An op-ed piece by Joe Nocera in the New York Times raises the question of what New York City could do to prevent the type of damage that Sandy has recently caused its residents; much of the destruction was avoidable. His solution is worth considering.
What New York is not so good at is preventing big storms from exacting an enormous toll on infrastructure, buildings and businesses. In the case of Sandy, the damage to New York City is estimated to be as much as $17 billion. Cities like London, Amsterdam — and, yes, Providence — have built systems to minimize the damage even Category 3 storms can cause. But not New York.
Part of the reason is that the cost of any such system would run into the billions of dollars. But another reason is that many environmentalists are firmly opposed to a big public-works project, fearing that it would give people a false sense of security about the problems posed by climate change. They prefer taking smaller steps, like raising the height of subway grates to keep water out of the subway tunnels. Bloomberg has embraced this approach.
In 2008, for instance, Bloomberg convened a panel of experts to examine the ways climate change could affect the city. The panel’s report, issued in 2010, documented the undeniable fact that the rivers and bays around New York were rising, and that changes in the atmosphere were likely to make storms both more frequent and more dangerous.Yet, Mayor Bloomberg is against large engineering projects. And, yet, to do nothing is to deny reality; and reality has a way of intruding on people's lives in a very nasty way. Intelligent persons tend to learn from their mistakes, and tend to change their mind when new incontrovertible information comes their way.
The Times article says: "Klaus Jacob, a scientist at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, told The New York Times, in a prescient article published just six weeks before Sandy hit, that the city’s unwillingness to be more aggressive was akin to 'Russian roulette.' Jacob believes that the city needs to build unbreachable gates to subways, tunnels and infrastructure to prevent water from rushing in. Despite the expense, he says that such a system would save billions by preventing storm damage."