Climate Proofing Manhattan

March 14, 2019


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Mayor Bill DeBlasio in New York Magazine:

Six years ago, Hurricane Sandy slammed into New York City. The storm put 51 square miles of it under water. Seventeen thousand homes were damaged or destroyed. Forty-four New Yorkers lost their lives.

We don’t debate global warming in New York City. Not anymore. The only question is where to build the barriers to protect us from rising seas and the inevitable next storm, and how fast we can build them.

On Thursday, I am joining a group of climate scientists and local officials to announce we’re filling one of the biggest gaps in our coastal defenses. We’re going to protect Lower Manhattan, which includes the Financial District, home to a half-million jobs, 90,000 residents, and the nexus of almost all our subway lines.

It will be one of the most complex environmental and engineering challenges our city has ever undertaken and it will, literally, alter the shape of the island of Manhattan.

All across this country, cities are grappling with the same existential threat. But nowhere in the $4.75 trillion budget President Trump just proposed is there anything approaching a plan to protect our coastal cities from rising seas.

This is a national emergency without a national policy. And that has to change.

It’s a twisted reality, but big federal dollars to protect our coastlines only flow in the wake of disasters like Sandy. Those investments have helped protect our Rockaway peninsula with new, reinforced sand dunes nearly 20 feet above sea level. Thanks to our congressional delegation, we just announced a new $615 million sea wall that will protect the east shore of Staten Island — another vulnerable area flooded by the storm.

The plan we’re announcing will invest a half-billion dollars to fortify most of Lower Manhattan with grassy berms in parks and removable barriers than can be anchored in place as storms approach. But there’s one part of this area that will prove more complex, and more costly, to defend than all the others combined.

South Street Seaport and the Financial District, along the eastern edge of Lower Manhattan, sit so close to sea level — just eight feet above the waterline — and are so crowded with utilities, sewers, and subway lines that we can’t build flood protection on the land. So we’ll have to build more land itself.

Over the coming years, we will push out the Lower Manhattan coastline as much as 500 feet, or up to two city blocks, into the East River, from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Battery. The new land will be higher than the current coast, protecting the neighborhoods from future storms and the higher tides that will threaten its survival in the decades to come.



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When we complete the coastal extension, which could cost $10 billion, Lower Manhattan will be secure from rising seas through 2100.

We’re going to build it, because we have no choice.

This should be as much a national priority as a local one — protecting the global center of commerce, the Federal Reserve, the home to a sector of our economy that touches every town and region in America.

It should be backed by big federal dollars.

It should be put on an accelerated track that shaves years off our decade-long construction timeline by cutting red tape because of the urgency of this crisis.

But right now, cities like New York are facing down the greatest threat to our survival on our own.

I don’t expect deniers like President Trump to come to the table on this. It’s on Democrats to put this front and center on our national agenda in a way we haven’t ever before.

The coalescing agenda represented by the Green New Deal is our best shot. We not only need a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy that prevents the most cataclysmic consequences of global warming, we need real dollars and real planning for coastal protection to combat the consequences that are already inevitable.

We need a Green New Deal that marches forward on both these fronts at the same time, and with equal urgency.

This is infrastructure, just as vital as roads, rails, and bridges. It’s national security, just as critical to keeping people safe as any military hardware. Preparing for climate change has to be a national priority, backed by tens of billions in federal investment. Lives are on the line.

The reason we’re forced take dramatic action now is because for years so many in Washington put the profits of Big Oil over the future of our planet. New York City is divesting our pension funds from the fossil-fuel companies who caused this crisis and we’re suing them for refusing to act when they knew the damage it would cause to cities like ours.

Now, New York doesn’t have a choice but to prepare for what’s coming. Neither does Miami, Houston, Charleston or any of the coastal cities facing an existential threat to their future.

Time is not on our side. This country has wasted too many years pretending it had the luxury of debating climate change.

The national emergency is already here. We have to meet it head-on. And we need Washington behind us.

9 Responses to “Climate Proofing Manhattan”

  1. J4Zonian Says:

    This will never be done for $10 billion. The $10 billion projects needed to save Miami, Houston, Charleston, San Francisco, LA, Tampa, Washington, DC, Boston, Venice, New Orleans, Guangzhou, Jakarta, Bangkok, Lagos, Manila, Dhaka, Shanghai, Mumbai, Osaka, London, and dozens of other cities won’t be done for $10 billion either. We’re now entering the age when we’re faced with increasingly difficult choices between adaptation, mitigation, and suffering, and if the US government won’t allow mitigation and won’t pay for adaptation…

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I think we need to talk about the practically taboo subject of abandonment.

      • J4Zonian Says:

        I often point out the likelihood of future clashes in which people fleeing from storms and sea level rise (and the resulting release of massive amounts of toxic waste) along the coasts run into people fleeing drought, heat waves, crop failures and fires in the interior. It won’t just be areas along the coast we have to abandon, it will be huge swaths across equatorial lands, what are now subtropical lands and much of what Christian Parenti calls the Tropic of Chaos–because of all of the above, plus conflicts increased by climate catastrophe.

        When one reads about current temperatures being reached, and projections of temperatures in much of the Middle East, across Asia and Africa and even large areas of the SW US, it becomes clear that we’ll have to abandon most of the world for one reason or another. All this is even more certain if we don’t reverse course on almost everything civilization does almost immediately–and maybe even if we do; we’ve waited far too long already and are just beginning to start to begin to consider changes we should have accomplished 40 years ago. The world desperately needs an agreement on refugees, cause we’re about to have a lot more of them.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          The world HAS “an agreement on refugees” called the 1951 Refugee Convention.

          Article 1 of the Convention defines a refugee as someone who has a:

          “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”.

          Unfortunately, it does NOT provide for climate refugees.

        • J4Zonian Says:

          OK let me clarify. We need an international agreement on refugees that will allow the world to act realistically and compassionately to the coming situation, that will avoid rather than cause conflict. We don’t have one now.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            No need to “clarify”—-since we all made it through junior high, we understood that already. What YOU don’t seem to understand is that an “international agreement” like the global compact for migration is just a piece of paper and will be tossed when the SHTF due to CAGW. There will be no compassion, just a very realistic mass die-off/killing of large numbers of humans and other living things Mother Nature bats last, especially when humans let her keep throwing strikes past us without even swinging.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Only the pacific islanders whose homes are going under are talking seriously about abandonment. As usual, the rest of humanity is mostly in denial. Hang on, though—-it won’t be long before SLR makes us face facts.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      The federal government DID pay for some “adaptation” on the Mall in DC.

      Pics at

      Explanation at

      The last bit of work at 17th street (see pics) cost about $10 million.

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