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So much bad news.

So bad. And so much of it. About sea level rise and species extinction and massively destructive storms that change lives forever. 400. 

It’s a veritable Pandora’s box of bad.

So much bad that it’s tempting to push it aside.

But just like we teach children, the truth sets free to make different, better choices. Telling our friends and family and customers and colleagues and suppliers the truth about the real, imminent dangers facing humanity is the only way out.

And moreover, this is about respect.

Do I respect myself, and every person I meet, enough to act with integrity? To think beyond my own needs to what they need? And what our children need?

Via sehn.org, authored by the world’s preeminent scholar on the Precautionary Principle, Carolyn Raffensperger:

Why We Should Tell People the Truth About the Environment Even When It Is Bad News

I think unless the people are given information about what is happening to them, they will die in ignorance. And I think that’s a big sin. I mean, if there is such a thing as a sin, that’s it, to destroy people and not have them have a clue about how this is happening.”  Alice Walker

When people find out what I do for a living—addressing climate change, toxic chemicals, and loss of species—they ask me if I am optimistic that things will turn out ok. They ask, do I think there’s a viable future for their kids and their grandchildren? They are asking me for my professional judgment about the state of the world since I live and breathe each new study and every fact.

And my colleagues and allies in the environmental work have the same kinds of discussions about the science of endocrine disruptors, rising levels of carbon dioxide, and the acidification of the ocean. My colleagues say “that’s too negative. Focus on the good news! The solutions! We can’t tell people the bad news because it will turn them off!”

But here’s the deal—we are in deep trouble. Recent data suggest that humans will suffer more chronic debilitating diseases, most of our own making; climate will ricochet from one calamitous weather pattern to another; and frogs and pollinators will not survive the predations of industrial civilization. I write this essay from central Iowa where in 2010 we had record flooding. In 2012 we had record drought. And now in 2013 we have record rainfall and flooding, again.

Here is my list of reasons for why I have come to believe that people need to know the truth about the bad environmental news.

Raffensperger’s closing thought about “looking to the birds” reminds me of the famous Mr. Rogers quote. When asked how to talk to children about horrible things, he said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Remember what’s at the bottom of that box.

Hope.

“Where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.”

 

 

Jersey Strong means more than being ready for the next Sandy.

It’s about being ready to thrive in the coming years, no matter what Mother Nature throws at us.

It’s about taking Sustainability seriously. Going beyond the low-hanging fruit of energy savings and waste reduction. Real sustainability in the era of climate change will be about innovation, growth, and business opportunities.

A new NJDEP initiative aims to do just that.

Bob Marshall, Assistant Commissioner for DEP Sustainability and Green Energy, hosted a meeting today where he introduced a draft proposal for a NJ Sustainable Business Registry.

(The meeting was in Trenton but I attended by webinar. Well done NJDEP.)

The idea is sort of like how Sustainable Jersey offers municipalities a step-by-step action plan for being a greener, more economically successful, and generally nicer place to live.

But for businesses.

The draft being considered is based on the State of Maryland’s “Smart, Green, and Growing” program.

Here are the draft goals for a NJ program:

1. Promote sustainability planning and practices among New Jersey businesses to enhance economic success, environmental protection, and an improved quality of life.

2. Identify and share resources to educate and encourage the New Jersey business community on SROI (sustainable return on investment).

I was happy to hear that this program would be a partnership between NJDEP and the NJ Small Business Development Centers.

And that there was support in the room from Sustainable Jersey, NJ Green Association, the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise at Fairleigh Dickinson University and others.

While it’s still in the beginning planning stages, I feel it’s getting off on the right foot.

For more information, contact the NJDEP Office of Sustainability and Green Energy.

 

 

 

 

Who is making sure New Jersey is ready for the next Sandy?

That’s the question I brought to yesterday’s Climate Change Preparedness in New Jersey: Leading Practices and Policy Priorities conference at Rutgers University.

The conference delivered as promised. The morning and lunch panelists described where NJ and other states stand in preparing for coming climate change impacts on public health, land use, planning, business, and communities. (Answer: Just getting started.)

