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This Mini Golf Course Reminds You About The Horrors Of Climate Change


Mini golf is usually whimsical - think pirates, waterfalls, jungle animals - but at a course on the Brooklyn waterfront, there are flatulent cows and melting glaciers. NPR's Rosemary Misdary reports each of the 18 holes at Putting Green is dedicated to a different climate change emergency confronting New Yorkers.

ROSEMARY MISDARY, BYLINE: It's a hot day in Domino Park on the East River. The natural gas-fired power plant reserved for peak usage is buzzing loudly, casting its shadow on golfers putting through climate change hazards to reach each hole. Joshua Goodman works for the city's Department of Sanitation, and he's trying to hit the ball across a map of Manhattan that is partly underwater according to sea level projections for the year 2100.

JOSHUA GOODMAN: When you're trying to navigate those water traps and thinking about rising sea levels - I mean, I live in lower Manhattan. You know, I pass the flood sign markers from Hurricane Sandy every single day. And when we were going through those water traps, I was thinking, gosh, you know, if we're not careful, if we don't put in the work, if we don't hold corporate America to account, this is our future.

MISDARY: It's one of the toughest holes. Most balls end up in the water.

GOODMAN: The area where I live on the east side of Chinatown would have been underwater on hole number three.

MISDARY: One of the course's designers, Juanli Carrion, says it's one way of getting the message out on climate change.

JUANLI CARRION: People are so tired of the gloom and doom that surrounds climate change. They don't want to listen to all this, like, catastrophic news. Giving people the information in a playful way - it helps a lot. It obviously shocks people, but that's the whole point.

MISDARY: But it's not all forest fires and fossil fuels.

VRINDAVAN RAO: It's amazing what just small differences can make.

MISDARY: At hole 13, Vrindavan Rao (ph) tapped the ball around a giant banana peel and an apple core to find a new way to make a difference.

RAO: Composting - it inspired a conversation just because we live in an apartment building. And unfortunately, the apartment building doesn't compost, which can pose an obstacle on a more individual basis. But I think it just takes a little bit more intentionality and time.

MISDARY: But even for middle school teacher Ben Wareham (ph), who tries to live sustainably, making a difference can be overwhelming.

BEN WAREHAM: It's a lot to consider because it's one thing to read it and go like, man - and it's just tough to consider what it means on a larger scale and what can be done.

MISDARY: He brought his junior high students to celebrate the end of summer school.

WAREHAM: They're noticing the obstacles. There's - they're, you know, going like, hey, why is there a polar bear here? Why - you know, what are these cows? Why is there a giant banana peel and rotten apple core? And it will hopefully sink into them, especially as native New Yorkers.

MISDARY: The park was designed just days after Hurricane Sandy. Addressing climate change is a priority for the park's community partners, like Robert Buchanan from the Billion Oyster Project.

ROBERT BUCHANAN: I remember Sandy, and I remember, you know, people not having cell phone service and subway tunnels and the tunnels flooded. That's an absolute reminder when you stand on that hole, and you play from south to north that you're putting through what was underwater.

MISDARY: That's something this course's creators don't want visitors to forget as they enjoy the Manhattan views. They're playing on what was once a polluted factory wasteland that will be underwater in less than 80 years if New Yorkers drop the ball on climate change. Rosemary Misdary, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rosemary Misdary is a 2020-2021 Kroc Fellow.