Sunday, November 04, 2012

Frankenstorm: Do We Really Care?


I decided to spare you my views on the frankenstorm and its possible connection to climate change. That is a very tempting topic that is very dear to me but is not directly related to our syllabus this semester. But the following article that appeared in today's NYT must be read. It is a rather brief account of the sad state of affairs that we have come to accept. I post this article because it does reflect 100% my thinking on this matter. I do believe, sadly, that we have come to accept climate change as a development that we can adapt to. The we , however, does not represent much more than 10% of humanity. Read the following and write a frank comment. Please do not try to be politically correct.

Deciding Where Future Disasters Will Strike

WE all have an intuitive sense of how water works: block it, and it flows elsewhere. When a storm surge hits a flood barrier, for instance, the water does not simply dissipate. It does the hydrological equivalent of a bounce, and it lands somewhere else.
The Dutch, after years of beating back the oceans, have a way of deciding what is worth saving with a dike or sea wall, and what is not. They simply run the numbers, and if something is worth less in terms of pure euros and cents, it is more acceptable to let it be flooded. This seems entirely reasonable. But as New York begins considering coastal defenses, it should also consider the uncomfortable truth that Wall Street is worth vastly more, in dollar terms, than certain low-lying neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens — and that to save Manhattan, planners may decide to flood some other part of the city.
I think I was the only journalist who witnessed the March 2009 unveiling of some of the first proposed sea-wall designs. “Against the Deluge: Storm Surge Barriers to Protect New York City” was a conference held at N.Y.U.’s Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn, and it had the sad air of what was then an entirely lost cause. There was a single paying exhibitor — “Please visit our exhibitor,” implored the organizers — whose invention, FloodBreak, was an ingenious, self-deploying floodgate big enough to protect a garage but not at all big enough to protect Manhattan. When we lined up for the included dinner, which consisted of cold spaghetti, the man waved fliers at the passing engineers. But as I look back over my notes, I can see how prescient the conference was. A phrase I frequently scrawled is “Breezy Point.”
One speaker got a sustained ovation. He was an engineer from the Dutch company Arcadis, whose $6.5 billion design is one with which I suspect we will all soon be familiar. It is a modular wall spanning 6,000 feet across the weakest point in New York’s natural defenses, the Narrows, which separates Staten Island and Brooklyn. Its main feature is a giant swinging gate modeled on the one that protects Rotterdam, Europe’s most important port. Consisting of two steel arms, each more than twice as long as the Statue of Liberty is tall, Rotterdam’s gate is among the largest moving structures on earth. And New York’s barrier would stretch across an even larger reach of water — “an extra landmark” for the city, he said triumphantly. That’s when everyone began clapping.
The engineers in the room did not shy away from the hard truth that areas outside a Narrows barrier could see an estimated two feet of extra flooding. If a wave rebounding off the new landmark hits a wave barreling toward it, it could make for a bigger wave of the sort that neighborhoods like Arrochar and Midland Beach on Staten Island and Bath Beach and Gravesend in Brooklyn may want to start fretting about.
I attended the conference not just because I was interested in the fate of New York, my onetime home, but because I was recently back from parts of Bangladesh decimated by a cyclone. By now it is commonplace to point out that climate change is unfair, that it tends to leave the big “emitter countries” in good shape — think Russia or Canada or, until recently, America — while preying on the low-emitting, the poor, the weak, the African, the tropical. But more grossly unfair is the notion that, in lieu of serious carbon cuts, we will all simply adapt to climate change. Manhattan can and increasingly will. Rotterdam can and has. Dhaka or Chittagong or Breezy Point patently cannot. If a system of sea walls is built around New York, its estimated $10 billion price tag would be five times what rich countries have given in aid to help poorer countries prepare for a warmer world.
Whether climate change caused Sandy’s destruction is a question for scientists — and in many ways it’s a stupid question, akin to asking whether gravity is the reason an old house collapsed when it did. The global temperature can rise another 10 degrees, and the answer will always be: sorta. By deciding to adapt to climate change — a decision that has already been partly made, because significant warming is already baked into the system — we have decided to embrace a world of walls.
Some people, inevitably richer people, will be on the right side of these walls. Other people will not be — and that we might find it increasingly convenient to lose all sight of them is the change I fear the most. This is not an argument against saving New York from the next hurricane. It is, however, an argument for a response to this one that is much broader than the Narrows.
McKenzie Funk is a journalist who is writing a book on the business of climate change.

