We all suffer from occasional anxiety over fear of missing out, heightened by our preoccupation with the refresh button on a legion of apps leaves us to beckon the question whether we are living our "best" lives. Sure, getting to do that karaoke spin class is important, but what about experiences that could eventually cease to exist because of our indifference towards Mother Earth?
Human demands and expectations take a toll on the planet, from literally breaking up the Arctic ice for oil drilling, to building a city on the sea and counting on it not to sink. We spoke with researchers, sustainability experts and a cowboy documentarian about just how long you’ve got to take part in some exceptional, endangered experiences. Here are the choice encounters you might want to put on your bucket list—before it's too late.
Hike a glacier
Recognized as the father of the modern study of glaciers and ice sheets, Swiss-born Louis Agassiz first proposed the Earth had been subjected to a past ice age in 1837. Focusing on how ice sheets advanced and retreated with climate, it would likely have come of no surprise to him that mere days ago, the Arctic Sea Ice Forum observed perhaps the largest chunk of ice (12.5 square kilometers) to have ever broken away from Greenland’s colossal Jakobshavn Glacier. In March, it was reported that Antarctic ice shelves are melting faster than previously anticipated, with an average loss of 310km(cubed) per year.
Glaciologist and Assistant Research Professor at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Timothy Creyts spoke with us regarding the alarming rate at which glaciers are disappearing. “Iceland is to the point of no return…those glaciers are going to keep retreating, same for Southeast Alaska.” With nearly all signs pointing to human-induced warming of our climate system as the crux of this global issue, Creyts notes equal concern with local consequences of the melt. “Take something like Hurricane Sandy, add another meter of water to that…it’s a good deal to add to a storm.” As scientists predict a global sea level rise of a meter by 2100 from glacial melting, “all of the ports will need to be rebuilt, all the bridges reinforced….these are real engineering problems that need to be faced in the next 50-100 years, probably sooner.”
If you’re planning a glacial trek, you’ve got some time on your hands. The current estimate for all ice in Greenland to melt is roughly 4,000 years, while Southeast Alaska finishes melting by 2100. “There have been glaciers that I’ve walked on that have disappeared in my lifetime,” Creyts added.
So you want to be Paul Nicklen?
If you're looking to capture the arctic before it melts away like the famed Arctic photographer, consider some recent news:
- Alaska was forced to reroute its infamous Iditarod Sled-Dog Race over lack of snow.
- Obama literally wants to break the Arctic ice and just opened the floodgates for exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean
- And by 2050, scientists predict the polar bear population could drop by two-thirds.
So get your camera gear ready and strap into your ice cleats, because you better get trekking.
Get in on the chocolate business
Maybe you’re a regular at Jacque Torres and have been putting stock in fancy chocolate companies like Brooklyn’s Mast Brothers, thinking to yourself, hey, I could totally do my own Chocolate startup! Before you get ahead of yourself, you may want to do your research, as a shortage of the sweet confection could soon be upon us, sort of. About six years ago, big shots at Armajaro Trading LTD (now merged with Ecom), one of the largest cocoa trading companies in the world predicted that by 2020, there will not be enough cocoa to supply the world’s demand.
A nuanced debate, last year saw both Mars, Inc. and Barry Callebaut-two giants in the chocolate game making similar arguments, citing a combination of ecological factors and the cocoa plant itself as contributing to the longest stream of consecutive chocolate deficits in more than 50 years. With global efforts to counter the disproportion of production and demand developing, Antonie Fountain, Managing Director of The VOICE Network gave us the story straight. “One of the biggest problems we face with cocoa today is that young people no longer what to grow it”.
Looking at the demographics via the Cocoa Barometer, we see that the average life expectancy of a cocoa farmer is approximately 60 years, however the average age of a cocoa farmer is well above 50. “The main reason youth don’t want to stay in it is they see their parents working very, very hard and earning nothing…the poverty levels in cocoa are enormous.” Earning between half a dollar and 80 cents per person a day, well below the extreme poverty line, there is obvious cause for concern.
Rather than place all the weight on the farmers to “do a better job,” Fountain feels if we want chocolate in our future, we must pay more now. “If we keep doing what we’re doing, we are going to run out of chocolate, not because of climate change and not because of other factors, but because people are going to stop making it.” Bottom line, more meaningful conversation needs to be had around these topics before a change can occur. We fully support your new chocolate startup, just be smart about it.
Enter the World Cocoa Foundation, formed in 2000 with a mission to support cocoa growing communities in the three regions they exist. Recognizing the challenges outlined by Fountain, President Bill Guyton and his team work to support education and youth development programs so that young people can have the opportunity to do what is best for themselves. “If children of cocoa farmers are seeking other opportunities beyond cocoa farming, I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” he argues. Co-financed by the Gates Foundation and their company partners, WCF is working to advance the Cocoa Livelihoods Program, reaching over 200,000 small-scale farmers in West Africa in an attempt to improve not only productivity in cocoa, but providing education and training on other crop production as well. “It really does look at the holistic needs of the farmer not only on cocoa but also on other crops they need of their livelihood.”
Trying to charm your date?