Experts from past disasters, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and Superstorm Sandy, shared their lessons learned.

The afternoon session I attended explained how an alliance of NJ-focused planning, development, and conservation groups are working together to create a climate change adaptation plan for New Jersey.

My takeaway for the day, from what was said and unsaid, is that the NJ Climate Change Adaptation Alliance has stepped up to fill the leadership and coordination role that I feel the Governor and the NJ DEP should be doing.

(Missing) Elephant in the Room: To the best of my knowledge, there was no one (among 250+ participants) from the NJ DEP or NJ state government.

Word Not Spoken—Mitigation: I asked the following question in my afternoon breakout session: “Why is today’s event focused only on adaptation? And not on mitigation as well or in addition to? Is it because the cow is out of the barn as far as climate change is concerned?”

The session moderator replied that the Climate Change Adaptation Alliance is focused specifically on, well, adaptation. While important, mitigation is outside the scope of this group’s work, she said.

One of the panelists, Tim Dillingham, Executive Director, American Littoral Society, added that increased CO2 is already baked into the atmosphere. Given that, there’s no preventing the effects (temperature effects and sea level rise) that are already happening.

RGGI did not come up in any presentations I heard or in my conversations.

Who’s Not Playing on the Team: All five of the panelists at the afternoon session I attended mentioned the need for State leadership to coordinate and drive climate change adaptation preparedness. Left unsaid: this isn’t happening today.

Dillingham mentioned that New Jersey has the Global Warming Response Act on the books that isn’t being used. (If Matt Polsky hadn’t mentioned this Act recently, I wouldn’t have known what he was talking about. It was a quick aside, so I’m not sure how many people in the room got the reference.)

Presentations & Coverage: As of posting, here are links to the presentations and press coverage:

Agenda and Presentation Links

NJ Spotlight

Atlantic City Press

Notable Quotes and Points:

“Superstorm Sandy is a gamechanger in terms of a broader understanding of Climate Change in New Jersey.” — James H. Hughes, Dean, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy:

“[We formed] the Alliance one and a half years ago because we recognized NJ is a vulnerable place, with a long shore line and older cities. We saw a need to bring people and resources together to plan for the future. Not just respond but plan forward.” — Anne Hoskins, Senior Vice President for Public Affairs and Sustainability, PSEG

75% of NJ Residents Are Concerned About Climate Change: Bloustein School Professor Greenberg shared new survey results. Read the Atlantic City Press’ coverage.

New Rutgers Climate Institute Announced: Just before lunch, Dean Robert Goodman announced that, as of September 1, 2013, two Rutgers climate initiatives (Climate and Society, and Climate and Environmental Science), will merge into a united Rutgers Climate Institute. Creating, he said, a “single portal for all things climate at Rutgers.”

“There will be winners and losers in global climate change.” This idea came up in several presentations, meaning not every habitat or species or location can be saved. “Retreat” of property to higher ground as an adaptation strategy came up a few times. Goals need to be reexamined in light of scientific realities about the changes ahead. This is a concept that is easy to talk about but hard to do. At least it got mentioned even if only on a surface level.

“Find Common Ground & Adjust the Message to Meet Your Audience”: NOAA Director Margaret Davidson’s straightforward style reminded me of Hunter Lovins. She compared Climate Change conversations to golf: you have to play it where it lays. She said, “Senator Inhofe doesn’t get climate but he sure gets drought.” Whether or not people agree on the details, she said, “Something’s going on with the weather.”

“The Poor Always Pay More” I was pleased that the conference made room to address the needs of poor and vulnerable citizens. Two presentations were devoted to Public Health impacts (Michael A. McGeehin) and Environmental Justice issues (Beverly Wright). The “differential effects of weather disasters” means that poor and vulnerable people suffer more and more often. Adaptation plans have to put the needs of these people first.

“Talk About Nature’s Defenses Instead of Ecosystem Services” Another common theme was the wise advice to explain things simply. It makes more sense to talk about how “Nature protects people and property better than anything we can build out of concrete,” rather than “adaptation strategies” or “ecosystem services.”

