'On Wall Street, there will be water': How cities will adapt to climate change

Klaus Jacob has been studying climate change for more than half a century and served on the New York City Panel on Climate Change for over a decade. During that time, he told Yahoo News, he has seen "more and more severe disasters," and he has urged policymakers to prepare for far worse events to come.

Currently a special research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at the Earth Institute and an adjunct professor at Columbia University, Jacob warns that parts of many coastal cities, such as New York, will be regularly inundated by the end of this century.

Even New York's plan to build barriers to handle 30 inches of sea level rise by 2050 is inadequate, Jacob said, because it won't be enough for what happens thereafter.

"So we still will have storms that will overcome those barriers, if not in the next few decades, then certainly toward the end of the century, when sea level rise will be 5, 6 feet," Jacob told "The Climate Crisis Podcast." "Or in the extreme case, as the New York City Panel on Climate Change has said, there is rapid ice-melt scenario for the Arctic [and] Antarctic. That may give us 8 to 9 feet of sea level rise. Well, that's more than the storm surge of [Superstorm] Sandy, and that's prominent. And then you have storms on top of it. So these protective measures that we see around lower Manhattan have a finite lifetime in which they can protect us. And my fear is that if we built those things, people say, 'Oh, now we are saved.' No, we are not saved."

Water from Superstorm Sandy floods the Plaza Shops in Lower Manhattan.
Water from Superstorm Sandy floods the Plaza Shops in lower Manhattan on Oct. 30, 2012. (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Rather than just keeping the water out, cities may have to retreat from some low-lying areas, or reimagine them entirely. "You don't move your skyscrapers, you just give up the basement of the skyscraper [and] the first floor, or maybe the second floor," Jacob said. "And underneath on Wall Street, there will be water. And the geese and the ducks float around on Wall Street, and we walk on the high line to our office. It's all conceivable."


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