NYT: Climate Change Causing Mexico City to Sink; But It Has Been Sinking for Generations
I often recount the anecdote about my dad and I trying to drive from our Mexico City hotel to the vast marble 19th century Palace of Fine Arts in 1974, and finally finding a six-lane road leading to the front steps. But then all six lanes were suddenly filled with traffic coming at us and the cop standing under where the one way street sign should have been was waving us over, and telling us a long story about how we’d have to go to jail for a long time unless we reached an arrangement. Which turned out to be a $5 bill.
Okay, but a side note of relevance is that the steps leading to the marble edifice used to go up, but by 1974 they went down because the first floor had sunk into the mud of the lakebed Mexico City is built on due to that’s where Aztec shamans had spotted an eagle sitting on a cactus eating a snake.
Similarly, the Basilica of Guadalupe was declared unsafe due to sinking and tilting in the 1970s and a copy built next to it.
But, according to the NYT, the specific and general sink-into-the ground cruddiness of Mexico City is due not to poor town planning, or to corrupt officials, or it being overpopulated, much less it being overpopulated with Mexicans.
By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN, Photographs by JOSH HANER
FEB. 17, 2017
When the Grand Canal was completed, at the end of the 1800s, it was Mexico City’s Brooklyn Bridge, a major feat of engineering and a symbol of civic pride: 29 miles long, with the ability to move tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater per second. It promised to solve the flooding and sewage problems that had plagued the city for centuries.
It still is, faster and faster, and the canal is just one victim of what has become a vicious cycle. Always short of water, Mexico City keeps drilling deeper for more, weakening the ancient clay lake beds on which the Aztecs first built much of the city, causing it to crumble even further.
Much is being written about climate change and the impact of rising seas on waterfront populations. But coasts are not the only places affected. Mexico City — high in the mountains, in the center of the country — is a glaring example. The world has a lot invested in crowded capitals like this one, with vast numbers of people, huge economies and the stability of a hemisphere at risk.
One study predicts that 10 percent of Mexicans ages 15 to 65 could eventually try to emigrate north as a result of rising temperatures, drought and floods, potentially scattering millions of people and heightening already extreme political tensions over immigration.
The effects of climate change are varied and opportunistic, but one thing is consistent: They are like sparks in the tinder. They expose cities’ biggest vulnerabilities, inflaming troubles that politicians and city planners often ignore or try to paper over. And they spread outward, defying borders.
As Arnoldo Kramer, Mexico City’s chief resilience officer, put it: “Climate change has become the biggest long-term threat to this city’s future. And that’s because it is linked to water, health, air pollution, traffic disruption from floods, housing vulnerability to landslides — which means we can’t begin to address any of the city’s real problems without facing the climate issue.”
There’s much more at stake than this city’s well being. At the extreme, if climate change wreaks havoc on the social and economic fabric of global linchpins like Mexico City, warns the writer Christian Parenti, “no amount of walls, guns, barbed wire, armed aerial drones or permanently deployed mercenaries will be able to save one half of the planet from the other.”