ENVIRONMENT

Climate change experts assess NJ’s future

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Strategies to limit the effects of climate change. That was the goal of a statewide conference held to assess how prepared we are to handle it. What policy decisions could slow it. And what could happen if we don’t. Senior Correspondent Brenda Flanagan reports on Peril & Promise: The Challenge of Climate Change.

George DiFerdinando sounded the alarm at a New Jersey conference of climate change experts. The Rutgers School of Public Health professor says the number one cause of emergency room visits after Sandy wasn’t injuries — it was home-bound seniors who didn’t have electricity for oxygen and had nowhere else to go.

“The seniors in our populations, five years after Sandy, remain incredibly vulnerable in New Jersey to power loss and water damage to their homes,” said DiFerdinando. “New Jersey, five years after Sandy, does not have an effective regional and statewide sheltering plan. So, your aunts and uncles, mothers and fathers, are not assured of sheltering if they lose power or get flooded out.”

At the conference, which was sponsored by the Rutgers Climate Institute and the Bloustein School, scientists pointed to the increasingly destructive power of recent hurricanes and connected the dots to a rapidly warming world.

“In a high-emissions, business-as-usual scenario for greenhouse gases, this is what the map will look like by the end of this century,” said DiFerdinando as he pointed to a map showing the number of days above 100 degrees that the country would experience.

A map showing the days above 100 degrees that we are estimated to experience by the year 2100.

 

The audience literally gasped. New Jersey’s mean temperature is rapidly increasing, our ocean level’s steadily rising by 4 mm per year, and that’s bad news.

“It will not take such an unusually powerful storm like Sandy to produce the same kind of coastal impacts,” said Climate Institute Co-director Tony Broccoli.

Residents along New Jersey’s shore can see their future along the Texas and Louisiana coasts.

“If you go to those places, what you’ll see is houses up on pilings and evacuations that happen whenever a storm threatens,” said Broccoli.

“It’s really a question of survival for many people. Like you see in the Caribbean today, that are losing their entire homes and islands to climate change. So, this is what Rob Nixon calls the slow violence of climate change, right?” explained Associate Professor of Management and Urban Policy at the Milano School of International Affairs, Ana Baptista.

“So, we need to make it so it’s something that’s real to people, that people here understand what’s going to happen where they live,” said Marjorie Kaplan, the associate director of the Rutgers Climate Institute.

One survey showed only 43 percent of New Jersey residents think global warming will harm them personally. Planners said state and local officials need to talk to scientists about climate impact and coordinate their response to transportation, health and other critical issues. Keynote speaker Mindy Lubber of Ceres, a sustainability nonprofit organization, emphasized aggressive goals.

“We know what’s going on in Washington, that’s not where we’re going to see the action, we’re seeing it in states. And states are stepping up. They’re competing for new companies, new business. Amazon’s going to make a decision shortly on where that new facility goes. There’s no reason New Jersey wouldn’t be an ideal opportunity. But they’ve got to show they’re willing to lead,” said Lubber.

“Unfortunately and regrettably the Christie administration did pull back.” said Lubber.

A recent poll showed 71 percent of New Jersey residents want the next governor to be a leader on climate change, because they say property and lives are at stake.

Lead funding for Peril and Promise is provided by Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and Diana T. Vagelos. Major support is provided by Marc Haas Foundation and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III.