New York City Tackles the Perils of Climate Change

Hurricane Sandy Flooding Avenue C at East 6th StreetNew York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s warning and major initiative about the impact of climate change on the city might seem like something out of a “hard” science fiction novel, for instance Flood by Stephen Baxter.

Only it’s not fiction.

“I strongly believe we have to prepare for what scientists say is a likely scenario,” Bloomberg said at a press briefing last week at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

He cited the perils of climate change and the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in his call for a $19.5 billion initiative that would include new coastal protections and zoning codes for the city as well as new standards for telecommunications and for providing fuel.

Bloomberg’s call for action came in conjunction with the release of a 445-page report, A Stronger, More Resilient New York. The report was produced by the mayor’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency, launched after Sandy to assess the impacts of climate change on the nation’s largest city. It includes some 250 recommendations for rebuilding communities in the aftermath of Sandy and for increasing the resilience of the city’s coastal defense, infrastructure and buildings.

“As bad as Sandy was, future storms could be even worse,” Bloomberg warned in his speech. “In fact, because of rising temperatures and sea levels, even a storm that’s not as large as Sandy could, down the road, be even more destructive.”

He cited heat waves, drought and the rising sea level as significant challenges for New York. “Our city will be much more vulnerable to flooding in the years ahead,” he said. “If we do nothing more, 40 miles of our waterfront could see flooding on a regular basis.”

According to the report, more than 800,000 residents are likely to live in the city’s hundred-year flood plain by the 2050s—more than double the number currently at risk. The hundred-year flood plain comprises those parts of the city that have a one percent chance of flooding in any given year.

Some of the coastal protections proposed by the initiative include new dune protections and wider beaches for vulnerable areas as well as a series of surge barriers and restored natural wetlands to lessen the impact of waves on the shore.

Of the $19.5 billion in estimated costs, Bloomberg said that approximately $10 billion in city capital funding and federal relief has already been allocated, while another $5 billion was recently appropriated by Congress as part of a Sandy relief package. Bloomberg said he would “press the federal government to cover as much of the remaining costs as possible.”

Given the mayor’s sweeping initiative, it’s probably no coincidence that President Obama is about unveil his own comprehensive plans to curb climate change, including the first limits on carbon emissions from existing power plants, according to reports, along with energy efficiency standards for appliances and clean-energy production on public lands.

“I’ll lay out my vision for where I believe we need to go: a national plan to reduce carbon pollution, prepare our country for the impacts of climate change, and lead global efforts to fight it,” Obama said last week on the social media outlets YouTube and Twitter. “This is a serious challenge, but it’s one uniquely suited to America’s strengths.”

Because it’s unlikely that a dysfunctional Congress will go along with anything the president suggests on climate change, the administration will rely on measures that don’t require congressional action. That is probably a wise move; and it’s also probably wise for other coastal cities to study NYC’s report on climate on change resiliency.

More than ever, it’s time for action and implementation of climate change initiatives.

[Image: Hurricane Sandy Flooding Avenue C at East 6th Street by David Shankbone via Flickr cc]

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