9 June 2017

When rising seas transform risk into certainty

By Dan Drollette Jr

There’s certainly been a lot of news to deal with lately, causing many of us to become glued to our laptop screens and television sets.

Because of all this activity, it is easy to forget that there are other, longer-term events—of equal importance—percolating along under the radar. The Earth is still spinning on its axis, the sun is still shining, the planet is still warming up at ferocious rate due to human activities, and the consequences of delaying action on dealing with climate change are making themselves felt in new, different, and unexpected ways.

According to a new study published on Wednesday by researchers from Princeton and Rutgers universities, rare floods will soon become the norm for cities like New York, San Francisco, San Diego, and Seattle, as well as entire states such as Florida and Hawaii. On average, this means a 40-fold increase in the occurence of flood, unless humanity soon cuts back on the amount of carbon we pump into the atmosphere.

To put that figure into perspective, in San Francisco, for example, severe floods that are statistically only supposed to happen once in a century will occur every year by 2050—and Key West, Florida, will experience such “hundred-year floods” nearly every month. In an interview with The Guardian, one of the researchers said “A 40-fold increase on average is gigantic—cities may not be able to defend themselves.”

And to put that concept into human terms, in an article titled “When Rising Seas Transform Risk Into Certainty,” The New York Times Magazine delved into some of the major implications of risking sea levels on the Atlantic coast—such as what it means when storms become more frequent, more intense and more costly; homeowners cannot sell their homes or even get flood insurance; and the National Flood Insurance Program, already tens of billions of dollars in debt, slides even deeper into the red. (The story was just one of several excellent articles in the Times Magazine’s special Climate Issue.)

Already, major new buildings in Manhattan are already being designed with the next Katrina-style superstorms in mind, said an article in the New York Times newspaper. These defensive features include entryways that are an extra four feet above street level in order to cope with the expected high water, deployable flood barriers, and essential building equipment—such as electrical gear—that is installed one or two stories up, instead of in the basement. And a nine-story building on West 26th Street and 10th Avenue, near the Hudson River, will soon have an extra 650 tons of weight added to its foundation slab, to ensure that the entire structure remains firmly anchored in place. “You wouldn’t think of a building floating away,” said Peter Rosenthal, the building’s owner, “but water would act as a buoyant.”

The article notes that “After Hurricane Sandy, he spent six months repairing 100 Wall Street and a year repairing 80 Broad Street downtown.”

“I never want to go through that again,” Mr. Rosenthal said.

 

 

 

Publication Name: 
New York Times Magazine