This is a story about an all-American machine, and two women who are leading an unusual effort to prepare our cities for climate change.
The machine is known as a Heavy Hitter. It's an aluminum box about the size of a bulldog that rides on 10-inch diameter pneumatic wheels. Push the Heavy Hitter forward, and a spring-loaded gizmo inside sifts a dusty line of powdered chalk onto the ground below.
You've probably seen one of these bad boys being used for its intended purpose: to draw the lines on a baseball field. But back in 2007, an artist named Eve Mosher found another use for a Heavy Hitter: She used it to transcribe a line from a map onto the streets of New York. The line marked 10 feet above sea level, tracing areas of the city that would be flooded in a serious storm surge -- an event made more likely by climate change.
The project, which Mosher called HighWaterLine, got a smattering of media attention -- and she won some proof-of-concept in 2012, when Superstorm Sandy pushed floodwaters right up to the line in some spots. But the most remarkable thing was the buzz it generated on the streets. People came out of their houses to see what she was up to, she told me when I wrote about the project in 2011. "Kids followed me around like the Pied Piper."
In the Heavy Hitter, Mosher had found a way to do something that environmentalists and scientists have struggled mightily to do: broach the topic of climate change in a way that made it real for people, right where they lived, and that brought it to them in a non-threatening way. "It wouldn't have worked if I was walking around dressed up as a jellyfish or something," she told me recently. "There's something about pushing a baseball field line machine -- it's odd, but it's not too weird."