The recent hurricane Sandy that devastated north-east United States may be an indicator of what is to be expected in the new global climate norm. Coupled with the rising sea levels, coastal areas are facing an unprecedented threat, requiring extensive and expensive flood mitigation systems. Recognition of climate change and policies aimed at its mitigation will have to be at the front and centre of the incoming US administration. Read more
How Cities Plan to Keep the Sea at Bay in an Age of Climate Change
By Christopher F. Schuetze for New York Times (5 November 2012):
Hurricane Sandy was bad. Now imagine a near-future that is markedly worst, where storms are not only more vicious and more frequent, but ocean levels are higher too.
According to a team of experts in New York, coastal waters there are expected to rise some six inches per decade, rising at least two feet by the middle of the century, according to a report by my colleagues David W. Chen and Mireya Navarro.
Andrew C. Revkin extensively discusses on his Dot Earth blog how climate change affects heavy storm systems. He suggests that not only gradually and permanently rising seas are in our future, but more flooding caused by violent storms like Sandy.
On Tuesday, after New York City felt the full brunt of superstorm Sandy, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the state was considering a system of surge barriers and levee systems, David and Mireya report.
“We are only a few feet above sea level,” said Mr. Cuomo, pointing out that once water breaches the city’s defenses, subway tunnels, building foundations and underground infrastructure like parking garages are immediately faced with flooding — as thousands of New Yorkers who lost power, public transportation, basements and their cars experienced just the last week.
With the immediacy of a systemic, long-term threat far more apparent in the wake of the so-called Frankenstorm, New York officials — who had already discussed the threat posed by rising sea levels before Sandy — are joining a long list of experts and administrators who are seeking to protect their cities from the high waters associated with climate change.
This weekend, my colleague Alan Feuer reported on several flood-control plans for various parts of New York.
The physical barriers to the sea are estimated to cost around $10 billion.
If the city builds them, New York (once known as New Amsterdam) would be following in the footsteps of old Amsterdam, where parts of the city are up to 6.5 meters (21 feet) lower than the North Sea, thanks to an intricate and very expensive system of levees, polders and dams.
Taking the model of physical flood protection one step further, Venice, which for centuries has suffered the effects of Acqua Alta (high water), will inaugurate the Mose system in 2015. Named after the prophet Moses (Mose in Italian) who parted the seas, the €5.5-billion movable floodgate rises from the ocean floor with the help of compressed air when storm waters threaten
In his excellent article, Alan also cites a project for Lower Manhattan by Stephen Cassell and his firm, Architecture Research Office, that would not rely on physical barriers but would flood-proof the area, so that high water would do less damage.
Such a model is currently under discussion in Durban, South Africa, where the money to build expensive infrastructure to keep the sea at bay is much harder to come by than in comparatively wealthy New York.
As part of its plan for protection against increasing flooding, Durban is redrawing city districts and keeping city infrastructure away from areas that are at risk of flooding.
Mr. Cassell and Kate Orff, a landscape designer who has proposed a plan to protect the low-lying Red Hook and Gowanus neighborhoods in Brooklyn, also advocate natural biomass in the fight against rising seas. From marches and artificial islands to oysters, natural and active biomass has great potential to mitigate floods. Both New Orleans and Durban (among many other cities) are betting on nature to act as a natural sponge.
And while global models will be more attentively studied after last week’s disaster, some more ready solutions have been proposed. Home Land Security has developed, in conjunction with West Virginia University, ILC Dover and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, gigantic plugs that can, when filled with 35,000 gallons of water, plug subway tunnels to prevent flooding of the system.
Post-storm, climate change skeptics denying reality, say lawmakers, activists
By Dylan Stableford in Yahoo! News | The Lookout (31 October 2012):
Climate change doubters looking for proof of global warming can stop looking. That, at least, is what many lawmakers and activists are saying after last week’s deadly storm.
“There has been a series of extreme weather incidents,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday after assessing the catastrophic damage left in the superstorm’s wake. “That is not a political statement—that is a factual statement. Anyone who says there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think, is denying reality.
“There’s no such thing as a 100-year flood,” he continued. “We have a 100-year flood every two years now.”
Speaking on “Current TV,” former Vice President Al Gore said, “The storms are getting … stronger. The stronger storms are getting more frequent.”
Critical of members of Congress continuing to deny climate change, Gore said, “The temptation to create an alternative reality completely divorced from the facts is greater when money dominate politics and they convince themselves.”
Gore’s former boss, Bill Clinton, blasted former Gov. Mitt Romney on Tuesday for the Republican nominee’s criticism of President Barack Obama’s position on climate change at the GOP convention.
“He ridiculed the president for his efforts to fight global warming in economically beneficial ways,” former President Clinton said at an Obama campaign rally in Minnesota. “He said, ‘Oh, you’re going to turn back the seas.’ In my part of America, we would like it if someone could’ve done that yesterday.”
Oliver Stone, the outspoken filmmaker, suggested the deadly storm was “punishment” for both Obama and Romney not addressing climate change during the presidential debates.
Sandy is “kind of a weird statement coming right after” the debates, Stone said in a video interview with the Huffington Post. “This is a punishment—Mother Nature cannot be ignored.”
The Times of India, the world’s largest-circulation English-language daily, wrote that Sandy would serve as a sobering reminder of climate change:
The eastern seaboard of the United States is under attack. Not from Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, Libya or any of the usual suspects. The offender assaulting the world’s only superpower is a hurricane, bearing the innocuous name Sandy.
Sandy though is an overgrown progenitor of Mother Nature, who no one messes with; not even a superpower. As if to remind US presidential candidates that it is not a good idea to put global warming—or human aggravated climate change—on the back burner (as both President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney have done in this election campaign), Mother Nature appears to have let loose Sandy to deliver a kick in the American gut. By Monday noon, the US was on its knees.
The Los Angeles Times noted that Sandy’s “devastating intrusion into the final days of the presidential race would have at least one positive result if it inspired President Obama and Mitt Romney to finally address a huge issue they have ignored throughout the long campaign: climate change”:
After the firestorms that swept the West amid a merciless drought and the killer tornadoes and freak storms that battered the Midwest, South and East Coast, Sandy is just 2012′s latest screaming reminder that our weather is becoming a much more destructive force.
While the rest of the world long ago moved beyond asking if climate change is real to accepting it as a fact, the United States has stalled in a ridiculous debate. Romney leads a party in which a majority believes that climate change is a hoax and the rest—including Romney—avoid talking about the issue, lest they be seen as anti-capitalist, bug-loving granola eaters.
Even in the storm’s wake, climate change is a partisan issue. Just look, for example, at how the liberal Huffington Post and “liberal bias-correcting” Fox News interpreted the same Associated Press story on the scientific connection between global warming and the superstorm:
“It is, at this point, impossible to say what it will take for American politics to catch up to the reality of North American climate change,” Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in the New Yorker. “More super-storms, more heat waves, more multi-billion-dollar ‘weather-related loss events’? The one thing that can be said is that, whether or not our elected officials choose to acknowledge the obvious, we can expect, ‘with a high degree of confidence,’ that all of these are coming.”