It’s Time To Reimagine New York In A World With Extreme Weather

OK, that didn’t happen but it certainly FELT like it did.

The destruction seen in lower Manhattan, Staten Island, southern Long Island and the Jersey Shore (among others) must serve as a wake up call to the country. Climate scientist have been saying for years, YEARS!, that an increase in sea level and the severity of storms will lead to massive destruction in these areas. Last year, Irene flooded areas that had never flooded before and that was only a category one hurricane. Climate Change deniers poo-pooed it as a one off event. Freak occurrence, couldn’t happen again.

This year, Sandy wrought precisely the kind of destruction we warned about: widespread flooding in places that have never flooded before, massive property damage, unusually high loss of life: 41 in NYC alone which may not seem like much compared to places regularly hit by tornadoes and hurricanes but it’s astronomical for New York.

Can we finally look at deniers and spit in their eye?

Here just a tiny little fraction of predictions:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 16, 2009)

Considering that much of the metropolitan region of New York City is less than 16 feet above the mean sea level, with some parts of lower Manhattan only about 5 feet above the mean sea level, a rise of 8.3 inches in addition to the global mean rise would pose a threat to this region, especially if a hurricane or winter storm surge occurs, Yin said.

WNYC News (Feb. 9, 2011)

Higher sea levels will give severe storms much more water to funnel toward the city. Bowman pointed first north, then south, to depict surges of water coming from two directions: through Long Island Sound and down the East River and up through the Verrazano Narrows toward Lower Manhattan. The effect could be worse than anything seen before.

“Straight across the river, we could expect the FDR Drive to be underwater. We would expect the water lapping around Wall Street,” he said. “We could see vital infrastructure, hospitals, sewage treatment plants, communication conduits all paralyzed by flooding with seawater, which is very corrosive.”

Here’s a prediction of what flooding would look like from a storm surge:

Look familiar? It should. These are all the areas that Sandy trashed. The map was made last year.

Wall Street Journal (Sept. 11, 2009)

While most of New York is above sea level, its subways, telecommunications cables, fiber-optics networks, plumbing and power mains aren’t. “There is so much underground,” says urban water management consultant Piet Dircke at Arcadis, one of four engineering firms that recently developed concepts for a storm surge barrier here. “The economic impact of flooding could be huge.”

Indeed, some civil engineers argue the city already risks catastrophic storm flooding. “A storm surge is not really a global warming issue” for New York, says senior engineer Dennis Padron at Halcrow Inc., which helped design a 15-mile-long storm barrier in St. Petersburg. “It could happen tomorrow.”

Under certain conditions, a hurricane now could generate a 30-foot-high storm surge and flood 100 square miles of New York. If ice melts and sea level rises, that risk increases. “If you have 20 inches of sea level rise, the edges of lower Manhattan would flood 20 times a year,” says Douglas Hill, a consulting engineer at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. “It would look like Venice.”

Dennis Paldron is missing the point here that, while a storm surge is not caused by Climate Change it most certainly is made worse by it. The combination of even a moderate sea level rise of a few inches plus an increase in the average severity and frequency of storms will cause the effects of both to be amplified far more than either alone.

But! We shouldn’t worry say deniers! New York has flooded before! It’s no big deal! Here’s one genius, Anthony Watts,  that claims to have the “The world’s most viewed site on global warming and climate change” and thinks that we should just build more land to combat rising sea levels:

Note that the West Side Highway (West Street) over half of the World Trade Center site, and the South Street Seaport were “under water” in 1660!

He’s right. And one thing many AGW proponents don’t consider (in addition to the non-linearity of climate) is the adaptability of humans.

It’s so simple! Make Manhattan larger and the flooding will stop! Of course, five seconds of actual thought and it would have occurred to Watts that, unless all the nearby buildings and roads are magically raised a few feet, more land will do nothing to stop a storm surge or rising sea levels. There will just more land to flood.

Obviously, Watts has an agenda that does not include honesty or facing the reality of Climate Change. Unsurprisingly, he’s affiliated with the Heartland Institute, the conservative think tank notorious for covering up the effects of second hand smoke in the 90s and one of the premier Climate Change denial groups in the world. Their major funder? The Koch brothers.

It’s clear that the entire Tri-State area must redesign itself. Just draining the water and repairing the damage is pointless. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We will continue to get get hit with storm surges and hurricanes and Nor’easters.  They will become more frequent and more severe. The Nor’easter of 1993 was supposed to be a once in a lifetime event. I think Sandy proved otherwise and we’re expecting yet another Nor’easter in time for Election Day. NYC now gets tornadoes almost every year. Clearly the climate has changed.

We need to build sea walls capable of withstanding these “once in a lifetime” events that stopped being “once in a lifetime” some time ago. It’s not that hard to protect hundreds of miles of shore line:

This won’t help Long Island, Jamaica Bay or Southern New Jersey but it will protect some of the most densely populated areas in the world. Heck, we can even build it into a hydroelectric generator while we’re at it!

Long Island will have to build flood channels, move further away from the shore, raise entire neighborhoods or build barrier islands to take the hit. None of these are ideal but just rebuilding at the shoreline is pointless. Perhaps a combination is called for. The same goes for New Jersey.

If we’re lucky, the widespread damage that has occurred in the most well known city in the world will be enough to shock people out of their complacency. Obviously New Orleans drowning wasn’t enough partly because of the blame game that went on afterwards. There will be no blame to assign here. We were as prepared as we could be and it just wasn’t enough. We were swatted like a fly and there is no legitimate reason to believe this won’t happen again for another century.

Time to wake up America. Nap time’s over and the Climate Deniers’ 15 minutes are up.

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