Wake Up, New York! Why The Greatest City On Earth Can Disappear In 50 Years

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I put on for my city and love it from my core.

From the birthplace of hip hop and hip hop legends, to the heartland of commerce, the mecca of fashion and a plethora of diversity, I am very proud to call myself a New Yorker.  Like many native New Yorkers, we cherish our city, our history, our progressive nature and our sports teams.  We appreciate how the Big Apple has helped shape our character, strength and resilience and we’ve fallen in love with the multi-cultural feel of NY and the signature skyline that defines it from the rest of the world.

It’s only natural that we want our children to take pleasure in the same experience, but that may not be a reality.  Most of us can’t fathom the decimation of the city that never sleeps or grasp the fact that it could all be gone in as little as 50 years.  But we need to wake up and realize that the end for NYC may be closer than we know.

On Sunday, New York Times writer James Atlas underscores this harsh reality.  Because New York City lies on an island, rising sea levels, climate change and the inevitability of more super storms like Hurricane Sandy, the city, itself, could very well be submerged undersea anywhere from 50 to 200 years from now.  

According to data from the tide gauge at the Battery in Lower Manhattan, NYC has experienced nine to ten inches of sea level rise over the last 100 years.  The sea level is also projected to rise two to five feet by the 2080s, according to the “Climate Change Adaptation in New York City: Building a Risk Management Response” report.  In effect, as ice in polar regions continue to melt and New York can expect more frequent and extreme coastal flooding.

“Last month’s “weather event” should have taught us that,” Atlas writes. “Whether in 50 or 100 or 200 years, there’s a good chance that New York City will sink beneath the sea. But if there are no patterns, it means that nothing is inevitable either. History offers less dire scenarios: the city could move to another island, the way Torcello was moved to Venice, stone by stone, after the lagoon turned into a swamp and its citizens succumbed to a plague of malaria. The city managed to survive, if not where it had begun. Perhaps the day will come when skyscrapers rise out of downtown Scarsdale.”

The profound writer then goes on to question if a great historic civilization like Ancient Rome can come to ruins, then why not ours?  We could also up as a history lesson and a historical reference and cite for tourism.

“To wander the once magnificent Roman cities strung along the Lycian coast of Turkey — now largely reduced to rubble, much still unexcavated — is to realize how extensive, how magisterial this civilization was. Whole cities are underwater; you can snorkel over them and read inscriptions carved into ancient monoliths,” writes Atlas.

“YET we return home from our travels intoxicated by beauty, not truth. It doesn’t occur to us that we, too, will one day be described in a guidebook (Fodor’s North America 2212?) as metropolitans who resided in 60-story towers and traveled beneath the waves in metal-sheathed trains.”

Through Hurricane Sandy is not a direct result from climate change, her destruction propelled climate change back into the political mainstream and forced us to confront its inevitable truth.  Sandy also unveiled that the Big Apple is extremely vulnerable and that our infrastructure is no match for Mother Nature.  

We got a glimpse of what a modern day city looks like underwater when Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans in 2005 and the 2004 tsunami ravaged the beaches of Indonesia.  But it’s only a matter of time before coastal cities to succumb to demolition.

But, there is a bright side.

Our destruction does not have to come to an end if engineering interventions are put into place.  The Empire State building, Yankee Stadium and signature structures of New York can still remain intact for generations to come if we take necessary steps to protect the city that we treasure.  We can minimize the damage of storms if we are prepared, smart and think ahead.  For example we need to build sea walls, innovative subway and tunnel closings along with new designs for coastal neighborhoods.  We need what that New York City Panel on Climate Change call flexible adaptation pathways” which includes strategic infrastructure that evolve over time.

Today was the start of the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Qatar where international where international leaders will convene to discuss how to reach an effective universal climate agreement to be adopted in 2015 and implemented in 2020. However, the work to prevent Climate Change shouldn’t solely be left up to international leaders.  Together, we must educate ourselves and push leaders on a local level to keep climate change and our rising water levels in political discourse and executive real change to save the city that we love.

-Selena Hill  

Selena Hill is the Special Election Coverage Reporter at GlobalGrind.com. She’s also a radio host at Let Your Be Heard! Radio where you can hear more of her views and opinions. Follow her at @MsSelenaHill and @BeHeard_Radio.

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