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January 14, 2010

New York City and Rising Seas
As a complement to my post on The Vine asking if we're doing enough to prepare for the climate change-induced -- and inevitable -- rise in sea level, here's something from the NYT that takes a slightly different tack on the issue (thanks to TNR's Brad Plumer for pointing it out to me):

This weekend, the public was given its first glimpse of a project a year in the making: a collaboration between the Museum of Modern Art and its affiliate P.S.1, an art exhibition house. The museums have asked five separate architectural teams to come up with plans for transforming the metropolitan area's coastlines after warmer oceans and melting Antarctic ice have raised global sea levels, something many scientists predict is inevitable.

A full exhibit opens at MoMA on March 24, but what the teams are already coming up with has people talking. They envision a city lined with marshes, permeable coastlines, and oyster farms used as wave breaks. To adapt to climate change, the teams are asking New Yorkers to look at things in a more positive light -- namely, as a chance to bring a city famous for blocking out the ocean back to dealing with it.

Oyster farms, eh? That's certainly seeing opportunity in the face of disaster. Of course, it's not just coastal development that kicked out the oysters -- it was water pollution. And New York Harbor, though far cleaner that it was a few decades ago, still "harbors" enough heavy metals, pollutants and bacteria that I don't think anyone will be slurping "ersters" from its waters anytime soon. Still, power of positive thinking and all that. And I do like one team's idea of letting parts of Manhattan go all Venice and just accept streets full of water at high tide.

Anyway, it's worth noting that the architects' plans only account for about a 2 foot increase in sea level. As I highlight in my TNR post, we should plan for a 7 feet rise and very likely will get even more. An increase like that would swamp any city's most ambitious adaptation plans.

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