Cover of 'The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World', by Jeff Goodell. Graphic: Hachette Book Group

By Jeff Goodell
24 October 2017

(Rolling Stone) – Below is an excerpt from The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World, to be published by Little, Brown on 24 October 2017.

As cities around the world adapt to the harsh realities of climate change, the divide between the doomed and the saved is growing starker. In New York City, the first stage of a barrier designed to prevent flooding in lower Manhattan will break ground early next year. No such barrier is being seriously proposed for, say, Red Hook, a predominately African-American neighborhood that is equally at risk. In Miami Beach, streets are being elevated and LEED-certified condo towers are rising, but in low-income neighborhoods like Miami Shores, you have to walk through shit-filled water every time a big tide arrives. And in Saudi Arabia, billions of dollars are being spent on desalinization machines that can turn ocean water into fresh drinking water, while in Bangladesh tens of thousands of farmers flee because rising salt water has ruined their wells. It’s often argued that climate change is a problem that impacts everyone on the planet; what’s less obvious is that the solutions to climate change are already deepening the divide between the doomed and the saved. In the coming years, that divide will only grow wider, creating what amounts to a climate apartheid.

The best place to see this future taking shape is in Lagos, Nigeria. Nobody knows for sure how many people live in Lagos. The United Nations’ official count is 13 million, but Lagos officials say it’s closer to 21 million. When you are in line at the city’s prehistoric airport, it feels like 30 million. Whatever the most accurate number is, everyone agrees that Lagos is one of the fastest-growing megacities in the world, with a growth rate 10 times faster than New York or L.A. It is also a city that is sharply divided between rich and poor. About 70 percent of the population lives on $1.25 a day or less, while the top two or three percent live behind walls in Beverly Hills–like estates. A good percentage of those people made their money in oil. Nigeria has by far the largest oil industry in Africa, producing, on average, about 2 million barrels of crude a day.

Lagos is a delta city, built around a lagoon, much like Venice. Like most delta cities, it is flat and low-lying, with the majority of it built on land that is less than five feet above sea level. The city’s infrastructure, such as it is, is poorly designed to deal with flooding and storm surges. Beaches are washing away, the sheet-metal seawalls in the harbor are corroding like rusty tin cans. Flash flooding in the summer of 2012 shut down the city for a week. Even a brief rain creates car-wheel-deep lakes in the streets of Victoria Island, one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Flooding is also a grave public health hazard. This is a city of 13 (or 21) million people and no municipal sewage system. In the slums, kids develop rashes and pinkeye after floods, and cholera outbreaks are not uncommon.

In the midst of all this, a new city is rising along the waterfront. It’s called Eko Atlantic, and when I visited in 2017, it was still a work in progress – basically a two-square-mile platform of new land that had been built in front of Victoria Island. When it is finished (or, more accurately, if it is finished – the devaluation of Nigerian currency, as well as other economic factors, has put its future in doubt), Eko Atlantic is where, developers hope, 300,000 prosperous and technologically sophisticated people will live in sleek modern condos, fully equipped with fiber-optic Internet connections, elaborate security systems and a 25-foot-high sea wall protecting them from the attacking ocean. It’s a shiny new appendage to a megacity slum, one that sells itself as a new vision of Lagos – the Dubai of Africa.

The day I visited Eko Atlantic, it was raining, and the streets of Lagos were flooded several inches deep with foul-smelling black water. My taxi pulled up at the sales office, which was behind a gated entry with a security guard. The office was a low, unremarkable building on the edge of Victoria Island, right where the new land began. When I stepped into the lobby, I was greeted by Yuki Omenai, a sturdy-looking Nigerian in his late thirties who was dressed in brightly colored senator, the traditional attire of Nigeria. “Welcome to the future of Lagos,” he said to me in perfect British-inflected English. Omenai, who is from a wealthy and politically connected Nigerian family, explained he has worked as a town planner at Eko Atlantic since 2010, shortly after they started selling building lots on the still unbuilt land.

Omenai led me into a showroom nearby, where the whole development was mapped out on an enormous table. Each lot was marked, each street, each tree. Omenai explained that Eko Atlantic will be a mix of commercial and residential buildings, that it will have its own natural gas power plant, its own water supply, its own schools and, of course, its own security force. On the walls were artistic renderings of what the development will look like – glitzy high-rises, traffic-free streets, wide promenades where people will enjoy the fresh sea air. The showroom reminded me of condo sales offices in Miami, where a beautiful life is imagined for you, if you will just get out your checkbook and put down a deposit.

I pointed to a random plot on the map of the development. It was 6,000 square meters. “How much is that?”

“Eighteen million euros,” he told me.

I pointed to a smaller one – the smallest on the map: 2,500 square meters. “How much is that?”

“Six million euros.”

When I looked a little shocked, he reminded me that this land would be bought by developers who would build condo towers, not single-family homes.

“How many people do you imagine will be living here when the project is completed?” I asked.

“About 300,000,” he told me.

“I didn’t know there were that many rich people in Lagos,” I said.

“Well, there are not. These condos will be bought by middle-class people, working professionals. That is our target audience.” [more]

The Climate Apartheid: How Global Warming Affects the Rich and Poor

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