation has paralyzed America into inaction, convincing many people that this observable phenomenon is a hoax (often by trying to erase the distinction between "climate" and "weather"). Carbon dioxide wasn't listening, though, and, as was recently reported by the National Climate Assessment, the planet has already warmed by over one degree in the past 50 years, with disastrous consequences.
It's hard to say exactly how far this will go, but at the current rate of warming quite a few of the world's treasures are quickly evaporating. With help from Gary Arndt, a photographer and author of the website Everything Everywhere, here are ten places that you should see while there's still time. (All photographs courtesy of Gary Arndt.)
"I was just in Tuvalu last October," Arndt said, "and that is widely considered to be the country that is most susceptible to [global warming] right now. They're basically looking for places where they can move the whole country."
"There's been talk of moving it to parts of Fiji or New Zealand, even or parts of Australia," he added. "It would be the first time in history when an entire country has had to move en masse."
The low-lying islands of the South Pacific are literally being washed away.
Paradise has never been far above sea level to begin with. Countries like Tuvalu, the Maldives and Kiribati sit on coral atolls, low islands that form around lagoons and coral reefs. Beautiful, with their long sand beaches and aquamarine waters, they have always been relatively fragile ecosystems.
Today, rising sea levels have begun to drag these islands back under the sea, while increasingly bad storms wash out fresh water supplies and coat arable land with salt water. The South Pacific is losing its islands, and what land remains is becoming increasingly uninhabitable.
The Great Barrier Reef is dying.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of global warming is the severe damage that small changes can do. An increase of one degree might not sound like much, but it represents significant, chaotic changes across many ecosystems. Water levels may rise in one country while receding in another. Some places will get hotter while others, seemingly paradoxically, get colder because of disrupted weather patterns.
Meanwhile all that carbon dioxide in the air is steadily finding its way into the ocean, making it increasingly acidic. Coral, already delicate as it is, can't handle those changes.
"The ocean acidification is really bad for coral specifically," Arndt said. "When you consider that it [coral] is calcium carbonate, it's one of the reasons along with the temperature of the water that causes things like the Great Barrier Reef, large sections of it, to die off."
Biologists call the process "coral bleaching," when coral turns white as it dies and becomes essentially a chunk of rock.
Earlier this year tragedy struck the vineyards of Bordeaux when a late frost killed 90% of the grapes on the vine. Many chateaux expect to go out of business after losing nearly all of their product for the year, and next year the world will notice a sudden shortage of fine, French wine.
Now, this has happened before. Global warming did not invent late frosts, no more than it did Pacific storms, warm winters or tropical hurricanes. Going forward they will happen more often though. What was once the "storm of the century" will now hit every few years or more. Cold snaps and early thaws will set in on a more routine basis. Crops that once thrived in a given region will now yield hit-or-miss harvests.
This will cause chaos for agriculture all across the world, but particularly in places that rely on delicate crops like wine grapes. French vineyards built a way of life around their climate and soil, one which will become increasingly untenable as both of those factors start to change.
Easter Island is a restoration. It is also a cautionary tale.
The great maoi, the heads which made this island famous, are the remnants of a long dead civilization. The islanders of Rapa Nui, the island's name before Dutch explorers renamed it after the day of their arrival, once had a civilization thriving enough to build huge monuments that faced out toward sea. Far from the exposed, sparse terrain of today, the island was once thickly wooded with millions of trees spread across its 63 square mile surface.
All of that changed as the population grew.
Farmers cut down the island's trees to make room for agriculture, using the wood for construction and boats. They left few trees, then fewer and eventually none. Without those trees and their root structure, the island literally began blowing away. There was nothing left to hold the arable soil in place, nor with which to build fishing boats, and the advanced civilization began to starve and die. By the time Captain Cook arrived only 700 people were left on the island.
They had changed their climate almost completely. Today those same forces threaten the maoi, which may topple due to erosion and battering by storms. Soon enough Easter Island may look like it did before its early 20th Century restoration: sparsely inhabited, with its famed statues nothing more than scattered monuments on the ground.
