Volume 19 | Issue 28 | November 24 - 30, 2006

Greens say a rising tide may sink Downtown’s boat

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel
Environmentalists erected a 20-foot marker in Battery Park to show how high Lower Manhattan’s sea level may reach if global warming continues at its current pace.

By Sara Stefanini

The 20-foot structure didn’t turn out to be quite as impressive as the Environmental Action crew had hoped, but with two members holding it up, it still demonstrated how high the water level in Lower Manhattan could get if global warming continues at its current rate.

The tall wooden beam was the centerpiece of the nonprofit’s rally this weekend in Battery Park, where members collected signatures from tourists and passersby to lobby automakers to increase their cars’ fuel efficiency.
“This is the projected water level, should we allow the ice in Greenland and Antarctica to melt,” said Nariman Moghtaderi, campaign coordinator for the Fund for Public Interest Research, of which Environment Action is a part. “And one of the major contributors to that is cars.”

The group’s petition, which was signed by 688 people in three hours, asked the big three American car companies, Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, to double their fuel efficiency standards. Those who signed agreed that if the manufacturers achieve that goal, they would buy the eco-friendly cars. Environmental Action chose the Hope Garden in Battery Park because it is one of New York’s most vulnerable spots, and because it is tourist attraction, making the rally a more far-reaching event.

Moghtaderi estimated that the fuel-efficient cars might cost about $2,000 more to purchase, but that in the long run they would be cheaper because they require less gas.

In recent years, foreign automakers like Toyota and Honda have cut into the American market share, in part because U.S. companies are more reluctant to produce hybrid, eco-conscious cars, according to advocates. Environmental Action members criticized the big three for producing large, gas-guzzling SUVs.

“We’re basically pledging to the big three that if they do this, we’ll buy American,” said Ashley Bregman, director of Environmental Action.

Members also held signs describing the effects of global warming over the next several hundred years, and the small things people can do, such as setting the thermostat a little lower or unplugging their electronics, to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.

Lower Manhattan has been the subject of concern and warnings in recent years, particularly after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans last year. A Columbia University study in March found that parts of the Downtown area, including Battery Park City, the Seaport and the World Trade Center site, could experience 10-foot floods after severe storms.
A Category 4 storm could cause water to rush through the Holland and Brooklyn Battery Tunnels and into the city’s subways, according to

Although the sea level isn’t expected to reach 20 feet for another 500 to 1,000 years, the water will rise very gradually, creating small changes in the ecosystem, such as rising average temperatures and stronger hurricanes, Bregman said.

The ice in Greenland and Antarctica has already started melting, however, Moghtaderi said. In 2000, for instance, a fraction the size of Connecticut broke away from Antarctica.

“The sheer mass of pieces like this will start raising the water level,” he said. “In the future, if we want to keep this park we’ll have to have a wall around it.”

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