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The latest scientific findings suggest that a child born today in this island metropolis may live to see the waters around it swell by six feet, as the previously hypothetical consequences of global warming take on an escalating — and unstoppable — force.
I’ve gotten to know him over the past few years, as I’ve sought to understand the greatest threat to life in New York as we know it.But Jacob began trying to sound the alarm about the risk more than a decade ago.He sent students into the New York subways with barometers to measure their elevation, and produced a 2008 report for the MTA, warning that many lines would flood with a storm surge of between seven and 13 feet.Outside, Jacob noticed a neighbor hanging up some early holiday decorations. Despite his acute awareness of risk, he had chosen to make his home on a lane that bordered a grassy marsh.Sitting in his third-floor office, with classical music playing softly in the background, Jacob recounted how he had purchased the house after his wife, an artist, fell in love with it.High tides will spill over old bulkheads when there is a full moon. All the commercial skyscrapers, housing, cultural institutions that currently sit near the waterline will be forced to contend with routine inundation.And cataclysmic floods will become more common, because, to put it simply, if the baseline water level is higher, every storm surge will be that much stronger.Jacob took a look at the readings from Battery Park, showing an unprecedented 14-foot storm surge, and resigned himself to the inevitable. “My wife was sitting on the stairs, watching the water coming under the door and up through the floorboards,” Jacob said.“I was sleeping, because I knew within half a foot where the water would go.” No one is very good at acting on the unthinkable. No serious thinker doubts this man-made reality any longer. Try as we might to contemplate how New York City might go under, our imagination fails us.At six feet, my office building was almost an island.It has been standing for 86 years; six feet of sea-level rise could quite possibly occur before another 86 years pass.