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:
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.