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10 Things That Could Disappear in 2020

We take the existence of a lot of things for granted—for better or worse, we shouldn't.

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Changing planet

Things are changing, fast, in ways that are often a challenge to keep up with. For starters, it’s been reported far and wide that we’ve been way underestimating just how fast the climate everywhere on our planet is evolving—in the wrong direction. Technology, too, has been rapidly evolving over the past decades, in ways that can be a detriment (fracking) or a benefit (the cloud) to the earth. Here we take a look at things that could be on their way out this year, either for the good of our environment or to its detriment Find out 14 facts about the earth you never learned in school.

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Good for the earth: Single-use plastic

All plastic is not going to become obsolete anytime soon—we rely on it in far too many ways to make an all-out ban seem completely impossible. However, awareness of the vast crisis that plastic has engendered for everything that lives has led to public outcry, which in turn has led to the banning of some single-use plastics, like grocery bags, which as of January had been adopted in eight states, Politico reports. No state has yet banned plastic straws outright, but Washington, D.C.c has abolished their use (along with plastic bags), and many cities have done so as well, as this heartening 2019 map from Orbitz elucidates. As a nation, we’re also finding novel uses for recycled plastics.

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Good for the earth: Calculators, GPS devices, and anything else replaced by your smartphone

Our smartphones have capability far beyond the flip phones of the ’90s we all once marveled over. And that means a whole host of electronics are speeding towards oblivion, particularly those with only one function. For example, the calculator; who needs it? asks Money Talks News, while pointing out that the GPS device has also lost its usefulness, thanks to largely to smartphone navigation apps and also built-in guidance that comes standard with your new car. That adds up to a lot less stuff we have to buy and that we’re inclined to toss when it becomes (quickly) obsolete. Your smartphone can do even more than you know—discover 10 hidden iPhone features you never knew about.

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Neutral: Old ways of communicating

In with the smartphone, out with the telephone (and also the landline we once needed to keep it operational), and also public payphones. The fax machine (and all the paper it consumes) is also largely irrelevant to our lives now. This all has both positive and negative effects on our environment; on the one hand, once again, less stuff and less waste! On the other hand, mining the rare minerals necessary to operate your smartphone is literally killing the planet, reports FastCompany; and there’s a high human cost as well—namely, the very young children who are used in mineral extraction, as the Guardian points out. Even as our ways of communicating evolve, these 11 places on earth are still unmapped.

An old incandescent bulb.Iseo Yang/Getty Images

Good for the earth: Incandescent lightbulbs

The United States made the import and manufacture of 40- to 100-watt incandescent lights illegal back in 2014 and, as a result, all manner of much more energy-efficient replacements have hit the market and may soon make incandescents a thing of the past. How much energy are they saving us? One energy use calculator shows that the cost of running one 75 watt bulb for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, uses $32.85 worth of electricity a year, versus $3.94 for an equivalent LED bulb. Find out the 18 things you need to have a smart home.

Close up of pregnant Caucasian young woman driving car and holding hand on gearshift.dusanpetkovic/Getty Images

Good for the earth: Manual transmission

Once upon a time, manual transmission was the only option if you wanted to drive a vehicle of any kind; then it became the best option if you wanted to be fuel-efficient. However, that’s all started to change. As Edmunds reports, “as modern automatics gained additional gears”—as many as ten, that allow the engine to run at the lowest speed, and according to Kiplinger—”relied less on a torque converter, they have now overtaken manuals in terms of fuel economy.” Add it to the list of popular car features you’ll probably never see again.

Beautiful beach. View of nice tropical sandy beach with green coconut palms trees around. Holiday and vacation. Tropical beach on background blue sky.Diy13/Getty Images

Take action now: Small islands

Rising oceans pose a great risk to coastal communities generally, but small islands and their communities are facing ultimate destruction. The village of Vunidogoloa in Fiji was abandoned in 2014 when its 100 residents could no longer adapt to the rising tides and fled up into the hills to try to start over, reports TIME magazine. But others will surely follow suit and are one storm away from absolute disaster. That includes other “vulnerable states” in Fiji, as well as in the Marshall Islands, the Bahamas, and the Maldives, all of which have been campaigning the international community to come to their aid. Like Fiji, these 12 islands are all at risk of disappearing before the century is over.

