When the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit the region, it brought devastating flooding and caused the deaths of at least 13 people in New York City, was a stark reminder about how much our infrastructure—and our elected officials—are unprepared for the climate crisis. But of course this isn't just a NYC problem, something that became very apparent to Dutch photographer Kadir van Lohuizen when he traveled across the globe over the last decade taking photos to illustrate the dramatic effects of rising sea levels.

Van Lohuizen's work—collected in the book After Us The Deluge: The Human Consequences of Rising Sea Levels—is the subject of Rising Tide: Visualizing the Human Costs of the Climate Crisis, an exhibit at the Museum of the City Of New York on display through January 2022. Through photographs, video, drone images, and sound, van Lohuizen explores the effects of climate change in places such as Greenland, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Fiji, Amsterdam, Panama, Miami, and various New York City neighborhoods. 

Van Lohuizen told Gothamist he started work on this project back in 2012 while in the midst of visually investigating contemporary migration in the Americas, when he encountered people who were already willingly relocating because of rising sea levels.

"That was the first time I encountered that this was already an issue now, not a future generations issue," he said. "I thought, if it's happening there, it must be happening elsewhere—not only far away, it's also happening close to home, whether in the U.S. or Netherlands. Basically, I really wanted to show that this was not a problem we only affiliate with places like Bangladesh and the Pacific, but it's also happening in Miami and the Meadowlands. The climate crisis doesn't make a distinction between rich and poor."

A photo of king tide, the highest predicted tide of the year, in Miami Beach the water comes up over a poorly maintained seawall and through the drainage system into the street.

During king tide, the highest predicted tide of the year, in Miami Beach the water comes up over a poorly maintained seawall and through the drainage system into the street. But even well-built seawalls cannot prevent another source of flooding: water seeping through the porous limestone on which the city is built.

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During king tide, the highest predicted tide of the year, in Miami Beach the water comes up over a poorly maintained seawall and through the drainage system into the street. But even well-built seawalls cannot prevent another source of flooding: water seeping through the porous limestone on which the city is built.
Kadir van Lohuizen / NOOR

One challenge was figuring out how to visualize something that isn't necessarily visual yet, but is already affecting people long before there is permanent flooding—whether through the aforementioned relocating, people unable to grow crops, or the spread of unsafe drinking water. He relied on aerial shots from drones to offer a higher perspective on the fragility of coastlines, and tried to shoot at high tide in order to photograph a more accurate depiction of what the future holds.

The resulting book and exhibit can be frightening in its depiction of a world that refuses to deal with a crisis already underway, but it also depicts “the fine line between the power of nature and human hope,” as Henk Ovink, the Netherlands’ special envoy for international water affairs, writes in the book’s introduction.

The bigger challenge has been trying to convince people in the western world how serious an issue this is now. He believes that people in the western world are, on some level, in denial about what's happening.

"We start to acknowledge that things have changed over the last decade, but we're not really active about it, and I wonder a lot how this is possible, because we have all the knowledge, we know what to do but we don't do it," he said. "A vast majority of people are aware something is wrong. You look at fires in the U.S. or the soaring temperatures, or how it's been raining for the first time at the summit of Greenland, storms like Ida, and floods in Belgium and Germany and Netherlands not so long ago, so we know."

"Maybe because we don't want to come out of our comfort zones, we think it's not going to be as bad as it's being predicted," he added. "If we talk about climate, we don't seem to want to look at the worst case scenario, we don't seem to want to adapt to that thought. We have to change things to our personal lives, like air travel, but it's very inconvenient to think about it. It's very inconvenient for any government to think about it."

In terms of worst case scenarios, a major study from 2019 found that sea levels may be on track to rise by 6.6 feet by 2100—more than double the figure climate scientists previously projected—and could displace millions of New Yorkers from their homes. Van Lohuizen thinks Superstorm Sandy was a serious wake-up call, but still not enough to rattle people out of complacency.

"New York is taking measures, but at the same time, the masterplan to protect New York basically only takes Manhattan into account," he said. "The Big U plan, the way it's calculated is to protect from another Sandy, but it doesn't calculate if the sea level rises by a few feet, which is not a question if it will happen, it's a question when it will happen. That leaves the question open what's going to happen to all the other boroughs, like Brooklyn or Queens—it seems so far those areas will remain unprotected, there's no plan."

Overall, van Lohuizen said it's understandable that people feel powerless at times in the face of this crisis.

"It scares me, I'll be honest about it," he told Gothamist. "I think we should change our attitude. We owe it to the next generations. Right now, we are the generation who'll probably live the best life from previous generations, but we know what's happening, and if we're failing to act, it's not only stupid, it's [suicidal]. If you're born today, it's not looking very bright in 50 years."

Yet, there is one thing that still gives him hope: "I think what's helpful is the younger generation is very aware of what's happening. I met a lot of young people around the world who are telling their parents what to do, not to fly, not to drive cars to the supermarket or whatever. My generation—forget about it. I don't think they're going to change the world in this respect."

The Museum of the City of New York is located at 1220 5th Avenue, at 104th Street. It is currently open Friday-Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can get ticketing info for the exhibit right here. On Sunday, October 17th, there will also be a free, outdoor event they describe as a "day of learning, action, and art inspired by the city’s thriving climate activism scene," and featuring "some of the city’s most inspiring climate activists."