In Shanghai, one of the word’s largest megacities, the city center has sunk between 7 and 10 feet in less than a century. As the city has pumped out of aquifers underground, the sheer weight of the buildings has started to compress the earth: The financial district, a former marsh, is now home to at least 3,000 high-rise buildings. As sea levels rise, the network of sea walls and other defenses likely won’t be enough to protect the lowering city from floods.
The city is one of 20 places mapped in a new book called the Atlas of Disappearing Places. Artist Christina Conklin created beautiful but disturbing paintings of the impacts in each location with data from scientific papers, using seaweed as a canvas. (If water hits the painted seaweed, each painting will itself disappear.) “We decided to do an art-meets-science book to be more engaging and compelling and tell better stories than sort of the straight pop-science book,” says Conklin, who partnered with Marina Psaros, a climate change planner and educator, to write the book.
In Kenya, a map shows how waters are warming, putting local coral reefs and fishing and tourism at risk; globally, nearly half of the world’s coral has died in the last three decades. Near Hawaii, a map shows the concentration of plastic in the water. In Vietnam, a map shows the areas where rice farms are threatened by salty water as the sea level rises. In Japan, a map shows where World Heritage sites may go underwater. In the San Francisco Bay Area, a map shows where pollutants have been dumped along shorelines that will soon flood.
Each chapter also highlights potential solutions, from planting heat-tolerant kelp to new laws that give nature legal rights. Conklin argues that society will need to rethink its relationship with nature to survive. “So much of it is, Really, are we part of nature? We are—we’re one species among millions. And are we really going to find our place in the world, or are we going to destroy the whole party for our own comfort?”