NEW YORK’S FLOODING DANGERS

April 23, 2019 at 4:30 am

Climate change has the city at the mercy of Mother Nature. Just how wet and flooded will future New York be?

Peril and Promise is an ongoing series of reports on the human impact of, and solutions for, Climate Change. Lead funding for Peril and Promise is provided by Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and Diana T. Vagelos. Major support is provided by Marc Haas Foundation and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III.

Aired on April 22, 2019.

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>> IT WAS THE WORST STORM TO
EVER HIT THE REGION.
WHEN HURRICANE SANDY SLAMMED
INTO THE NEW YORK AREA IN 2012,
IT TOOK HUNDREDS OF LIVES,
THOUSANDS OF HOMES AND
BUSINESSES AND LEFT TENS OF
BILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN DAMAGE.
AS IF THAT WEREN'T ENOUGH,
SCIENTISTS SAY THAT SANDY WAS
JUST THE BEGINNING.
A STUDY PUBLISHED BY THE
PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL
ACADEMY OF SCIENCES FOUND THAT
ACROSS THE GLOBE, SEA LEVELS ARE
RISING FASTER THAN THEY HAVE IN
NEARLY 3,000 YEARS.
AND ACCORDING TO A REPORT
RELEASED BY THE CORPORATION FOR
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN 2008,
THE NEW YORK REGION IS ONE OF
THE TEN AREAS MOST VULNERABLE TO
RISING SEA LEVELS, WITH 2.9
MILLION PEOPLE AND $2.1 TRILLION
IN ASSETS POTENTIALLY AT RISK BY
THE YEAR 2070.
SO HOW ARE WE PREPARING FOR WHAT
MAY BE COMING?
AND IS IT ENOUGH?
JOINING US NOW TO ANSWER THESE
QUESTIONS IS DR. RADLEY HORTON,
ASSOCIATE RESEARCH SCIENTIST AT
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR
CLIMATE SYSTEMS RESEARCH.
PROFESSOR, WELCOME.
>> THANKS.
IT'S GOOD TO BE HERE AGAIN.
>> NOW DR. HORTON, CAN YOU GIVE
US A BRIEF SUMMARY OF WHAT THE
NEW REPORT BY THE NATIONAL
ACADEMY OF SCIENCES FOUND AND
WHAT THOSE FINDINGS MEAN FOR OUR
REG?
>> ABSOLUTELY.
WHAT THE STUDY FOUND IS SEA
LEVELS ARE RISING FASTER THAN
THEY HAVE IN A COUPLE OF
THOUSANDS YEARS OR MORE.
THE IMPLICATION IS THAT THE SEAS
ARE RISING BECAUSE TEMPERATURES
ARE GOING UP IN THE ATMOSPHERE.
AND IN THE OCEAN.
AND THE REASON TEMPERATURES ARE
GOING UP IS BECAUSE WE'VE
INCREASED THE AMOUNT OF
GREENHOUSE GASES IN THE
ATMOSPHERE.
>> IT'S MAN MADE?
>> IT'S MAN MADE.
SO WHAT WE'RE SEEING IS
LAND-BASED ICE, ICE SHEETS IN
GREEN LAND AND ANTARCTICA
MELTING MUCH FASTER THAN THEY
HAVE IN THE PAST.
WE'RE ALSO SEEING THE OCEANS AS
THEY WARM, EXPANDING.
THAT IS CAUSING WHAT HAD BEEN A
LITTLE BIT OF SEA LEVEL RISE TO
BE MUCH FASTER AND THE RITE
RAITT IS RISING.
WHAT IS TROUBLING BECAUSE THAT
RATE IS ACTUALLY ACCELERATING,
AS WE LOOK TOWARDS THE LATE PART
OF THE 20th CENTURY, WE COULD
SEE AN ADDITIONAL 2 1/2 FEET OF
SEA LEVEL RISE IN THE NEW YORK
REGION BY THE MID HALF OF THE
SENT.
IT MAY NOT SOUND LIKE MUCH.
EVEN IF WE GET THE SAME STORMS
IN THE PAST, WE DON'T NEED
STRONGER OR MORE FREQUENT
SANDYS, STORMS OF THE PAST WITH
2 1/2 FEET HIGHER WILL MEAN A
LEVEL OF FLOODING THAT IN THE
PAST HAS HAPPENED ONCE EVERY 100
YEARS IS HAPPENING IN THE
TYPICAL LIFETIME OF A MORTGAGE
LESS THAN EVERY 30 YEARS.
>> BUT THIS PROBLEM IS SO BIG,
IT EVEN POSSIBLE FOR A CITY OR A
REGION TO TACKLE IT ON ITS OWN?
DOES IT NOT NEED A GLOBAL
SOLUTION?
>> IT DOES NEED A GLOBAL
SOLUTION.
BUT THERE ARE A LOT OF THINGS
SIMULTANEOUSLY THAT WE IN NEW
YORK CAN DO TO BETTER PROTECT
OURSELVES AND TO LEAD THE REST
OF THE WORLD.
THE FIRST THING IS REDUCING OUR
GREENHOUSE EMISSIONS.
THE GASES DO LAST FOR HUNDREDS
OF YEARS.
THE REDUCTIONS WE DO IS NOT
GOING TO HAVE A BIG IMPACT ON
SEA LEVEL, BUT WE CAN LEAD OTHER
CITIES, OTHER COUNTRIES.
BUT THERE ARE STEPS WE CAN TAKE
