Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 1, 2012

Will Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion be the victim of the next Frankenstorm?

Filed under: Columbia University,Ecology — louisproyect @ 2:16 pm

Counterpunch November 01, 2012
Frankenstorms, Climate Change Denial and the Consequences of Neoliberalism
New York Was Warned

“Oh Great Lord of the Almighty Dollar”, the panicked voice cried out, its Wall Street owner realizing he was indeed in truly deep-water, “how could you have forsaken your devoted and faithful?” But though this poor soul lifted entreaty after entreaty to what had become his sacred deities — those of Narcissism, Hubris and Greed — reality swept in like the hurricane it was, flooding Wall Street and much around it.

The Ancients knew what happens when one worships false gods, and today many are hopefully learning a lesson long forgotten, forgotten even though the biblical proportions of Sandy’s flooding were predicted a year earlier.

In 2011, a report by New York State upon the impact of climate change had described the potential for the flooding news media have now allowed the world to witness. New York was warned, and even warned again just this September.

In September, an article in The New York Times — ‘New York Is Lagging as Seas and Risks Rise, Critics Warn’ – contained comments by Prof. Klaus Jacob, lead author of the transportation section of the state study, Jacob quoted as observing that if the storm surge from Hurricane Irene had been about a foot higher, “subway tunnels would have flooded, segments of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and roads along the Hudson River would have turned into rivers, and sections of the commuter rail system would have been impassable or bereft of power”.

Hmmm, it seems Prof. Jacob had the right idea, especially as he went on to note that some of New York City’s (NYC) under-river subway tunnels “would have been unusable for nearly a month, or longer, at an economic loss of about $55 billion”. The study outlined NYC needed to invest between ten and twenty billion to avoid such calamities; though, it didn’t. Not a good decision.


Village Voice, Wednesday, Oct 1 2008
Columbia Ignores Peril
When Klaus Jacob talks, important people take action. Except the important people paying him.
By Elizabeth Dwoskin

Columbia geophysicist Klaus Jacob is such a highly regarded expert on urban environmental disasters related to climate change that governments and scientists all over the world take him seriously, revising building codes and altering the construction of dams as a result of his warnings

Except, it turns out, at his own place of employment, where he’s spent almost 40 years as a research scientist.

Jacob tells the Voice that he’s repeatedly been given the brush-off by Columbia officials regarding his specific and detailed warnings that their ambitious development plans in Harlem could lead to a wide-scale disaster.

Much has been written about the university’s plans to spread northward across 17 acres of developed land—but Jacob is concerned less about the school’s move outward than he is about something that’s garnered less attention: Columbia’s intention to dig deep into the ground.

Expansion plans call for the largest underground complex in the city, a massive, 80-foot-deep basement that will extend only a block from the banks of the Hudson River. That’s an underground space large enough to hold an eight-story building, lying only a few hundred feet from water that’s susceptible to storm surge.

Imagine this scenario, based on Jacob’s research: It’s the year 2065, and Columbia University’s 17-acre West Harlem expansion is abuzz with activity. Students hurry through rainfall along a tree-lined promenade overlooking the Hudson. In a biotechnology lab nearby, scientists are engineering lethal pathogens to respond to the next generation of infectious diseases and bioterrorist threats. Deep down below, engineering majors use the future version of Facebook to instant-message their friends.

Warnings, meanwhile, are steadily being broadcast about an oncoming storm. A Category 2 hurricane with 110-mile-an-hour winds is barreling down on the city—a more frequent occurrence than in decades past. New Yorkers have become familiar with the drill: They evacuate to local shelters set up by the city’s Office of Emergency Management. Over several hours, the Hudson rises 10 feet, flooding the waterfront promenade and the rest of the campus. Many, but perhaps not all, have heeded warnings to leave the deep basement. Damage will be extensive and exorbitantly expensive. And some of the sprawling labs that contain biohazardous material may become another kind of floating threat to the city.


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