Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Double Feature: Malpede and Hansen on April 8

Karen Malpede and James Hansen, April 8. The Science section of the New York Times has a recommendation that we see "Extreme Whether" by Karen Malpede, who is an advocacy playwright (my term). Her cause in this case is the continuance of Planet Earth. Personally, I am glad that the Earth has a strong advocate. A special treat on Monday, April 8, will be a talk afterwards by James Hansen.
Extreme Whether. A play by Karen Malpede. Theater for the New City. 155 First Avenue. Readings April 8 at 7 p.m. (withJames Hansen) and April 13 at 8 p.m. $5. A new “eco-drama” about climate change will have two readings this month. Set in upstate New York during the record-hot summers of 2004 and 2012, the play pits brother against sister in a bitter debate about the future of the planet. In one corner is John Bjornson, a composite of famous climatologists. In the other is his twin sister, Jeanne, an energy spokeswoman married to a skeptical lobbyist. “The play poses this most difficult question of whether we can act in our own defense” when faced with a global threat, says the playwright, Karen Malpede, a twin herself. After the reading on Monday, James Hansen, the NASA climate scientist who is retiring from the agency this week, will speak to the audience on how “we are nearly out of time, if we want to avoid creating a situation that will be out of control for today’s young people.”
Malcolm Bowman. Professor Malcolm Bowman was on Dan Rather's program in February. He is chair of the Marine and Atmospheric Department at Stony Brook University.  Chelsea civic leader Bob Trentlyon brought this to my attention, along with Prof. Bowman's prescriptions for post-Sandy action in NJ and NY, which I summarize next. A key point is that favoring storm-surge barriers does not necessarily mean being opposed to resilience. Both are essential.

1. Weather Is Getting More Extreme.  The New York Harbor is at serious risk from extreme weather events and it will get worse in the decades ahead, and NY City's doctrine of "resilience" is necessary but not sufficient to protect the city against future catastrophes. We can learn much from the European experience - we have the advantage of being 75-100 years behind Amsterdam and Rotterdam's situation of being located 6'-12' below sea level - so we can learn.

2. Storm Surge Barriers Are Needed. Long-term protection (up to 150 years) requires construction of storm surge barriers augmented by enhanced sand dunes along the ocean shorelines (up to 30 feet high and several hundred yards wide), similar to those already in operation in St Petersburg, Russia, and the Netherlands. Without barriers, rising sea levels will submerge New York City as we know it. Seawalls, levees, barriers, pumps and enhanced dunes could extend  protection to the City for perhaps 200-250 years more.

3. New Roads and Rails Make It Feasible. To help make the project economically and politically feasible, an Outer Harbor Gateway could be constructed to combine storm-surge protection with a multipurpose traffic addition:

  • a 6-lane interstate toll road-bypass from northern NJ to Long Island/JFK airport, and
  • a light rail connection between Newark and JFK airports.

4. The Army Corps Should Evaluate Needs. As a first step, the US Army Corps of Engineers should detail oceanographic, meteorological, geological and engineering aspects of storm surges, plus an investigation of suitable locations for storm surge protection. The study should evaluate the likely effects on ocean circulation and flushing, ecology, fisheries, transportation, legal issues, social justice issues, and economics.