Imagining a New York City Ravaged by Climate Change

  • 2017-05-18
  • Curbed New York

In the centuries since its founding, New York City has been destroyed countless times. It has been inundated by tsunamis, frozen in a new Ice Age, crushed by atomic-age monsters, and left abandoned as a playground for inmates, zombies, apes, and aliens. Each of these fictional catastrophes, presented in a book or film, reflected the fears of its times, but now the city faces one of its most serious challenges, with authors, artists, urban planners and scientists sharing a common vision of a future that will be shaped by cataclysmic floods, storms, and sea level rise.

“America’s writers and imagemakers have pictured New York’s annihilation in a stunning range of ways…. No city has been more often destroyed on paper, film, or canvas, and no city’s destruction has been more often watched and read about than New York’s,” writes Max Page in his 2008 book The City's End: Two Centuries of Fantasies, Fears, and Premonitions of New York's Destruction. “But destruction of the environment—soiling our own nest—took greater hold on the imaginations of writers and filmmakers. Nature as New York’s destroyer is one of the most persistent of themes.”

The latest genre to focus on New York City’s destruction at the hands of Mother Nature is the newly emerging field of “cli-fi,” or climate fiction. Several recent cli-fi novels have explored the ways climate change could drastically damage the city’s landscape.

The newest of these books is New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson, one of the deans of modern science fiction, who presents a future where the glaciers have melted and the city has been flooded by 50 feet of water. As it turns out, this vision of the post-apocalyptic city is not much different than today.