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Sierra Daily

Oct 30, 2012

Cassandra on the Hudson

BatteryLast night, my head full of the graphic images of Manhattan being inundated by Sandy, I suddenly realized why it seemed so familiar: Because Sierra had foretold nearly ten years ago. In "Bobbing in the Big Apple," Manhattan writer Ingrid Eisenstadter wrote a prescient story about New York's vulnerability to rising sea levels:

For all the noise it makes in the world, New York City is just four little islands and a bit of mainland laced together by 80 bridges and tunnels–the entries to many of which are barely above sea level, if at all. Their inundation would reinforce our famous insularity in a hurry. . . . Flooding would quickly knock out transportation, threaten drinking-water and sewage systems, airports, food delivery, power–everything. If the precipitation were intense enough, water would back up through street drains and cause flooding deep inside the city, even on high ground. If we remain as unprepared as we are now, New York, New York, really will be a hell of a town. 

Eisenstadter goes on to assess the steps New York might take against flooding--elevating bulkheads, raising low-lying highways, increasing pumping capacity in the subways--but against a disaster like Sandy there is only so much preparation can do. Now we're left to mourn the dead (33 at last count), clean up the mess, pay the bills--and do something about the underlying cause.

Graphic of increasing sea levels at Battery Park from NOAA.

Update: Matthew Yglesias at Slate looks at what kind of infrastructure it would take to protect New York against storm surges. Short version: It means going Dutch.

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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.

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