What is New York City doing for an environmental action plan?

Columbia University’s “Sea Level Rise: Causes, Impacts and Options for Solutions” panel that was held on July 12. Photo by Corallys Plasencia

By Corallys Plasencia
08 /13/ 2017

Motivated by the amount of damage it had sustained from Hurricane Sandy, New York City residents, and officials used that event as a wake-up call to do more to ensure that the city would be more resilient to future events affected by climate change.

Experts gathered at Columbia University’s “Sea Level Rise: Causes, Impacts and Options for Solutions” panel on July 12 in an exchange of “perspectives from science and the stakeholder community.” As part of a five-day event city officials addressed different aspects of planning for future climate change-related issues of sea-level rise. The speakers’ professional backgrounds ranged from climatology and engineering to recovery and resiliency.

Although aimed to explain the city’s various action plans, the public would have the last say. Activists quietly stood up with large banners that read “Be A Climate Hero, Divest Now” as keynote speaker Scott Stringer, New York City Comptroller, opened the panel.

Activists gathered with signs reading “Be A Climate Hero, Divest Now” as New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer gave the keynote address. Photo by Corallys Plasencia

“The fact is, the rate of climate change is rapidly picking up speed,” Stringer said. “According to NASA’s directive space studies, our planet is warming at a pace unprecedented in a thousand years. So far this year we’ve seen nine extreme weather events; twice the normal rate. We are all in this room today because acting on climate change is not the right option, it’s the only option.”

While city officials and scientists can’t predict with certainty future harsh weather and its impact, they have looked at different scenarios to raise awareness of potential problems.

After Sandy, the region was awarded $281 million towards hurricane protection. Lower Manhattan specifically was given $176 million of that to help create a new flood protection system to surround the borough. This East Side Coastal Resiliency Project and the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project talks about design, timeline, location, and initiatives. City-wide workshops were conducted to plan the project’s designs with the affected communities’ concerns in mind.

“It’s extremely important to start considering some more drastic measures that are quite sensitive and delicate,” said George Deodatis, a civil engineer. “There are a lot of different protective measures that can be implemented. These protective measures will break down the impact of an incoming storm surge from a hurricane or a storm.”

Civil Engineer George Deodatis discusses the different protective measures that the city takes. Photo by Corallys Plasencia

Deodatis talked about how if certain communities get constant damage from environmental factors then they might have to consider moving entire communities to higher ground. He noted that is not an easy option to consider but it’s a drastic solution that might not be implemented until decades from now.

Columbia Geophysics Professor Robin E. Bell explained the overall importance of the melting ice caps on sea-level rise and how the ice caps in Antarctica play a big role, even though it might seem “esoteric” to be talking about impact from a location so far from the city

“The really important thing I want you to walk away with is what’s the evidence, how do we know the ice sheets are changing,” Bell said.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) created a climate change program assessment and action plan that outlines research of climate change effects by covering the science, observations, and projections behind it.

“The pipeline from the science, from the research to the stakeholders and the general public is not very well established,” said Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Professor James L. Davis.

The city is reaching out to experts like these in the city to help establish that pipeline. Project Manager Danielle Manley of the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC), a collaboration of climate science experts from around the New York metropolitan region, helps with advising the city on the latest climate-related issues.

“There’s a lot that the city is doing in terms of not only temperature- and sea-level rise but also rainfall and other kinds of extreme events,” Manley said. “One thing that the city is doing is soliciting scientific input from experts. That is the role of the NPCC as they are the climate experts.

She says that the city takes that scientific information and transforms it into policies to plan, adapt and to mitigate climate change. “A lot of the climate science that’s provided by the NPCC is to support the policies the city is implanting to prepare for climate change,” Manley said. “One of the things that they do that they just released a couple of months ago, they’ve released preliminary climate resiliency design guidelines.”

The guidelines are part of the “Mayor’s Office of Recovery & Resiliency” and shows how city capital projects that are in the flood plain are advised. “They would need to consider sea level rise, and coastal inundation from storms using the sea level rise projections provided by the NPCC and the design of their project, Manley said.”

What is important to take out of it is that people, on all different levels, are out there trying to make more informed decisions to help establish a general methodology for optimum protection for future generations in New York City.

Watch the panel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9bbArDyoAU&feature=youtu.be

About Corallys Plasencia 3 Articles
Corallys Plasencia is a graduate journalism student at Emerson College. She obtained her B.S in Operational Meteorology, Communications and Broadcast Media Minor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. Corallys wants to grow her knowledge of journalism while at Emerson and as an NBCUniversal Fellow with NBC New York's weather department, she hopes to continue her passion in becoming a Meteorologist or TV Host in the future.