Aerial view of Northeast Puerto Ricoeddtoro/Getty Images

Take action now: Hacienda Los Torres, Lares, Puerto Rico

It’s one of Puerto Rico’s last remaining historic plantation houses, harking back to the island’s coffee plantation roots in the 19th century. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the hacienda “helps tell the history of economic development, class conflict, and political struggle in Puerto Rico.” The problem: It’s severely threatened by climate change, having been battered in recent years by a host of devastating hurricanes, including Hurricane Maria in 2017. The very real fear is that one more hurricane could put it over the edge. Find out what could happen if the glaciers continue to melt.

Rock Canyon - Zion National Park, UtahEvanTravels/Getty Images

Take action now: Ancestral places of Southeast Utah

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which annually releases a list of threatened places across the country, also sees an uncertain future ahead for a variety of natural spaces. One such on the 2019 list are Southeast Utah’s ancestral places, which archaeologists believe to be among the most culturally rich still in existence. But in 2017, the Bureau of Land Management dramatically increased leases for oil and gas extraction in the region, which is obviously a move that will have significant negative effects on our climate; it could also lead to the demise of this vulnerable series of landmarks. Find out 8 things that could happen if the rainforests disappeared.

Machu Picchu Inca Ruins - Sacred Valley, Perudiegograndi/Getty Images

Take action now: Machu Picchu

It’s not only important heritage sites in the United States that are at risk of disappearing imminently. In Peru, Machu Picchu is well on its way to being destroyed, thanks to a new airport the government began work on in 2019, in order to ferry in even more tourists. The tourists were already a threat to this Incan citadel, basically loving it to death. And it should go without saying that an airport, which destroys who ecosystems for its construction and brings in vast amounts of fossil fuel pollution, has zero positive environmental impacts. And as the Guardian reported, “new houses and hotels [were also] being thrown up hurriedly in Chinchero in the expectation of a tourism windfall.” Machu Picchu is on our list of 14 breathtaking places to visit before they disappear.

Glossy Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami)Andrew Peacock/Getty Images

Take action now: The continuing tally of Australia’s imminent species loss

While the estimate of the number of birds, mammals, and reptiles affected by the wildfires in Australia earlier this year range anywhere from 500 million to 1 billion, there’s no doubt about it that the Australian bushfires have been calamitous. Habitats have burned to the ground and already-threatened animals are now teetering on the brink of total collapse. One of these animals is the dunnart, a small, mouselike critter that led a relatively protected life on Kangaroo Island—before it was engulfed in flames. “The entire range of the species has been burned,” ecologist Rosemary Hohnen told the Washington Post. “They’re in true peril, real peril of extinction.”

Another victim of the Australian bushfires is the long-footed potoroo, a marsupial that’s a native of the country’s damp forests that had already been listed as endangered starting way back in 1988, according to Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water, and Environment. But the fires may have proved the final straw in fraught, uphill efforts to help it survive in perpetuity. Existing “in a very small range mostly in the forests of Victoria’s East Gippsland” according to Cosmos Magazine, “it’s likely intense fires have burnt most of these areas.”

Lastly, although most people assume that birds can simply fly to escape fires, many “favor long-unburnt vegetation because these provide more complex vegetation structure and hollows. Such habitat is fast disappearing.” As a result, the glossy black-cockatoo is close to extinction. Other species now coming close: the Spring midge orchid, the green carpenter bee, the brush-tailed rock-wallaby, and the regent honeyeater. Find out 14 more beautiful animals that could go extinct in your lifetime.

Lela Nargi
Lela Nargi is a veteran journalist covering science, sustainability, climate, and agriculture for Readers Digest, Washington Post, Sierra, NPR, The Counter, JSTOR Daily, and many other outlets. She also writes about science for kids. You can follow her on Twitter @LelaNargi.