Are All of America's Coastal Cities Now at Risk?

Hurricane Sandy demonstrates that the impacts of climate change -- rising sea levels and more extreme weather patterns -- mean that the future of America's coastal cities is in doubt.
October 30, 2012, 12pm PDT | Michael Dudley
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Mike Tidwll, writing for The Nation, argues that all coastal American cities are facing the fate of New Orleans, and that hard decisions lie ahead: either these great cities are to be abandoned, or they commit to increasingly more sophisticated and expensive systems of levees and dikes. The most difficult adjustment, however, is to move rapidly away from the burning of fossil fuels. He writes,

"The New York Academy Sciences has already begun examining the viability of three massive floodgates near the mouth of New York Harbor, not unlike the Thames River floodgate that protects London today. Another floodgate has been proposed for the Potomac River just south of Washington, fending against tsunami-like surge tides from future mega storms. Plus there will be levees-everywhere. Imagine the National Mall, Reagan National Airport and the Virginia suburbs-all well below sea level-at the mercy of "trust-us-they'll-hold" levees maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Oceans worldwide are projected to rise as much as three more feet this century-much higher if the Greenland ice sheet melts away. Intense storms are already becoming much more common. These two factors together will in essence export the plight of New Orleans, bringing the Big Easy 'bowl' effect here to New York City and Washington, as well as to Charleston, Miami, New York and other coastal cities. Assuming we want to keep living in these cities, we'll have to build dikes and learn to exist beneath the surface of surrounding tidal bays, rivers and open seas-just like New Orleans."

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Published on Tuesday, October 30, 2012 in The Nation
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