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NYC Not Ready for Another Sandy

J. Mijin Cha

Here’s a very real impact of climate change: as hurricane season approaches, New York City- a region that never had to worry about hurricanes before- is assessing whether it would be ready for another storm. Prior to 2011, the city never worried about hurricanes because it was well outside hurricane paths. After Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012, that reality has changed. NOAA has predicted that this hurricane season will be above normal with the possibility of a very active season. With the city still recovering from Sandy, the approaching hurricane season is of significant concern.

As we’ve written before, there is literally no aspect of our economy that won’t be touched by climate change. As the city assesses its ability to absorb another storm, it is clear that our infrastructure can’t handle it. The subway system, already chronically underfunded, is still recovering from Sandy and yesterday it was announced that repairs to a tunnel that connects Manhattan and Brooklyn will need to be closed for 12-14 months to deal with the rusting that occurred after Sandy. The G train, the only one that connects Brooklyn and Queens without going through Manhattan, will be closed for 12 weekends through the year and will likely need to be shuttered next summer.

The city’s power grid is also vulnerable. Much work remains to be done to protect the city’s substations—the cost of which will likely be passed onto ratepayers. Con Edison is asking to pass on the $1 billion bill to customers, while the company’s board of directors handed out over $600,000 in special bonuses after Sandy and other events. New York City residents already pay far above the national average for electricity before any new rate increases.

These two examples show how we simply cannot afford to ignore the impact of climate change. In our short-sighted political culture, it’s easy to say we can’t afford the infrastructure investments or policy changes we need to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. Yet, as shown above, we are already paying. Continued underinvestment has left us in an already weakened state. Just a few weeks ago, another bridge collapsed and one in nine bridges has been rated as structurally deficient by the American Society of Civil Engineers. This is the general state of our infrastructure- now add on the impact of more intense natural disasters and the resulting picture is frightening.

We can invest in our infrastructure now or we can pay the much higher cost of recovering from damage caused by climate change. Either way, we will pay but the first option is cheaper and smarter.