WITHIN THE CITIES TO BETTER
PREPARE FOR THE SEA LEVEL RISE
WE KNOW IS COMING.
EVEN IF WE STOP EMITTING
SOCIETALLY TOMORROW, WE'LL STILL
SEE SOME SEA LEVEL RISE BAKED
INTO THE SYSTEM.
WE'RE SEEING STEPS UNDER MAY BE
THE THE REGION.
THINGS LIKE COASTAL BARRIERS ARE
BEING BUILT.
>> WE ARE DOING THAT?
>> WE ARE BEGINNING TO DO THAT,
ABSOLUTELY, AT SMALL SCALES.
WE'RE SEEING POLICY CHANGES IN
THE REGION.
POLICIES BEING PUT INTO PLACE TO
ENCOURAGE HIGHER LEVELS OF
BUILDING, MOVING AWAY FROM THE
COAST.
BUILDINGS BEING DESIGNED TO
ACCOMMODATE OCCASIONAL FLOODING,
PUTTING PARKING GARAGES ON THE
BOTTOM FLOOR INSTEAD OF CRITICAL
ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT.
>> THAT SECOND STUDY THAT I
REFERENCE IN THE INTRODUCTION,
THE 2008 OECB REPORT WAS PRETTY
SCARY.
IN 2070, WE'D SEE ARMAGEDDON.
BUT OF COURSE, IT HAPPENED FOUR
YEARS BEFORE SANDY.
DID SANDY CHANGE THE TRAJECTORY?
DID IT MAKE SOME OF THE CHANGES
THAT SET THOSE PROBLEMATIC TIMES
FURTHER AWAY?
>> SO SANDY IN ITSELF DOESN'T
INDICATE THAT I'D SAY THE
SCIENCE HAS NECESSARILY CHANGED
THAT MUCH THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN
THE RISK OF A STORM OF THE
MAGNITUDE OF SANDY.
BUT I THINK IT HELPED PEOPLE,
AND IT HELPED US SOCIETALLY TO
UNDERSTAND THAT RISK, THAT
BASELINE RISK IS THERE, AND THAT
WITH SEA LEVEL RISE, THE RISK IS
GOING TO BECOME GREATER.
IT ALSO HELPED BRING SOME
ECONOMIC RESOURCES INTO THE
REGION.
IT HELPED ENABLE TO DO SOME
LONG-TERM PLANNING BECAUSE IT
DIDN'T SEEM REMOTE ANYMORE, THIS
IDEA THAT ALL OF OUR
INFRASTRUCTURE AND PEOPLE ON THE
COAST ARE VULNERABLE.
>> AND ONE OF THE MOST
VULNERABLE AREAS WITHIN OUR
REGION.
>> WHAT ARE THE MOST VULNERABLE
AREAS?
WE HAVE LOW-LYING POPULATIONS IN
BROOKLYN AND QUEENS, FOR
EXAMPLE.
WE HAVE A LOT OF VALUABLE ASSETS
AND PEOPLE IN LOWER MANHATTAN.
BUT WE REALLY SEE IT THROUGHOUT
THE ENTIRE EAST COAST OF THE
U.S.
>> ARE THERE AREAS FROM WHICH
REALISTICALLY WE NEED TO START
RETREATING FROM?
>> I THINK AS A CULTURE, AS A
SOCIETY IN THE U.S. AND
GLOBALLY, WE NEED TO COME TO
TERMS WITH THE FACT THAT THERE
ARE AREAS WE'RE GOING HAVE TO
RETREAT FROM.
>> CAN YOU GIVE SOME EXAMPLES?
>> WE TALKED OF MIAMI AS ONE
EXAMPLE.
>> WHAT ABOUT IN THIS REGION?
>> HERE IN THIS REGION IT'S
POSSIBLE LOWER MANHATTAN WE MAY
BE ABLE TO BUILD A PROTECTIVE
BARRIER THERE ARE OTHER AREAS --
>> WHAT ABOUT THE FAR ROCKAWAYS,
LONG BEACH?
WHAT ABOUT PARTS OF NEW JERSEY?
>> SO I THINK THERE ARE
RESILIENCY STEPS WE CAN TAKE,
THE LESS FOR A WHILE.
WE'RE SEEING REALLY INNOVATIVE
DESIGNS ALONG THE DESIGNS OF
BREAKWATERS THAT COULD STOP
WAVES COMING IN.
LONG-TERM, IF WE SEE THE UPPER
END SEA LEVEL RISE PROJECTIONS,
WE MAY OVER THE LONG-TERM NEED
TO THINK ABOUT THE NEED TO
EVACUATE SOME OF THESE AREAS.
>> ONLY 30 SECONDS LEFT OR LESS,
ARE YOU CONFIDENT WE WILL HAVE
THE WILL TO MAKE THE CHANGES
THAT WE NEED TO MAKE?
>> I'M CONFIDENT THAT NEW YORK
CITY IS SHOWING THE BEST
LEADERSHIP THAT WE COULD LOOK
FOR, REALLY.
THEY'RE CONSIDERING THE WORST
CASE SCENARIOS OF SEA LEVEL
RISE.
OF COURSE, I'M ALSO CONFIDENT
THAT GLOBALLY AS A SOCIETY IF
THERE ARE A LOT OF CITIES WE'RE
NOT GOING TO BE ABLE TO PROTECT.
IF YOU BUILD A BARRIER, THE
WATER WILL SEEP IN MIAMI FROM
UNDERNEATH.
ALL OVER THE WORLD, BANGLADESH,
JUST TO GIVE ONE EXAMPLE, DELTA
CITIES, MORE PEOPLE MOVING TO
THOSE COASTAL AREAS.
THE VULNERABILITIES ARE HUGE.
WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO HAVE A
DIALOGUE ABOUT HOW TO RETREAT
AND PROTECT SOME OF THOSE
PEOPLE.
>> DR. HORTON, THANK YOU SO
MUCH.
A PLEASURE TALKING TO YOU.
>> THANK YOU.

Mutual of America PSEG

Funders

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