23 comments:

Craig Mayle said...

This article makes the point that has been on my mind every time I have read a headline about the discussion of how NYC may need to build walls to protect the city from the rising ocean. There is no discussion about curing the illness (global warming), but only prescribing medicine (sea walls). This is an extremely ignorant and, ultimately, unsustainable approach. Not to mention, as the article highlights, this is an approach with questionable moral implications. For example, because our current system places such a huge value on commercial areas, a decision may very well be made to protect Wall Street by sacrificing a residential neighborhood. This is despite the fact that Wall Street isn't in that much need of help as it is- Goldman Sachs managed to build a fortress of thousands of sandbags and retained generator power through the entire crisis. As mentioned in a viral tweet on the night of the storm, "The fact that the NYU hospital is dark but Goldman Sachs is well-lit is everything that's wrong with this country." If we start talking about the root of the problem, rather than preventing its effects, then we won't need to be making these kinds of sacrifices.

Nataliya Magomedova said...

Adapting to climate change is just another way to act out on anthropocentric idealism. But ultimately, there are some things that you just cannot control: mother nature-knows no boundaries. She does not see the difference between the lower class or upper class. To use the analogy of the flow of water again, but changing "water" to "natural disasters" If we build a wall here, then the problem will just go "somewhere else." But that "somewhere else" is already in shambles! The truth is, entities such as Wall Street and Goldman-Sachs see the lower class as a nuisance. The only thing that is benefiting the lower class is that they have 'power in numbers.' With disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, its really hard to believe that we still have climate change deniers! Ocean water is warmer than it was 20 years ago! Land is warmer than it was 20 years ago! Why wouldn't that be a recipe for a Frankenstorm?!?!? We have already dug ourselves into a big hole with global warming. Now our survival instincts have to kick in right? is it every man for himself? One for all? or all for one? In New York City, where people are afraid to make eye contact with others during rush hour in the subway, are now face to face with their neighbors shoveling out the remains of their homes.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2012/11/04/occupy_sandy_hurricane_relief_being_led_by_occupy_wall_street.html

Kassandra Martinez Perez said...

“We know what we have to do,” said Dr. Jacob, in the article in the NYT called, Protecting the City, Before Next Time “The question is when do we get beyond talking and get to action.” Dr. Jacobs said what I have always gone off saying that we have to stop the fact that we are talking about what is to come and start taking action to prevent it instead. Though I do believe that no one is capable of preventing mother nature actions by building a wall and hoping that nothing will be destroyed. Nonetheless we can limit the actions that the people are taking to decrease the drastic climate changes that are occurring by making laws which ban certain actions. I believe that will be the only way to actually get things done rather then waiting a few years for things to get worse.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/nyregion/protecting-new-york-city-before-next-time.html?hpw&_r=0

Jessica Y. Sanchez said...

The sad part is that money talks and bull---t walks. Just to compare the 2, although things are far from being back to normal in New York and New Jersey, compare to Hurricane Katrina we are in far better shape than all who were affected by that hurricane and in just one week; I would even go as far as saying a month later. The people and places that make the most money are the most taken care of. Aside from that I think most people don’t know what to do to fix the environment in a way that will have an impact on Earth, so they just deal with what is going on. Think about I,t all of our lives we’re taught to adapt to every and any type of situation that comes into our life. If you don’t have the power to change it, deal with it. I think the steps that are being taken are in the right direction. Although, some changes that are being promoted are superficial the younger generations are the ones with the power to create great change. Every disaster brings adaptation to surrounding elements; let’s hope they are thought of in the long term.

Celine Hamel said...

