“In the coming decades, our coastal city will most likely face more rapidly rising sea levels and warmer temperatures, as well as potentially more droughts and floods, which will all have impacts on New York City’s critical infrastructure.”
So said Hunter College’s William Solecki — four years ago.
Solecki, director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities, was commenting after the release of a seminal report by the prestigious advisory group that he cochaired. The New York City Panel on Climate Change, convened by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, warned that the consequences of rising temperatures would be dire and costly without strong action to adapt. Bloomberg described the report as the most detailed climate-risk assessment for any major city in the world and said it would be the basis for the city’s plans to protect itself.
But the response to the report was something less than urgent, perhaps because its most ominous projections — rising sea levels of up to five feet — were nearly a century away. Now the question is whether Superstorm Sandy will convince policy makers and the public that catastrophic events are closer at hand — the wakeup call that Bloomberg and others say the city and region need.
In the months since the storm, Solecki and other CUNY climate experts have been among the most prominent voices in what Bloomberg and others hope will be the wakeup call the city and region need. Solecki told WNYC that Sandy should be used as a guide for how new or rebuilt structures in flood zones should be designed. But that’s only part of the solution, he says: Flood barriers are part of the equation — and that means figuring out where to put them. “Who’s inside the barrier? Who’s outside the barrier?” Solecki told the Daily News. “Midland Beach, for example, would be outside in one design. That’s a very difficult thing to push forward.”
Nicholas Coch, a coastal geologist in Queens College’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, is another prominent expert who has been studying and talking about the city’s vulnerability for years. He spent the weeks after the storm in full-alarm mode. The government, he says, needs to take “remedial action now to floodproof ourselves and retreat from the shoreline.”