Tue. May 17th, 2022

Hurricane Ida recently ravaged New York City, causing at least 45 deaths in the tristate area and an estimated $ 24 billion in property damage. Adverse weather conditions like Ida are likely to become common in New York City due to climate change.

Meteorological organizations have independently investigated the actuarial potentials of climate change in various geographies, including New York City. According to these organizations – most prominent among them is the magazine NatureMuch of what we know and love about New York City will disappear by the end of this century due to climate change.

The estimated rise in sea level above the Big Apple coastline is believed to rise from one to three and a half feet by 2080 – a trend that has been taking place since the 1950s and cost the city billions in damage. Storm surges are expected to increase both in frequency and in terms of their ability to cause devastating floods. Such floods from stronger storms are estimated to rise up to 15 feet, which will lead to billions of dollars in property damage and displacement of thousands of New York residents. A study showed that by 2050, 37 percent of lower Manhattan will be particularly vulnerable to these surges and floods. Yet it is most uncomfortable all conservative estimates.

Researchers believe that these occurrences are not only very likely; they are rather confident in their estimates. Therefore, we should act as if these climate-related events will occur, not that they can happen — the former signify a serious level that the latter tends to counteract. In view of such seriousness, what have the elected officials of New York done about this serious threat?

Mayor Bill de Blasio has boasted two bills he has passed, known as Int 2092 and Int 2170. The provisions of the bill include instruction and permission for the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability to establish New York City’s guidelines for climate sustainability. The kind of planning that is expected to occur involves the implementation of clean energy sources throughout the city — the elimination of inefficient and pollution-sensitive parts of the infrastructure, such as old stoves, chimneys, and water heaters.

The city has already seen significant improvements in this regard before these laws were introduced. Most MTA cars are now electric, and New York City’s air quality has improved markedly in recent decades. Many baby boomers from New York remember when the city literally had a chronic smell of garbage, with little or no wildlife in sight – minus pigeons and squirrels. Now New York is thriving with wildlife – though it still smells quite bad, but not “chronic garbage” bad.

Clean energy and green transport are not enough. Although we need to keep them – as they have empirically helped reduce pollution and improve air quality – these measures alone will not change the course of New York’s collision with a grim future of climate change causing tumultuous weather events. Nor will they protect us from these events.

Cars abandoned on flooded Major Deegan Expressway
People are looking at cars abandoned on the flooded Major Deegan Expressway after a night of extremely heavy rain from the remnants of Hurricane Ida on September 2, 2021 in the Bronx borough of New York City.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images

What can protect us from extreme weather? A model of what to build throughout the city is located at Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park in Long Island City, Queens. A physical fortification against storm surges or sea walls was constructed that prevents flooding, complete with ravines that divert water away from populated areas.

Much of the hesitation behind the implementation of climate-focused policies involves a hesitation in getting sea walls to overtake New York City’s waterfront. Moreover, such plan proposals are still not enough. A $ 119 billion sea wall proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers would take 25 years to build – provided there would be no political upheaval in response to its construction, which is unlikely. Some have said the walls would not be high enough to actually protect the city from storm surge. An alternative that is proposed is “managed retreat”, which is more or less equivalent to moving people and their assets “out of harm’s way” – which really means moving New Yorkers out of New York City.

Are the only two real opportunities to combat climate change in New York City a substandard sea wall or a climate refugee crisis? Is it not unreasonable to suggest that a New York version of the Dutch Maeslantkering storm barricade be built? The potential New York storm barrier would be about 6 miles from New Jersey to Long Island, quite far away from New York harbor. The Army Corps of Engineers has to systematically design this barrier in a way that frees it from all possible criticism from opponents – which is no easy task, as some critics, as owners at the waterfront, will never be satisfied. This means that the barrier must be thoroughly investigated and planned to ensure the stability of the surrounding environment, wildlife and geology – a feat that may be impossible.

We can not let vanity and trivial concerns get in the way of protecting New York City and other coastal cities. A concrete plan is needed and it is needed quickly. Otherwise, many New Yorkers and others living close to shores will inevitably be displaced. Many will die due to negligence and poor planning if no action is taken quickly.

Daniel Lehewych is a graduate student in philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center, specializing in moral psychology, ethics and philosophy of mind. He is a freelance writer, powerlifter and health science enthusiast.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author.

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