The view of this writer is spot on. New York City is a perfect example of a place where the reputation makes people feel entitled, or more important just for living or working here. The fact of the matter is, we are not more or less important than the destitute people of Africa, Bangladesh and all the other third world countries that deal with lack of water, electricity, heat, and food every single day of their lives. But when NYC loses power for 5 days, it is like the whole world is ending! If anything this storm should have put things into perspective for people in New York City. I doubt anyone enjoyed not being surrounded in darkness, frezing at night and not being able to shower, so why would we simply build a wall around us to keep us cozy while somewhere else will suffer a fate possibly worse than what happened last week? Like my classmate said, that is an anthropocentric idealism, and it is not the answer. I cannot say what the corect answer is, but putting billions of dollars into one single city is disguting. Instead we need to take that money and invest it throughout the world so that people from poorer countries will have some chance of surviving the changes our planet is facing.

Jaclyn Barbato said...

It is sad that we live in a world where we're willing to pay millions of dollars to build a wave/flood wall before we will go to the root of the problem and begin assesing changes in our lifestyles. The problems associated with such a wall (flooding of some areas, increased wave sizes) are directly related to the ideas of Lynn White, that we you cannot solve a nontechnological problem by technological means. It also reinforces the idea that we are will explot what is not near and dear to us.

Laura Sorrentino said...

Put the value of innocent life at risk to save the value of material items and money. That is basically what the article is saying in the first couple of paragraphs. By putting up a wall, we will save manhattan and wall street because it is worth so much money and as a result, the outer-lying neighborhoods of the other boroughs will suffer greatly. Homes, which are valued sentimentally and more importantly lives are put in danger so the city can save money is beyond ethically wrong. No human life can be replaced. In addition to this, we are the reason our country has decided to build these walls. We emit unheard of amounts and cause natural disasters brought on by global warming. Since we have the power to emit, we also have the power to protect ourselves sufficiently, which is not good because it is only in our best interest. We are causing these problems, yet other countries can not protect their own like we can and they're not the biggest root of the problem, but rather our affluence is. An even more depressing notion is that we will continue to emit and continue to close ourselves off from our problems, leaving them for everyone else to deal with. Eventually, though, our walls will not be able to keep out our problems, we simply cannot keep adding bandaids in hope that it will make everything better. We will need to fix the problem by preventing more harm. We must stop causing these problems in order to protect the value of life, although with our arrogant ways, we will only see the meaning in protecting the value of money until it is too late.

Donte Kirby said...

The issue of global warming and climate change won't be addressed and the climate change and it's effects are inevitable. I would say that a drastic event would make the world at large look into the issue but these events have already happened, the earthquake in Haiti, tsunamis in japan, and most recently hurricane sandy and nothing has changed. Global warming and climate change as a problem will never be dealt with but the effects of these issues will be. The article brought to my attention that like most things in the world it's going to come down to the haves and the have not. The solution to climate change for me is simple, be a have and not a have not.

Amanda Merlo said...


One thing that really shocked me with this storm was the way that people reacted to losing power and internet connection. I feel like we have forgotten where we have come from and we should use this a wake up call that if we keep on living the way that we do the Earth will someday not be able to take it, and we may have to love without power for good. Things that we take as an everyday necessity are harming the environment and as US citizens we need to realize this. We are lucky enough to have clean running water, electricity, and food. I wish that the Frankenstorm could have reminded people that the things that we think that we need or even depend on are not always going to be here for us. It is sad that major storms like Hurricane Sandy are the only way that people realize the damage that we are doing and the serious affects climate change can and will have on us. Building a wall is not fixing the root of the problem. It is actually allowing New Yorkers to live in a bubble of self-indulgence as the Earth continues to suffer.

Olivia Hu said...

The destruction of hurricane Sandy has exhibited a great deal of altruism in NYC, with thousands of volunteers working in dangerous conditions to restore normalcy to its citizens. Altruism, a quality that should be the ideal, is not top priority for the wealthy and privileged in most cases.

McKenzie Funk recounts the conference at NYU's Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn, where a modular wall reinforcing the Narrows, a weak point between Staten Island and Brooklyn. As Funk later states, "some people, inevitably richer people, will be on the right side of these walls. Others will not be." This point is a critique on the abundant resources of the wealthy, and their lack of altruism for the safety of others. In times of crisis wherein mortality and safety are threatened, humans inevitably will do everything in their resources to fight death or injury. It is also a critique on U.S. citizen's shallow dependence on biotechnology rather than change.

