No top New York official can feign surprise when questioned about the city’s crippled public transportation system or the millions of people left without power following Hurricane Sandy’s ruinous visit, because scientists have been warning them of these dangers for nearly a decade, The New York Times reports. Last year Tropical Storm Irene gave the region a nibble of what is to come – the MTA subway system was shut down, people lost power and trees were ripped out of the ground. But now it’s impossible for New Yorkers to ignore the threat that rising sea levels present, and tentative talks are finally underway to decide what to do about it.

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“The construction of this city did not anticipate these kinds of situations. We are only a few feet above sea level,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said during a radio interview, the NYT reports. “As soon as you breach the sides of Manhattan, you now have a whole infrastructure under the city that fills — the subway system, the foundations for buildings.” Some solutions put forward include storm surge walls that could cost as much as $10 billion, which is ultimately less expensive than cleaning up after every new “100 year flood” that passes through, as well as relocating both buildings and people.

A city-appointed panel reported that last century, sea levels rose roughly one inch per decade, but now they are rising six times as fast, and by 2050, sea levels could rise two feet every ten years. Ben Strauss, director of the sea level rise program at the research group Climate Central in Princeton, N.J., told NYT that three of the top ten highest floods at the battery took place in the last two and a half years.

“If that’s not a wake-up call to take this seriously,” he said “I don’t know what is.” Less extreme protective measures might include creating floodgates for subways and building up Con Edison and MTA’s resilience against these kinds of disasters, but so far, according to Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institution, the approach is more reactive than proactive. Let’s give this over to our readers: what can city officials do to make New York City more resilient? And is it even worthwhile when Chevron and Exxon are continuing unabated with their deadly fossil-fueled ambitions?

Via The New York Times

Photos © Yuka Yoneda