A Giant Wall May Be the Only Way to Save New York City from Climate Change

New York City could be under a foot of water as soon as 2030.While that may not sound like a lot, the prospect of such a drastic change in sea level surrounding a city built on a series of islands is indeed scary. The birthplace of Hip-Hop is home to more than eight-million people, some of whom are still recovering from the effects of Superstorm Sandy in 2012. A mere 12-inch increase in the water of New York Harbor could very well make Sandy look measly in comparison, and indeed, a bigger storm could very well arrive at any moment. Perhaps not 2016, but perhaps so. There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty as to when exactly “the big one” will come, but there is no uncertainty about the following: if nothing is done, New York City will be underwater and damaged beyond repair.

That is the central argument in a comprehensive new Rolling Stone feature that takes a micro look at the Big Apple’s past and future relationship with climate change. Journalist Jeff Goodell spends time speaking with several insiders, all of whom are contributing to a conversation about what one of the world’s biggest metropolises should do and more importantly, when. As Goodell writes, whether the storm comes this year or next decade, there is no room for inaction. When – not if – New York City’s waters rise a foot, “you have serious trouble,” he says. “Water will flow over the aging sea walls at Battery Park and onto the West Side, pouring into the streets, into basements, into cars, into electrical circuits, finding its way into the subway tunnels.” And it doesn’t end there. “Businesses that don’t need to be in Lower Manhattan – hedge funds, banks, law firms – will move to Midtown, others to Westchester County or the New Jersey suburbs. The economic engine of the city will sputter. Rents and property values will fall, eviscerating the tax base. Throughout the city, people with money will begin moving to higher ground, leaving the poor behind in polluted swamps of abandoned buildings along the waterfront.”

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Goodell’s description may sound like something out of a science-fiction film about the impending end of the world, but perhaps we should ask ourselves this: what other evidence do we need to know his description is not only fathomable, but also likely? There have been reports proving the earth’s temperature is at its highest in recorded history. San Francisco has already launched bold initiatives to require solar-panel roofing on new buildings. And, President Obama recently announced historic measures to be undertaken by the United States in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. Now, New York City is becoming the latest American city to make headlines for taking a no-nonsense approach towards global warming, which includes a massive wall built around Manhattan’s waterways.

Great Wall of Manhattan

“Next year, if all goes well, the city will break ground on what’s called the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, an undulating 10-foot-high steel-and-concrete-reinforced berm that will run about two miles along the riverfront,” writes Goodell. “It’s the first part of a bigger barrier system, known informally as ‘the Big U,’ that someday may loop around the entire bottom of Manhattan, from 42nd Street on the East Side to 57th Street on the West Side,” but it isn’t just the city’s main borough that will receive much-needed attention. “There are plans in the works to build other walls and barriers in the Rockaways [in Queens] and on Staten Island, as well as in Hoboken, New Jersey, across the Hudson River,” Goodell explains. But for many reasons, the project being proposed for Manhattan is taking center stage, including the worth of its real estate and the implications that would come to be were the borough submerged.
As Goodell mentions, “[i]n purely economic terms, the New York metropolitan area is responsible for almost 10 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product and is the largest financial hub in the world,” adding that ” city has a symbolic value that is hard to quantify, with 8.5 million people from all over the world who live there, and millions more who are connected to it by work or family or by their dreams to come here and make it big.”