Perhaps its too early to talk about it, as Hurricane Sandy bears down on New York City—and I write this looking out the window at an eerily calm sky over Manhattan, awaiting the brunt of the storm—but I want to consider a critical question of priorities here.
What if, over the past decade, New York City paid as much attention, both mental and fiscal, to making this city more resilient to extreme weather, rising sea levels and other current and future impacts of climate change as it has combatting terrorism—in the process turning militarizing the NYPD, with its own anti-aircraft weaponry, spying both domestically and internationally?
A recent article in New York Times raises the question of climate change preparedness, or, really, the lack thereof in the City:
“They lack a sense of urgency about this,” said Douglas Hill, an engineer with the Storm Surge Research Group at Stony Brook University, on Long Island.
Instead of “planning to be flooded,” as he put it, city, state and federal agencies should be investing in protection like sea gates that could close during a storm and block a surge from Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean into the East River and New York Harbor.
Others express concern for areas like the South Bronx and Sunset Park in Brooklyn, which have large industrial waterfronts with chemical-manufacturing plants, oil-storage sites and garbage-transfer stations. Unless hazardous materials are safeguarded with storm surges in mind, some local groups warn, residents could one day be wading through toxic water.
The article goes further into the myriad steps that would have to take place to prepare, and all the moving pieces whose gears have to mesh. It's no small task, for sure, and, on the surface, not cheap either.
The Times pieces cities a 2004 study showing that installing movable sea barriers to combat storm surge—which, at least for low-lying areas of Manhattan, is the main threat to transit and electrical systems, not wind and downed trees, as is the case in less built-up areas—would cost $10 billion.
But is that cost really too much to bear consider the potential impact of the flooding that could be seen in just a few hours time?
It seems to me to be a small price tag. It is though a question of priorities.
New York has pulled out all the stops in preventing another massive act of terrorism—going so far in some cases that it has trampled civil liberties and even goading on would be discontents into planning acts of terrorism just to proudly catch them, and then patting themselves on the back—but has done far less to mitigate the effects of a much longer term, slower moving, but the frankly far more existential threat of sea level rise, extreme weather and climate change.
Perhaps this latest hurricane will be the needed wake up call.