Presentation Especially Worth Reading: State of New Jersey’s Climate — Professor Tony Broccoli, Rutgers University (Broccoli presentation)

If we aren’t going to get the leadership I feel we need from our State government officials, it’s good to know that the state’s scientists, business leaders, planning and public health experts, conservation advocates, social welfare organizers, and others are already tackling the job.

I’m encouraged that the NJ Climate Change Adaptation Alliance’s work will bring us to a robust and comprehensive state-wide plan. Every state surrounding NJ has one, and we should too.

We need to be ready when—not if—our next Sandy hits.

Catastrophic weather events are bad for business.

Everyone agrees.

Which prompts New York Times economics reportor Eduardo Porter to ask:

If there were one American industry that would be particularly worried about climate change it would have to be insurance, right?

And if insurers are worried, then the reinsurers–the people who back up primary insurers–have reason to worry too.

The whole article is interesting, but I struck by the potential for alliance-building across politicized lines.

Here it is:  For Insurers, No Doubt on Climate Change

But take a look at how the headline is slightly different in the browser bar and link:

Insurers Stray from Conservative Line on Climate Change

See that? This alternate headline zeros in on the point in the article that there are growing interests on the Conservative side of American politics for dealing with climate change. People who think, like I do, that human-caused climate change is the top issue for humanity. And business.

Now, this is still the “Money” argument for climate change action. “It’s in our best interests financially to do something about it, sooner than later.”

My preference is for the “Morals” perspective. “Let’s work together on climate change because it’s the right thing to do for humanity and the species we share Earth with.”

But honestly, I don’t care how we get to climate change common ground.

It’s a pretty good idea, actually to have people in the room who know how to assess, calculate and monetize risk.

Bring on the bankers and insurance professionals and let’s work together.

Here’s what I’ll be doing Wednesday.

WHAT: A day-long conference, “Climate Change Preparedness in New Jersey: Leading Practices and Policy Priorities,” focusing on climate change preparedness and resilience in New Jersey.

In addition, leading practices throughout the United States to enhance climate change adaptation capacity in New Jersey will be discussed.

Hosted by the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance.

It’s a really good line-up of speakers covering the gamut of the ways that a changing climate will impact how we live, work, play, and succeed in New Jersey.

Morning panels will feature nationally recognized experts who will discuss leading practices, innovations and trends for climate change preparedness and resilience for sectors of relevance to New Jersey, like agriculture, coastal communities, natural resources, public health, transportation, utilities and water resources.

Afternoon panelists will include in-state experts who will discuss climate adaptation practices underway in New Jersey. A complete agenda with panelists is available online.

But here’s the weird part.

How come there are no panelists from the NJDEP or the NJDEP SAGE (Sustainability and Green Energy) office?

Who is representing the role that our state government needs to play in helping support NJ Climate Change mitigation and adaptation strategies?

 

“Luck should never be part of your critical planning.”

After Sandy’s floodwaters receded, NYC’s subways were back up running in days. Six months out, NJ Transit is still not fully operational.

How come?

We now know, thanks to diligent reporting, that the NYC MTA had a fully vetted and tested climate change adaptation plan, and that NJ Transit did not.

Via WNYC.org:

How NJ Transit Failed Sandy’s Test

But the fate of NJ Transit’s trains – over a quarter of the agency’s fleet – didn’t just hang on one set of wrong inputs. It followed years of missed warnings, failures to plan, and lack of coordination under Governor Chris Christie, who has expressed ambivalence about preparing for climate change while repeatedly warning New Jerseyans not to underestimate the dangers of severe storms.

The silver lining is my hope that this reporting will help fuel productive conversations about my state’s preparations for dealing with climate change-related events. So that New Jersey is better prepared next time.

Join me at the May 22 New Jersey Climate Adaptation Conference: Climate Change Preparedness in New Jersey: Leading Practices & Policy Priorities.

 

 

 

Measuring wellbeing, like happiness, is complicated.

