For some New Yorkers, climate change is a hoax. For others, it's real but the effects still don't register.

Andrew Rice takes a deep dive into the future of a New York City that will see its streets swell with water as the sea rises. Right now, a 100 year storm that produces a surge of six feet has about a one percent chance of happening each year. By 2050, if the patterns follow the estimates, those floods will become five times more likely.

As serious as New Yorkers can be about the problems of flooding, especially after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, most still aren't thinking about what the future entails. Rice says industries and societies continue to build, thinking we can fight nature.

After Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg pledged to direct some $20 billion in disaster aid into “climate resiliency” measures, such as flood-proofing buildings by moving mechanical equipment to upper floors. In areas that were hit hard by the storm, many homeowners have taken advantage of a city program called “Build It Back,” reconstructing their houses high up on stilts. Beneath this defiant civic agenda is an old, blithe assumption that New York is too rich, too important, too tough, to ever give up an inch of real estate. “We still have essentially the gung ho, Wild West way of doing business in this country, where we think we are the master of nature,” Jacob said. “Fighting, building barriers, instead of accommodating the ocean.”

If sea-level rise reaches 2.5 feet, the floodplain for a hundred-year storm will expand to nearly a quarter of the city. The climate-change panel predicts that could happen by 2050, which still leaves some time for long-range planning. That is the kind of foresight that used to be New York’s specialty: The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, for instance, established the street grid that defines Manhattan above Houston [Street] to this day. At present, however, the city appears to be unable to accept the fact that it faces an inevitable reckoning. The human tide is moving in the wrong direction, still marching toward the waterline.

Read more >