Chocolate isn't the only romantic gift item that's under threat:
- Poor harvests in Italy could mean a Prosecoo shortage on the horizon
- Commercial goldmines are running out of gold so you’ll want to learn how to mine it yourself
- And the future of the strawberry is complicated to say the least, so don't rely on the old chocolate-covered strawberry trope on Valentine's Day
Gondola ride in Venice
Ah, the iconic Italian scene, a gondola ride in Venice with a loved one after an exquisite meal, being serenaded by the Gondolier. Relaxing, unless you start thinking about the fact that Venice has been steadily sinking approximately 0.08 inches per year due to global warming, groundwater pumping and plate tectonics. For decades, Professor Pietro Teatini of the University of Padova in Italy has studied the geology and the groundwater phenomena in the region surrounding the city of Venice. “Venice will not be submerged over this century…the city is subsiding at 1mm/year, the Adriatic Sea is rising at 1.5 mm/year,” he tells Hopes&Fears.
The elevation of Venice ‘ranges from 80-120 cm above the mean sea level thus requiring ‘new interventions to improve its safety.’ In his book, he outlines a new engineering approach that could potentially create substantial elevation of the ground surface area of the region and slow the flooding process. Teatini has stated that in the 20th century, Venice has subsided about 120mm.
At this rate, we recommend booking those flights now before you have to take scuba diving lessons to see the city that’s sinking.
Oh, you're already a scuba diver?
we knew Venice was sinking, but now it’s tilting too? This is getting out of hand.
Drink helium-infused beer and do the "chipmunk voice"
Worried you’ll never have the chance to do this? Or this? We’ve got good news. But first, let’s backtrack a bit. Over the past five years, scientists have reported with varying levels of certainty that the world supply of helium is depleting. They estimate U.S reserves could run out in 20-30 years. A vital resource in nuclear, medical, and party industries, concerns have been raised over the increasing price of He and the potential for medical equipment that requires the gas such as MRI machines to be inoperable. "Should He reserves dry, hospitals in general would be the hardest hit…we’re finding replacements for some of its medical uses, but for others, no known replacement exists," Meagan Parrish, Chem.Info editor tells Hopes&Fears.
There are also those who met these claims with contention. “Many see our levels of reserves drop and say the world is running out of helium, but it’s more complicated than that,” Parrish added. Tim Worstall, Forbes contributor and Adam Smith Institute Fellow argues that running out of helium just isn’t in the cards. “It’s possibly the only element that we actually use that is being constantly generated here on earth,” Worstall says. While he agrees that the National Helium Reserve is running low, he views that as a function of “us not putting the right extraction equipment on natural gas wells or processing plants.”
He went on to conclude that he “always thinks it’s quite amusing that the one element that people worry that we’re really, really going to run out of is the one that is continually being made a new.” In addition, the Guardian recently reported new helium deposits have been identified. So for now, suck those helium inflated balloons dry and if you’re going to put some He in your beer, drink responsibly.
So you're a party planner?
Good news, someone is trying to end the "Happy Birthday" song copyright but getting turnt may be a bit more difficult:
- Tequila is expected to face a severe rise in production cost due to a shortage of the raw material in the near future
- You may want to hold onto that bottle of Bulleit for a rainy day, because the Bourbon business is being plagued by major supply-chain issues
Hey, at least you'll look really smart when you tell your friends over a microbrew that the helium supply "is not actually running out."
Ride horses and
make camp with real cowboys in the Wild West
For over two decades, Wyoming-based photographer Adam Jahiel has documented Buckaroos, Cowboys native to the Great Basin area of the United States including Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho. His photographs serve as portal into the authentic Wild West, providing insight into a culture idealized by the film and television industry for ages. His time spent riding, living, and working with “the last vestiges of the traditional cowboy” have led him to believe that while “Cowboy Pride” amongst the most dedicated herdsman is alive and well, future broncos could look significantly different than those of yesteryear.
“In the Basin, these guys are cowboys 24/7…they’re out on the wagon and they stay gone all summer…as opposed to where I’m from, where guys come back to the ranch and drive their air-conditioned pickup trucks home to their television with satellite cable…it’s a lot more modern,” Jahiel commented on the direction the profession is heading. Bought out or sold to larger outfits, it’s become increasingly difficult for small, mom and pop ranches to get buy on just raising cattle. “More and more you are seeing cowboys working two jobs, they’ve either got a job in town or they run a dude ranch in the summer,” he added.
Along with farming and agricultural industries, a push towards a WalMart economy and technological advances have made it so “you’re either a hippy with a fruit stand somewhere or you’re a CEO…a lot of ranchers now are all MBAs and big corporate guys.” Dwindling at an increasing rate, Jahiel fears that “future cowboys could be these fat little men in white aprons with hard hats and 'Safeway' logos on the back.”
Jahiels sentiment changes when speaking directly about some of the folks he’s come in contact with over his travels. “They love the work and they love the land and come hell or high-water, they are going to he on horseback one way or another.” If you’re looking to saddle up next to the last of the American herdsman, Jahiel recommends spending some time in Northern Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, and parts of Wyoming and Montana.
Looking for a "home on the range"?
Even if you're a drifter who doesn't mind the lonesome ride once the cowboys are gone, those lyrics may not ring so true anymore:
- Corporate land-grabbing means less places to settle
- The heavens won't be so bright once light pollution extinguishes stargazing
- And open range grazing is no longer, so better have cattle feed ready
Editor: Gabriella Garcia