The trouble with climate change: New York City

Today New York released a 600-page report on the consequences of climate change in the state, which so far (mysteriously to me) only The Guardian has covered, near as I can tell. Their opening:

Irene-like storms of the future would put a third of New York City streets under water and flood many of the tunnels leading into Manhattan in under an hour because of climate change, a new state government report warns Wednesday.

Sea level rise due to climate change would leave lower Manhattan dangerously exposed to flood surges during major storms, the report, which looks at the impact of climate change across the entire state of New York, warns.

"The risks and the impacts are huge," said Art deGaetano, a climate scientist at Cornell University and lead author of the ClimAID study. "Clearly areas of the city that are currently inhabited will be uninhabitable with the rising of the sea." 

The shocker for me so far is that this study, two years in the making, including a great deal of GCM modeling, projects a possible 2-to-4 foot rise in sea level by the end of the century, should the melting of ice in Greenland and Antarctica accelerate, with big impacts in the 2020s. Haven't seen anyone reputable put a figure on that possible SLR before. One startling passage:

Sea level rise in combination with coastal storm surge has the ability to severely damage transportationsystems in New York—particularly those in New York City and the surrounding metropolitan region—since much of the systems are located at low elevations, and some in tunnels below sea level.

By the end of this century, the ClimAID projections show that sea level is expected to rise by 2 to 4 feet with significant implications for the transportation sector. Damages from a coastal storm in the New York City metropolitan area that currently occurs on averageonce every 100 years would be significant. At current sea level, economic losses from such a stormwould amount to about $58 billion. Losses under a 2-foot sea level rise scenario increase to $70 billionand to $84 billion under a 4-foot sea level rise scenario.  

All sectors of the transportation system would be affected, including roads, railways, subways, airports, and seaports.  The effects of such a flooding scenario would occur rapidly. For example, many of the tunnels lying below flood heights (including subway, highway, and rail) would fill up with water in less than 1 hour. Atthe low-lying La Guardia Airport, sea level rise would wipe out the effectiveness of existing levees, even for less severe storms. The outage times estimated for the various transportation systems range from 1to 29 days, depending on the infrastructure and sea level rise scenario

The study preaches adaptation again and again, but also talks about environmental inequality issues — a lot. We'll be hearing more about this one. 

The Guardian story also mentions that NOAA's plans to include a climate service were blocked by Republicans in Congress. To quote the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations:

Climate Change – The conference agreement does NOT include funding to establish a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Service. The Administration requested $322 million to establish this new entity within NOAA.

That's thinking ahead. 


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

6 thoughts on “The trouble with climate change: New York City

  1. IMO this neatly illustrates one of the fundamental problems with media coverage of climate change, which is the difficulty of adjusting to the steady drumbeat of increasingly bad news coming from scientists. Even someone in my position, probably spending much more time trying to keep up with the science than can any journalist (climate change as a sole beat not existing anywhere to my knowledge), has a difficult time with this. The problem is compounded by the fact that most scientists prefer to talk about only what can be demonstrated from existing peer-reviewed results, which necessarily lags behind current scientific understanding.

    On top of all of that, we get people like Andy Revkin, whose views of the science and its implications seem to have become more or less fixed. Sure, Andy was doing great cutting-edge reporting ~ten years ago but, that reputation having been established, other journalists keep looking to him as an example even after his reporting has ceased to hold up.

    You’ve probably seen the graphic by Michael Tobis (reproduced here) illustrating the overall problem (which is a consequence of yet other factors, of course).


  2. That’s a good point (although I still like Revkin, even though he’s made it clear he’s not a reporter any more, even if he does some reporting occasionally).

    Speaking of which, I will be at the AGU this year again…anything that looks particularly interesting to you, please let me know, and I’ll try to check it out.


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