As the Industrial Revolution took hold, it became apparent to many that pollution emitted by industry could be detrimental not only to human health, but also to the built environment. Before it was completed, the builders of the Houses of Parliament could see that soot and pollutants were already degrading the stone surfaces. In 1873, restorers in Florence, Italy brought the 400-year-old statue of David indoors because it was discoloring and decaying on the outside.
The main responsible for the destruction of monuments since World War II was acid rain, formed when emissions of sulfur dioxide, primarily from power plants, and nitrogen oxides, primarily from automobiles, combine with water to produce sulfuric and nitric acids. Acid rain is very destructive to buildings and sculptures, especially those constructed of marble and limestone, weakening seemingly indestructible materials and causing surfaces to stain and peel.
Fortunately, environmental laws over the past 50 years have greatly reduced the threat of acid deposition by controlling chemical emissions from power generation, industry and automobiles. While the United States, Canada and Western Europe have halted significant damage from acid rain, some parts of the world are still struggling with the problem, particularly in Asia. Acid rain in China is worsening due to the country’s heavy reliance on coal. (These are the 20 countries responsible for almost all of the world’s emissions.)
If the acid problem is solvable, a far greater environmental scourge is far less manageable and begins to cause irreversible damage to our cultural landmarks. Climate change is no longer a future threat, it is already impacting the built world, just as it tragically afflicts human populations. (These are natural landmarks already damaged or destroyed by climate change.)
To find man-made monuments damaged or destroyed by pollution or climate change, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed reports from multiple sources, including CyArkNamea non-profit organization that digitally archives important cultural heritage, and UNESCO, a United Nations organization that, among other things, documents important cultural sites and the threats they face. Other sources we have reviewed have particular expertise in relation to environmental impacts on our cultural heritage, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Whether it’s larger, hotter wildfires in drier regions, flooding caused by storms and more intense rain, or erosion and salt intrusion caused by surges storms and rising sea levels, monuments around the world are at risk, and many are already badly damaged.
Click here to see the man-made landmarks that climate change is destroying