But in the spirit of Alex Steffan’s “dark grey paint,” the people who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of people who are doing it.

The Australian government stepped up and announced the first nationwide benchmarking Sustainability report on May 9. The report canvasses trends in environment, society, economy and collective wellbeing.

What I like about it is that the authors don’t shy away from measuring the hard stuff. They shine light on ideas that usually go unreported in balance sheets and State of the Union addresses. Ideas like wellbeing and the health of natural ecosystems often slip through the cracks of conveniently concrete numbers and census choices.

And can I tell you how much I love that Australia has a Sustainability Minister? His whole job is to make sure the country thrives today while planning for future generations to have the same chance.

Via Theaustralian.com.au:

Sustainability Council’s First Report Out

Sustainability Minister Tony Burke said the 264-page tome offered a comprehensive set of indicators that could give “a sense of how we were doing, generation to generation”.

The government-funded report does not make specific recommendations but examines trends in Australia’s environment, society, economy and collective wellbeing.

Mr Burke said he hoped the biannual report would come to be treated much like job growth or GDP figures.

“One of the things we were determined to make sure of was that we would eventually get to the point where people would follow sustainability indicators as closely as they would follow economic indicators,” he told the launch.

When you start to find ways to measure more things that matter, the result is a richer, more nuanced picture of what you have in front of you. From there, you can make it better.

 

If you don’t ask, the answer’s always no.

But when you do, sometimes, it’s a surprising yes.

That’s what I thought when I read the results from the First Annual Survey of New Jersey Business Sustainability survey. A group of state researchers  asked New Jersey business owners about their Sustainability practices.

The survey also asked, by keying in on motivations, whether business owners give a darn and more importantly, why.

The answer: yes. And more surprisingly, not for self-interested reasons.

The survey’s key finding is that NJ business owners are incorporating Sustainability practices into their business because it’s the right thing to do.

Via the wonderful earthpeopleco.com, authored by Matt Polsky:

What the First Annual Survey of New Jersey Business Sustainability Tells Us

The two strongest reported sustainability motives were a belief that it is the right thing to do and potential cost savings, with over 85% reporting at least a moderate amount of, and over 61% a great extent of influence. Other strong sustainability motives for which over 75% of respondents reported at least a moderate extent of influence included satisfying customers’ interests, potential to improve image and reputation, fostering a healthy society, and satisfying regulatory demands.

Doing well by doing good isn’t something new

It’s our heritage as Americans. As New Jerseyans.

We pull our weight, and then some. Always have, always will.

Trenton Makes, The World Takes.

So when it comes to doing the right thing in business, I’m not surprised that the state’s business owners have the bigger picture in mind.

With better information about what business leaders are doing today, and why, we have a baseline from which to launch meaningful, relevant education, support and resource programs.

All we had to do was ask.

Green Shift: 400

May 9th, 2013 | Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Shift - (0 Comments)

This happened today.

Via theguardian.co.uk:

Global Carbon Dioxide in Atmosphere Passes Milestone Level

For the first time in human history, the concentration of climate-warming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has passed the milestone level of 400 parts per million (ppm). The last time so much greenhouse gas was in the air was several million years ago, when the Arctic was ice-free, savannah spread across the Sahara desert and sea level was up to 40 metres higher than today.

 

 

 

Just go read this.

Via alexsteffan.com:

Dark Grey Paint

If you want to try to change the world, you will inevitably encounter the guy with the bucket of dark gray paint.

This is the guy who in the middle of any discussion of any new proposal, innovation, plan or solution demands that everyone in the room revisit how fucking horrible the reality of the problem is. Working on an idea for clean energy as climate action? He’s there to tell you about starving polar bears you won’t save. Working on imagining a new public health program in a poor country? He’s there to remind you of the sick babies who’ll die anyway. Working on a hunch about a more sustainable product design? He’s there to remind you of the dark mountains of toxic trash that will pile up in China despite your efforts. You’re working on envisioning your contribution to the world as vividly as possible, and splash!

Dark gray paint.

I believe that this is how the world changes.

Not with a bang. But with the inspiration that it can.