Geoengineering the Atlantic Ocean?

Image Source: Justinesk – CC BY-SA 4.0

A series of retractable gates out in the Atlantic Ocean between New Jersey and the Rockaways in New York City—for $119 billion. That’s among the projects that have and are being considered—“geoengineering” is their category—at enormous cost to try to protect the New York Metropolitan Area from intense storms, among the impacts of global warming.

Just out in the current issue of Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management of the American Society of Civil Engineers is an article about the schemes—with a title as extensive as the proposed projects: “Coastal Defense Megaprojects in an Era of Sea-Level Rise: Politically Feasible Strategies or Army Corps Fantasies?”

Of the New Jersey to the Rockaways $119 billion plan, writing in The New York Times in 2021, Ann Barnard reported: “The giant barrier is the largest of five options the Army Corps of Engineers is studying to protect the New York area as storms become more frequent, and destructive, on a warming Earth.” Her article was headlined: “The $119 Billion Sea Wall That Could Defend New York…or Not.”

It continued: “The proposals have sparked fierce debate as New York, like other coastal cities, grapples with the broader question of how and to what degree it must transform its landscape and lifestyle to survive rising seas.”

This scheme was succeeded—after its cost, environmental impacts and practicality were questioned—by what Barnard in The Times described in an article last year as the Army Corps’ “latest vision of how to protect the region from future storms: a $52 billion proposal to build moveable sea barriers across the mouths of major bays and inlets along New York Harbor.”

“If Congress approved the proposal,” she went on, “the federal government would pay 65 percent” of the $52 billion cost. The plan, she added, would also include “31 miles of land-based levees, elevated shorelines and sea walls. It would require approval from the state and local governments that would foot the rest of the bill.”

Whether $119 billion or $52 billion—taxpayers will be deeply affected.

And, also, Dr. Malcolm Bowman, an oceanography professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, last year presented a study he did that proposed “sea gates” to serve as storm surge barriers at south shore inlets from East Rockaway Inlet on to five others along the south shore of central and eastern Long Island including Fire Island, Moriches and Shinnecock Inlets.

It is titled “Protecting Long Island from Future Sandy Flood Events: A South Shore Sea Gate Study.” The gates would be mostly left open but when a big storm approached, they’d close to prevent storm surges from entering the bays into which the inlets lead.

In presenting his study, funded by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Bowman told the Long Island Regional Planning Board about the “sea gates—“Think of them like a saloon door.” As for cost, he set no figure but acknowledged that the plan would be in the multi-billion dollar range.

That “Coastal Defense Megaprojects in an Era of Sea Level Rise” report in the Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management was written by a professor from Rutgers University and two professors from Princeton University—including Dr. Michael Oppenheimer. They conclude: “We are pessimistic that storm surge barriers will be politically feasible climate adaptation options” for reasons including “modern environmental laws that provide avenues for expression of oppositional views within the decision process” and “the allure of alternative options that are more aesthetically pleasing and cheaper and faster to implement even when they do not offer equivalent levels of protection—e.g. green/nature-based solutions.” Before joining the Princeton faculty, Oppenheimer was for 20 years the chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, launched and long headquartered on Long Island.

In medicine, there’s a focus on the cause, not just the effect, of a disease. These “megaprojects” focus on an effect of global warming, of climate change. Would it not be a wiser—and economically far more practical—to focus on the cause? Instead of the billions upon billions of dollars being proposed to try to deal with an effect, we need to get at the main cause of global warming: the burning of fossil fuels: coal, gas and oil.

Efforts to combat global warming/climate change—notably a rapid transition to clean, green fuels—have for years not been strong enough. There’s been talk and talk, and some action. But time and again necessary steps have been blocked by vested interests—the coal, gas and oil industries—and politicians in denial of climate change often in the pockets of these industries.

As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declared at last year’s COP 27 Climate Change Summit: “We are in the fight of our lives, and we are losing. Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing, global temperatures keep rising, and our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible. We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”

We must, indeed, fully challenge and counter the cause of an existential global illness.

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, and is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet, and the Beyond Nuclear handbook, The U.S. Space Force and the dangers of nuclear power and nuclear war in space. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.