Today, Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented the city's long-term plan to prepare for the impacts of a changing climate in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. "We haven't waited for Washington to lead the climate change charge," Bloomberg said at the Duggal Greenhouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. "If we did, we'd still be waiting."
The 400-page adaptation plan he presented, the work of the Special Initiative for Resilience and Rebuilding, which was established by the mayor in December of last year, is an important step for New York City in the right direction. Most impressively, the $19.5 billion plan has a comprehensive approach for reducing the risk of catastrophic flooding through multiple initiatives from surge barriers to improved building codes from Staten Island to Far Rockaway, from Red Hook to lower Manhattan. The plan looks not just to the regions devastated by Superstorm Sandy but uses projections developed by top climate scientists for the rising threat of man-made global warming in the coming decades, Bloomberg said:
In fact, we expect that by mid-century up to one-quarter of all of New York City's land area, where 800,000 residents live today, will be in the floodplain. If we do nothing, more than 40 miles of our waterfront could see flooding on a regular basis, just during normal high tides.
An especially welcome component of the plan is a $1.2 billion program "to encourage all vulnerable property owners to make additional flood-protection improvements to their properties," not just those mandated to own federal flood insurance.
Unfortunately, there are major flaws.
First, the plan fails to address New York's role in creating the pollution that threatens its future existence. Instead of a blueprint for how Wall Street can stop financing fossil fuels or how to make the city's infrastructure carbon-free, there's literally a chapter on protecting fossil fuels from climate change:
The report asserts it is making the city "resilient," but there is no climate resilience without divestment from fossil fuels and pollution barons like David Koch, New York's richest man.
Furthermore, the report's authors seemed uninterested in how New York's communities survived the storm's aftermath. In particular, the crucial achievements of Occupy Sandy in responsive, community-based disaster relief and recovery are buried, if not ignored.
Most importantly, basic realities of economic and social inequality are not sufficiently addressed. For example, even though over the report recognizes that over half of the Rockaways' residents live in public or low-income housing, only two of 13 building initiatives address that population.
In sum, this report comes far closer to recognizing the reality of our carbon-polluted future than has been achieved on the national stage, but that is a very low bar. Existing infrastructure -- physical, social, economic, and political -- is built upon fossil-fuel dependence. Only a dedicated and full-scale effort to fight the polluters who profit at the expense of the very existence of cities such as New York will offer us a fighting chance.
Most of the nation is far less prepared for the ravages of fossil-fueled global warming than Mayor Bloomberg's New York City. Unfortunately, it appears even Bloomberg is unprepared to take the necessary steps to turn back the rising tide of our polluted climate.