The last few years have sometimes been referred to as the “Pyrocene Age” because of the way the climate crisis has fostered an abundance of wildfires. This year has seen more than its share of those fires, including the vast number of fires in Canada that turned skies dull orange and filled the air with smoke across large areas of the United States.
But this has also been a year that could be called the “Hydrocene” because it has been marked with jaw-dropping and devastating floods from Europe and Asia to Africa and South America. As the world warms, it’s not just the oceans that are rising. Warmer air holds more water. Warmer seas feed more water into the air. And a slight shift in local conditions can cause that water to fall back to earth with catastrophic consequences.
On Friday, it was New York City’s turn in the barrel as a storm brought rainfall of 1 to 2 inches per hour to the region. And the images are a disturbing glimpse of things to come.
This isn’t the first time New York City has faced intense rainfall or the resulting floods. In 2021, Daily Kos’ Laura Clawson reported on flooding that came in the wake of Hurricane Ida. That storm brought record rainfall to the city and resulted in at least 14 deaths.
An ecologist who has studied the area for more than 20 years wrote in The New York Times, “We might think we have dominion of the land, but our power is nothing compared to the glaciers that shaped New York or the climate change that is taking shots now. What to do? The truth of it is, some people are going to have to move.” This is a city built on a series of low-lying islands, many of which were crossed by streams or partially covered in marshes that have now been built over. High-rainfall events drive home the simple truth that the water has to go somewhere, and right now, that somewhere is into city streets.
A report issued by the city in 2021 warned that storm-related extreme weather events are “the new normal.”
Increasingly, these extreme weather events are the new normal: part of an undeniable climate crisis that stretches across our entire nation, from droughts in the Southwest to raging wildfires on the West Coast. Climate change isn’t a far-off threat. It is here, it is real, and it is taking lives.
The climate crisis is making itself clear to New York City again. And maybe the only thing to be thankful for is that this flood is less severe than many others in this year of the Hydrocene Age.
But even if New York City isn’t facing the level of destruction seen elsewhere in the world this year, this is one helluva warning. The water has to go somewhere, and more water is on the way.