Moncrief wrote of cultural variants that have led to environmental degradation, one of which is dependence on technology. Certainly, our culture has caused the conditions which created Sandy, and will continue to create natural disasters in the future if no changes of attitude are made. Between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, I am thankful that the U.S. has elected the president that legitimizes global warming. Romney does not acknowledge anthropocentric environmental changes. Also, in the past he has proposed to cut funds to FEMA, an organization that may soon be more important than ever.

Annie Bingaman said...

It is fair to say that even the concrete jungle was not prepared for Hurricane Sandy, which was certainly a sobering event for New Yorkers. As the tri-state area attempts to bounce back from Sandy, many are attempting to establish a way to protect the city from an event like this in the future. As mentioned in the article, building walls around New York in order to protect the city from future storm surge is a practical idea. However, it is only a temporary "band-aid". There has been increased discussion regarding anthropogenic climate change in relation to the recent hurricane. In his acceptance speech last night, Obama addressed the issue saying, "We want our children to live in an America that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet". Perhaps applying band-aids is not the answer. Perhaps we need to acknowledge the presence of climate change and mitigate in order to reduce the effects of it. Unless we change our current paradigm, this may not be possible.

Davin Ajodhasingh said...

In this article, the author and I share the similar view that the world is run anthropocentrically. For decades, we have recognized severe environmental issues and with research and development, we have come up with potentially realistic solutions that, unfortunately, do come with a steep price. I agree with your belief that we have come to accept climate change as a development that we can adapt to. Economic factors are to blame for this shift. If it’s too expensive and if businesses and corporations don’t project on getting a return on their investment, people don’t bother and end up leaving the issue unresolved. Ecologists and Economists have conflicting views on how the earth’s ecosystems should be used and yet the economists always seem to win. I believe that the average person isn’t very aware of fundamental ecological problems. The only thing that people seem to know about the environment is global warming, pollution and water shortages. While I do believe that it is necessary for us humans to adapt to some extent, it isn’t an excuse to try and temporarily solve ecological issues for the sake of economic incentives. If we divert a problem now, it will eventually end up somewhere else where it may be more damaging or devastating. There is no shortcut way to solve our problems.

Alfredo Dumalsen said...

“But more grossly unfair is the notion that, in lieu of serious carbon cuts, we will all simply adapt to climate change.” This asserts that climate change is not seriously being acknowledged or dealt with in an effective way. It seems that the more affluent countries brush off the severity of climate change by means of these quick solutions that alleviate problems temporarily (i.e. the Narrows barrier). This complacency is driven by greed. The more affluent countries do not sincerely want to give up their unsustainable lifestyle that contributes to climate change so these palliative measures are proposed to alleviate the harshness of the effects they themselves committed; however, the blatant issue of climate change is still present.

Abby Lee said...

While I do think we are taking more action in response to climate change as opposed to preventing climate change, I do not think we necessarily need to chose between the two courses of action. We do need to be doing more to prevent climate change and stop destruction of the environment. At the same time climate change has been and is on its way and we do need to take precautions against the consequences. It is a sad truth that what is most important to the function of society needs the most protection. If these institutions fail, the implications for society will be far more wide spread. Whether or not your agree with what happens on Wall Street, everyone needs to face the fact that it has an effect on not only the American economy, but the global economy as well.
This does not mean Wall STreet has a right to put others in more danger for its own benefit. I think that Wall Street should have to also pay to protect those who would be affected by its precautions. Further, any damages to surrounding properties should be paid for by the businesses which are having the wall put in. If I was to put something in my yard which destroyed property of my neighbors', I would be responsible for the damages according to the law. These businesses should be held accountable as well.

Maria Costa said...

I know a lot of people have said that it's sad that we won't address the root of the problem that was a huge factor in the destruction Sandy caused. But okay, that being said - if we won't address the root cause, the fact that we are putting up floodwalls to deal with our present issues is a big deal, and it will protect people. Climate change took years and years of people acting in an environmentally unfriendly way to occur; once the root cause of it is addressed, it will take years to reverse it. Isn't it better to have some sort of protection against a storm like Sandy?

