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Will Climate Change Destroy New York City?

by mrzee

New York City in America has been experiencing the effects of climate change in the recent past. Noted as the largest metropolis in the US by Lallanilla, hosting more than 8 million people, the recent experiences in the city indicate that New York could be destroyed by climate change. Take for instance Hurricane Sandy which hit the city on 29th October 2012. This was a reminder that even though New York is renowned for its preparedness for disasters, there are greater climatic changes occurring that could get the city authorities and residents at large off guard. As Russs noted, with 43 people confirmed dead and many more injured by the storm, Sandy resulted in damages amounting to about $20 billion. Transportation facilities were shut down in the city, including highways, subways, railways and airports. As critical infrastructure, including wastewater treatment plants, hospitals and infrastructure, were incapacitated, the city was thrown into darkness. Following the effects of the storm, communication systems were also cut. Hurricane Sandy reports have highlighted the increase in hurricane intensity and frequency observed in the North Atlantic since the 1980s. The devastation caused by Sandy was exacerbated by changing climatic variables. According to the New York City Climate Change Panel, NPCC (4) was partly responsible for the rise in sea level in the region around New York City during Hurricane Sandy, which increased the magnitude and extent of coastal flooding. New York City is, therefore, still exposed to the destructive effects of climate change.

Will Climate Change Destroy New York City?

There are real threats to the city, borrowing from the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resilience, SIRR, report authored after Sandy’s exposure of New York City’s vulnerability. Heat waves, heavy rainfall and coastal flooding have been reported to be the most extreme among the notable threats (NPCC 12). Heat waves could increase in frequency, duration and intensity heading towards the 2050s. With temperatures of 32oC or 90oF and above, New York has experienced an average of 18 days per year for a long time. The SIRR report notes that New York might experience between 26 and 31 such days by 2010. This could increase by the year 2050 to up to 57 days a year. An additional average of 110 to 260 deaths per year related to heat waves would be the result of this change. From the current average of 2 days per year, the number of days when rainfall exceeds 2 inches or 5 centimeters could increase to five by 2020. Due to an increase in sea levels, coastal flooding has been projected to increase in extent, frequency and height. The SIRR report projects the possibility of flooding at the Battery in Manhattan, with a 1 percent chance of occurrence in any year, will double. By the year 2050, this could increase fivefold. The heights of these 100-year floods could rise from 4.6 meters to 5.4 meters even with the battery. The effect would be more felt in swamped and critical low-lying coastal neighborhoods, including LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport.

There is a representation of the population that faces the greatest risk should these climatic changes occur. The experience with Hurricane Sandy exposed 26 adult-care facilities nursing homes and 4 Manhattan hospitals, which had to be closed and almost 4,500 people and 2,000 patients evacuated. According to Lallanilla, these populations are a small representation of the people exposed to greater risks should climate change effects hit the New York City. Between 40% and 50% of the population are exposed to the risks associated with climate change in New York.

Therefore, there arises the need for proper planning with the success in this planning being on how these vulnerable populations would be handled in case disaster strikes according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. Power supply would be one of the key factors when making this plan. During Hurricane Sandy, for example, backup generators supplied electricity to Brooklyn’s Coney Island Hospital until the floods covered the generator room and power was cut (Lallanilla). Patient care was thus accomplished using flashlights and medical equipments were powered by batteries. On the contrary, the Shorefront Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care had power during this entire period supplied by its backup generators. The facility survived the ordeal and served as a shelter to many stranded residents of Brooklyn because it was built with the capacity to withstand 500-year flood. A majority of the facilities did not have reserves for supplies such as baby food and diapers.

To protect itself from such disasters, SIRR proposes that New York City sets aside a budget of approximately $20 billion for improvement of its infrastructure which would entail strengthening of transportation and utility networks and renovation of buildings. Additionally, this budget would cater for the construction of shoreline buffers and seawalls which would include a massive commercial and residential development known as “Seaport City” (Lallanilla). This could be an ambitious budget, but as noted of coastal cities leading in addressing the risks of climate change, this would be an appropriate measure to undertake as opposed to bearing the brunt of the impacts. The city should continue being an active participant in the Urban Climate Change Research Network, UCCRN, a forum where cities, including Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami among others, share both economic and scientific research findings that inform and support decisions in member cities.

With the potential danger that New York City is exposed to due to climate change, there is need to adopt more efficient forecasting methodologies. NPCC (6) documents its recommendation of improving methods used to estimate changes in climate, including snowfall, humidity, drought, winds and lightning among others. Additionally, there would be need for adoption of improved climate system statistical and computational modeling for better understanding of future coastal flooding. An understanding of vulnerability on climate stresses would help in mapping of such vulnerabilities. Ultimately, there would be need to improve the approaches to communicating data and information on the effect of climate change.

Works Cited
  • Lallanilla, Marc. Will Climate Change Destroy New York City? Livescience.com. LiveScience. 19 June 2013. Web. 2 Nov. 2013.
  • New York City Panel on Climate Change. Climate Risk Information 2013: Observations, Climate Change Projections, and Maps. Eds. C. Rosenzweig and W. Solecki. New York, NY: NPCC2, 2013. Print.
  • Russ, Hillary. New York Lays Out $20 billion plan to Combat Effects of Climate Change. Reuters.com. Reuters. 11 June 2013. Web. 3 Nov. 2013.
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency. Climate Impacts on Coastal Areas. 9 Sept. 2013. Web. 3 Nov. 2013.

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