Global warming won't just bring physical changes. It also threatens wildlife and biodiversity, such as Canada's famous polar bears, which will increasingly struggle to find food.
"It was an unusually good year for photographing polar bears," Arndt said, "because it was an unusually bad year for the polar bears. Polar bears congregate in Churchill, Manitoba because that's where the sea ice freezes first."
"So the polar bears go there and they hang out waiting for the sea ice to seal so they can go out on the ice to hunt seals, which is their primary food source," he added. "But last year the sea ice came in very late, so you had a bunch of polar bears sitting around, mothers with cubs, because they were not able to go out and feed."
This is particularly unfortunate, because the polar bear population has actually bounced back in recent decades, thanks largely to Canada's crackdown on seal hunting. However if things continue as they are, the bears' resurgence may be short lived.
"If you were to ask me one city that I think would be affected, I would say Venice," Arndt said, "and I think that's already started to happen."
"It's right on the water," he continued, "and they've already instituted barriers in the Venetian harbor to stop the water. If you've been to Venice, St. Mark's Square gets flooded on a regular basis due to tides, that's not an uncommon thing at all."
Experts generally rank Venice as one of the most vulnerable cities in the world. In fact, according to some research, the city may vanish completely underwater within a century if rising sea levels aren't halted.
As Arndt pointed out, this has already started to happen.
Bangkok might come as a surprise, not being coastal, but along with Venice this Southeast Asian capital is one of the most at-risk cities in the world.
In fact, it has already begun sinking.
Bangkok is situated in the Chao Phraya Delta, an area not far from the coast. The Chao Phraya River runs through the city. As a result, it has always been vulnerable to seasonal floods and high water. Global warming has made that worse.
Thanks to overdevelopment, shifting land, increasing severity of storms and rising sea levels, the government of Thailand warns that the city could be effectively under water by the year 2030. "Immediate and costly solutions are needed to avert a catastrophe," warned a report issued by the government, up to and possibly including relocating Thailand's capital itself.
There is already far less Dead Sea to visit today than there was just a few years ago. Researchers expect that will continue apace.
Droughts in the eastern Mediterranean have gotten worse, so much so that in 2016 researchers called the ongoing drought the worst in 900 years. Indeed, according to several researchers, this may have contributed directly to the Syrian Civil War.
It is also showing up in the Dead Sea.
As rainfalls decrease, along with feeder water from the River Jordan, the sea has steadily receded. What fresh water the region has humans increasingly rely on, causing the sea to get less and less from the region. This is not the first time something like this has happened. The Dead Sea has retreated like this before, once 120,000 years ago and again 10,000 years ago. Both times coincided with rising global temperatures, and both times coincided with the collapse of local civilizations.
Photo Not Courtesy of Arndt.
"New Orleans, it might be one of the dumbest places in the world to put a city," Arndt said. "It really is. And I understand historically why it's there because of shipping on the Mississippi but the city is sinking, and this is a natural thing that happens on a river delta."
But, he added, "the problem is, what do you do? It's an historic city, a lot of people live there. I don't think anybody's going to say, 'you've all got to leave,' but there are fewer people that live there than before Hurricane Katrina, and I expect that trend will continue over time."
According to research by the University of Georgia, rising sea levels will displace more than half a million residents of New Orleans over the coming decades. Efforts to hold back storms like Hurricane Katrina will get more and more difficult, leading to a city can support fewer people.
We are quickly losing the glaciers.
The headline issue when it comes to glacier melt is the disappearance of major ice shelves. In 2015 a chunk of ice the size of Manhattan broke off of Greenland, and earlier this year researchers announced a crack that may precede another major break. In July Antarctica's Larsen Ice Shelf lost an iceberg the size of Delaware, all of which contributes to rising sea levels.
That, however, is not all. Ice packs on mountains have begun slipping too. Skiing on Italy's Stelvio Pass Glacier has been shut down due to the Lucifer heat wave, while in Peru melting mountaintop glaciers have put residents in danger of 100-foot tidal waves and "an Andean tsunami of mud, trees and boulders."