I do think the author makes a compelling argument that money is really what matters here, and those people with the most money, the ones who have the greatest influence on the international economy, are the most worth saving. I read a fascinating article in The Economist called "The Costs to Come" in which the author argued that further storms like this one could truly damage the country's GDP because New York City is such an integral part of trade nationally and internationally. The author made the point that such storms hit places like Haiti all the time and leave the country decimated, but somehow it takes less of the world's notice because Haiti does not contribute as much to international markets. I'm not saying that there isn't anything tragic about this, because there is, but those are the facts and money does talk. It can make you angry but it can also spur discussion on how to bring more development and commerce into these types of areas in order to make them more economically viable and thus more valuable. There is a paradigm in place that at this point hasn't been overturned, so we should try to work within it for now.

Nick Sollogub said...

We can blame ourselves for climate change. I deeply believe that we contributed and expedited the process but the world has always been cyclical. So I am sure we hurried the unavoidable to happen sooner than it would have naturally. Do I think people should build walls around cities to save them. Nope, not even a little bit. Let the world change. Let the coast lines change. Let millions of people die. Who cares? I don't. I don't think we people should get to choose which areas get saved by walls and other get flooded. "Sorry buddy, I have more money than you, enjoy drowning". I think they should all get hit by the storm, whoever gets out alive survives to attempt to regenerate the population. Our human society has long gotten rid of survival of the fittest. I say we let nature bring it back. If you live in a coastal area, you take risks, just as if you live in an area with earth quakes or tornadoes. Everybody has something from nature looming over their area, waiting to decimate the whole thing. Usually it is on TV when people see it and it seems a world away. So I am glad that this hurricane hit our area. I hope 25 more hit with more ferocity. Since it is veterans day I would like to take the liberty of quoting an old military saying, "kill 'em all and let god sort them out."

Brionne said...

It truly is an inconvenient truth, but I agree with the author that we have come to terms with climate change, and now instead of researching for solutions to combat global climate change, we are instead pouring our research and development dollars into solutions that can help us weather the effects of climate change on a more regional-local level.

The author makes a controversial point: developed countries who are richer are more likely to withstand the harmful effects of climate change versus developing, poorer countries. This concept begs the ultimate question: Is the welfare of our country more important than that of another?

The answer is clearly - yes. But the answer becomes even clearer when we shift our focus from a global perspective and look at regional-local areas. For example, should we pour more r&d dollars into protecting the Upper East Side or the Flatbush section of Brooklyn from the next storm surge?

It is no hidden truth that, as the author suggests, the more valuable the property the more likely it will be protected and saved. Also consider that lower-income areas do not have the necessary funding to erect structures that can save them from storm surges. And since these structures are for survival, those who put the most into the system will certainly expect to be well protected first.

To summarize simply, this is survival of the fittest, where the fittest have the most money to survive. If we are to adapt fully to global climate change, then we need to ensure our survival, and we need to make sure that we are on the correct side of the wall whenever that time will come.

Jeffrey Prizzia said...

It is very clear that the weather patterns of this world are rapidly changing very fast. I feel that issues of our weather are arising due to the fact that nobody is willing to make the change. We need a paradigm shift, where everyone changes their lifestyles and live much more sustainable. I feel that with this storm Sandy, we will begin to see changes of the way society treats the environment and the need for more laws regarding the environment. In the article the journalist talks about these walls. I feel that walls need to be put up, and these walls being laws that will enforce us to live much more sustainable and reduce the carbon footprint. The storm really forced people to live like this, in a way where we got use to no electricity and we relied on less pleasure and more leisure.

Emily Armstrong said...

As global warming becomes more and more relevant, people become more aware of it because it begins to effect their personal lives. One of the biggest problems in America is that we don't think about our future and how us humans are slowly deteriorating it. It's unfortunate that the only way to get people to change their behavior is to wait for an epidemic to occur. It sounds bad, but it's about time that we had a crisis that opened the eyes of several people. Hurricane sandy was necessary in order to show people that global warming is real and very dangerous, which is why I believe building these walls will be a good thing. This is an example of America changing their ways. America is thinking ahead to prepare for the future. These walls will protect the city. Is it unfortunate that we will pay any amount of money to continue with our bad habits instead of fixing the root problem? Yes, it is terrible, but it's better than waiting for things to get worse.

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