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Isle de-Jean Charles

What if the Isle de-Jean Charles was Canarsie, Brooklyn?

“Without weapons, claws or fangs, humans are not built to kill, but when one group of humans is forced to say to another group facing a life-threatening condition, “we cannot help you now,” I do not know which group is worse off.”

RLC “One story is different, but the larger question is for how many, when and where… Video

If NYC’s ramparts are drawn across its landscape, it forces two questions: 1)Who’s In? and 2) Who’s out? The GND says: get practical about the local impact of global climate change problems as a matter of science and humanity. In this spirit, I will apply America’s first climate refugees from Isle de-Jean Charles, LA (video here) to a New York City example. The relocation action taken in Louisiana occurred when they were down to the last two percent of their land along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Can New York or any other city afford to set that kind of relocation standard? Let’s do the math here,  it cost $100 million in relocation funds for 20 households of the Isle de-Jean Charles. Now apply that to the 35,000 families in Canarsie, a neighborhood in Brooklyn threatened by lots of seawater beginning in 2050 if not before. A relocation bill like that given to Isle de-Jean Charles would come to $175 billion. A resettlement plan at 20 households/year would take a millennium. At 500 households a year, the cost would be $2.5 billion/year, and it would take 70 years.

The plan now (and it is a bad one for people) is to allow land poverty to occur and over the course of seventy years of increasing worthlessness, let it go “in-rem” and purchase the property at the lowest possible price from the owners.  A variety of development choices could be made then, it could be cleaned of toxins with the help of the ocean as it takes the land at an unrelenting, but unknown rate. The products to be capitalized in this manner could benefit future generations of the families displaced, given the right kind of seller’s contract.  For example, if Canarsie became an artificial barrier reef of old foundations that are already flooding easily, and the acidity could be neutralized, the north side of Jamaica Bay would become a vast seafood farm that would contribute substantially to the sustainability of NYC and it would not have environmental racism pinned on its legacy.

Current policies will destroy lives. The affected U.S. population about 94.7 million or 29.1% of the total live in coastline regions and about 60.2 million live in areas most vulnerable to hurricanes. According to the U.S. Census (here), this is a 15.3% increase since 2000.

A good investment policy would protect the future by creating a value that could accrue to the estate of every displaced household. It would not prevent the “land poverty” plan currently in play, it would also result in lives horribly disrupted, but it would create a benefit to future generations of the families displaced. For a place like Canarsie, or the Rockaways (the natural rampart), the test should be whether a quid pro quo is in place, or just another caveat emptor slap in the face, aimed at people of color that will soon be without the power of an alternative or a public admission of a plan for recourse. Could the pitiful amount of $2.5 billion be put into action today? Unlikely, as the policy of catastrophic resolution is the only mechanism for drawing a line in the sand. This is the line drawn around a burned to the ground neighborhood in CA today, and another is the likelihood of NYC neighborhoods soaking in seas of Jamaica Bay and the Hudson River.

Today the planners, engineers, architects, and climate scientists assess the impact of the sea rise, storm surges, and micro-bursts pounding down the Hudson River Valley on the city’s property. The Flooded City article points out the big picture these professionals paint for owners and policymakers.

The San Francisco – Bay Area Challenge is an excellent illustration of what needs to be done. The simple answer known solutions will not occur – but take heart there are people out there who know what to do and are not afraid to illustrate the steps. (here)

For example, a rise in sea level far less than a meter places 71,500 buildings and $100 billion of property in NYC’s high-risk flood zones. Sea rise is not a complex assessment. Remote earth sensing devices can measure elevation to less than a meter other, devices calculate small fluctuations in gravitational forces, and for any area in question in real-time. The data is in, the “when” sea rise is too high remains unknowable. Analytical programs on weather and storm forces may never get beyond a two-week window. MIT’s Ed Lorenz 1968 paper describing that two nearly identical atmospheric models can diverge widely after just two weeks of an initial disturbance as minute as a butterfly flapping its wings. This model has yet to be altered beyond two weeks by mathematicians, meteorologists, or both for a half-century.

The below-ground world of tunnels and conduits (vehicles, gas, power, clean, gray, and black water) of New York City is not climate-proof.  Given the positives of the walls and ramparts, the capacity to fragment infrastructure systems to function independently is implied, but the policy is dishonest unless the question “who is in and out” is answered.

Global processes are geologically instantaneous events in the context of the last half-billion years. They occur daily but remain well outside of human experience. We are unlikely to “duck and cover” or step back from the waves of an unobservable rise of the ocean at the base of a massive river basin. Creating incentives to do so is the challenge of our time.

Nevertheless, insisting on the acquisition and removal of toxins from NYC’s waterfront and flood-prone zones may be the best plan of action for no other reason than it will take a century to accomplish. The planning work as it stands today favors protecting property in the short term. It emanates from the boardrooms and public conferences in the old way.  It is about producing jobs through relatively high yield, short-term investments under the heading of resiliency. The discussion of the chemical, biological, and most importantly, financial toxins encircled by these old ways requires a sharper focus by its critics.

The sea rise may be known first in Kiribati, Vanuatu, and the Marshall Islands who have already given the world a poignant reminder by saying: If the world fails to halt global warming we do not want to disappear in the tide. Who will take us in?

In 2016, the residents of Isle de Jean Charles, a small strip of land off the coast of Louisiana, received a $48 million grant to relocate their entire community.

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  1. Four Southwest Atlantic Coast States are developing or implementing policies that will all the abandonment of roads that will become “to nowhere” due to climate change. Cite the following if this interests you:

    Jones, Shana Campbell, and Ruppert, Thomas and Deady, Erin L. and Payne, Heather and Pippin, J. Scott and Huang, Ling-Yee and Evans, Jason M., Roads to Nowhere in Four States: State and Local Governments in the Atlantic Southeast Facing Sea-Level Rise (January 17, 2019). Columbia Journal of Environmental Law Vol. 44, No. 1. Available at SSRN:


  • March 2019 – ReidCurry April 10, 2019

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