NYC Underwater: Video Imagines the Consequences of a Two-Degree Temperature Rise

James Hansen, professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, former NASA scientist, and the planet’s preeminent climatologist, was among the first to sound the alarm on climate change during his 1988 testimony before Congress. Since then, he has continued to shine a light on the problem through lectures, interviews, TED talks, and his blog. He has warned that a mere 2-degree increase in temperature could result in a sea level rise of five to nine meters by the end of the century, flooding coastal cities and rendering them uninhabitable.

Inspired by Hansen, filmmakers Menilmonde have imagined Manhattan underwater. The French duo‘s previous videos experiment with subtle subversions of the world we experience, and their latest creation, 2°C New York City, is arguably their most powerful to date.

Courtesy of Menilmonde via screenshot from video

Courtesy of Menilmonde via screenshot from video

The three-and-a-half-minute video features haunting images of a desolate city where there is liquid instead of streets; a dense skyline with a population of zero. It evokes the eeriness of I Am Legend, the all-too-real possibility of losing the most vibrant metropolis on earth to willful stupidity. As a reminder of what was, traffic lights continue their red-eyed winking, and LED billboards still shill for Stella Artois, Bud Light, and Toshiba. Underscoring the visuals with a doleful cello is Luke Richards’ “It’s Happening,” a soundtrack that mourns along with us.

According to Menilmonde’s website, the gorgeously rendered water, which shimmers and reflects light as it reacts to the wind’s caress, was achieved through 3D simulation (with 3DSMax) after photoshopping the people out of the image. Admittedly, the impressive scenes include some topographical inconsistencies that push the video from the realm of plausible scientific scenario and into artistic interpretation. Despite that, the message is loud and clear: we must reduce greenhouse emissions, now, or risk losing our urban crown jewels.