Live Like NYC is Sinking Into the Ocean (Because It Is)

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by Hannah Harkness

Two years ago, my friend said to me “NYC is every Doomsday movie’s bitch-don’t worry about it.”

This is because I told her, with conviction, that I wanted to move here before it sinks. While I love me a good disaster movie, I can’t put NYC sinking into the same unreality as the aliens razing buildings to the ground in Avengers movies.

This is something I walk around in my head with the same banality as “the sky is blue” and “rats are the true owners of two blocks near my house” And I think everyone else who believes in climate change needs to speed up the process of accepting this reality, get outside, and pay your respects to one of the greatest cities on earth before you find yourself sitting in a pool of debris wondering why you never went to Coney Island. 

Ironically, you need Coney to stay dry to see the mermaids

I get why this is hard to accept emotionally, but I’m 100% not the only person who has opted to rip this band aid off. Many climate change scientists at this point are exhausted to the point of shrugging and going Okay, a gigaton (the size of 400,000 olympic swimming pools) of ice is melting in Anarctica every day and glaciers, permafrosts, and mountaintops are also sweating like sinners in church.

Catastrophic storms are resulting from the one-degree rise in temperature that is showing no signs of stopping whatsoever. One already flooded NYC and we are still repairing the damage. Hey guys, here’s an interactive map showing you exactly how everything in NYC is going to flood. But sure, okay, NYC isn’t going to sink.


One of my personal heroes, climate scientist and doomsday prophet Klaus Jacobs, sent students into subway tunnels in 2008 to measure sea levels – and was more or less hailed as a prophet after Hurricane Sandy.

He is still famous for loudly correcting people during seminars who try to say “if” by yelling “WHEN!” I found out about him in the explicitly titled article “NYC is sinking and nobody knows what to do about it”. I have a friend who is a native New Yorker who checks sea levels when she rents apartments. And yet, I still get pushback from people when I tell them the doomsday logic behind why I go out of my way to spend so much time at the Rockaways and in Red Hook (every bar means less to me than Sunny’s).

I even occasionally stray into the more tourist-clogged areas like Battery Park and the museums around the financial district. I seem to get a lot of “you’re just doing that because you aren’t from here originally” or ear plugging with fingers “lalalalala NYC will survive.”

My question for people in this camp is what sounds better – getting the grieving out of the way now while openly drinking on Rockaway beach, or sulking on a roof while a boat drives past the roof of your warehouse loft? I don’t enjoy the suffering of others enough to 100% love being a person who says “I told you so” when awful things happen, but it does feel better than ego death in the moment every time without fail. And unlike building a bunker, emotionally accepting that NYC is going underwater is a doomsday preparation you can make that is absolutely free of charge. 

Unlike anything this maniacal meatball sells

I’m putting my realist (NOT PESSIMIST) foot down, guys. You don’t need to be a hippie-reared buddhist like me to grow up and accept that everything dies. I get it, we’re all hard wired to fight death. We build entire religions around preparing for death, we worship youth, we inject botox into our faces, we drag actors back out of obscurity to reboot shows we’ve been primarily  leaving on in the background to help us fall asleep for the past 15 years.

I’m not harping on you if you’re into all that (go into my browser history, find the reboots), just pointing out human nature. People want to enjoy things in the moment and don’t want to see them go. Nostalgia is an understandable emotional inclination when the country is literally on fire. But here’s the deal -you *will* take more time to appreciate things and pay more attention to them if you just beat the reality into your head that it’s going to end and it’s more fun to enjoy them now – in full color –  than to reminisce later on a nostalgia YouTube show.

Or VH1’s hit new “I love the time before The Great Collapse!”

Don’t let tourists hold the monopoly enjoying everything here. Even if the waterfront isn’t your thing (I actually would laugh at Hudson Yards going underwater), a lot of the sewage treatment plants and various other things needed to keep higher ground areas habitable are also on the water, so look at whatever the hell is in that blast radius too.

Your insanely high payroll taxes are being used to maintain all this shit, so you might as well get out and enjoy everything to whatever extent your personal levels of introversion can handle it. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you regret not having had a chance to say goodbye. This issue that I’m addressing now isn’t your skin losing elasticity. This is the government and other entities proving they aren’t going to pull their heads out of their asses fast enough to fix rising sea levels while the rest of us helplessly flail around literally grasping at straws so we can ban them in favor of paper ones.

futility sucks

Even real estate execs who are aware that Zillow estimates $1 trillion in property loss from sea level rise by the end of the century are still blissfully building waterfront condos.

People will protest my outlook and shuffle their feet talking to me about the 5 miles of sea wall being built in front of Staten Island, the oyster reefs being restored by the Billion Oyster project to mitigate breakwaters (REALLY cool project, check it out), or things like the re-imagined designs of the city to be adapted into a new Venice. But honestly, I still believe that even if everyone woke up and started getting all of this banged out as quickly as possible (they won’t – even climate change deniers can agree that government processes are snail slow), this is all tiny band aids on a gaping wound. The whole situation is making me wonder why Gen Z hasn’t snapped and created a Children of the Corn situation yet. 

“Follow me on TikTok”

Lastly, for the love of God, don’t just kick this reality out of your head in favor of not  “bringing the room down” in conversation. Please.

This isn’t bringing the room down. This is pointing out a gas leak in the room so we can all leave the goddamn room. Optimism is key when you are doing things like trying to reach career goals, but it has no place here. You can’t tack an ideal temperature of the Earth to a fucking vision board. You don’t have to run around with signs and bullhorns screaming about the end of the world at all times but there’s no need to delude yourself in the name of politeness either. 

I will agree on one thing: NYC will, to an extent, survive. But I believe that survival will just be moving to higher ground. The wealthy always figure out how to set up camp on more desirable land, always have, and always will, and New Yorkers are absolutely stubborn enough to stay on this rock until there’s only a half mile of it left. But even if I’m completely wrong, accepting impermanence isn’t hurting me.

All it’s doing is making me appreciate everything more. And if I’m wrong, guess what? You can absolutely come up to me in 2050 with “I told you so” and I will look back at my life and think about all my Rockaway beach time I clocked, shrug, and continue getting drunk at Sunny’s. Call me a downer all you want.

If you need me, I’ll be enjoying everything near sea level.  

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