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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.




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.

Climate change is looking realer by the minute.

And with a growing recognition of the risks that climate change poses to the global economy, investor communities are taking steps to understand and manage those risks.

So in big news, an investor group announced April 8 of the first steps to set across-the-board sustainability listing standards for all stock exchanges worldwide.

This means that companies would be required to report on eight specific issues: climate change, diversity, employee relations, environmental impact, government relations, human rights, product impact and safety, and supply chain.

If it works, this will dramatically raise investor awareness about environmental, social and governance issues as need-to-know information.

Essentially, this reporting will shine a light on not only what and how much a company makes, but how they do it, and where, by whom, and their impact on the earth as a whole.

Via ceres.org:

Investors Announce Proposal for Sustainability Listing Standard for Global Stock Exchanges

A group of investors today announced a Consultation Paper with recommendations for integrating sustainability disclosure requirements into listing rules for U.S. and global stock exchanges.

The draft recommendations were developed by nearly a dozen investors who are part of the Ceres-led Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR). BlackRock, British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, and the AFL-CIO Office of Investment are among those who participated on the INCR Listing Standards Drafting Committee.

The initiative is part of a growing effort by investors and stock exchanges, including NASDAQ OMX, to make environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosure a consistent requirement for corporate listings on stock exchanges. While several exchanges have adopted their own sustainability listing requirements and guidance, INCR members and NASDAQ OMX have set out to develop a uniform standard that all stock exchanges can use.

Bloomberg’s coverage of this story includes some helpful background as well.

Via bloomberg.com:

Investors Propose Requiring Sustainability Data Disclosure
Investors Propose Data Disclosure Standard For Listing Companies

A global sustainability listing standard would allow investors to compare companies on their environmental, social, and governance performance.

The proposed listing standard would require companies to discuss how they determine which environmental and social issues are material to the company, to provide a link in their annual financial filings to a list of sustainability data, and to disclose information on eight specific sustainability issues or explain why they do not.The eight specific issues on which companies would be required to disclose information are climate change, diversity, employee relations, environmental impact, government relations, human rights, product impact and safety, and supply chain.

Some stock exchanges have already adopted sustainability listing requirements. Companies listed on the Johannesburg stock exchange must disclose sustainability information or explain why they do not.

Sweden requires all state-owned companies to report on corporate responsibility activities, and Denmark requires all listed companies to report on sustainability performance. Companies listed on the London Stock Exchange are required to report their annual emissions data as of April.


Are our Earth’s resource finite, or not?

That’s the crux of the question answered by the Planetary Boundaries work done by the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Their answer is: yes. There are Nine Planetary Boundaries. These limits describe how much we can use, destroy, eat and drink of our planet’s resources until we run the risk of running out. Ruining it for future generations.

This research isn’t comforting to think about. It raises all sort of uncomfortable discussions about fair-shares.

So it’s no wonder that there is a correspondingly robust controversy the role of this science in formulating policy.

Two examples, first one con and then one pro:

Roger Pielkejr, Jr.: “Planetary Boundaries as a Power Grab”

Victor Galaz: “Planetary Boundaries Strawman”

This conversation reminds me of climate change denialism tactics that try to win the argument on semantics over sense.

Since we don’t–and can’t–know for sure that the science is all correct, then we shouldn’t use it to make decisions?

That’s like going after a lion by the tail. Sure, it might look like the easiest place to grab, but you won’t be happy with the results once you’ve got it. Far better to go after the whole lion, if that’s your ultimate game.

“We cannot risk our kids’ futures on the false hope that the vast majority of scientists are wrong.” That’s the sentiment in yesterday’s Climate Declaration announcement.

Besides, what’s the harm if the scientists aren’t entirely right? We’ll have a cleaner, more energy-efficient world?

With the fate of the planet potentially at risk, we can’t waste time on inches and tails. We need to go for the whole lion.

A picture’s worth a thousand words.

Here’s a lovely use of an infographic to tell the CO2 story.

It covers the what, how much, by when and so what questions compellingly and with imagination.

Via the beautiful minds at informationisbeautiful.net:

How many gigatons of CO2?….









Double click for bigger.

Simple stories help us understand.

The more complex your issue is, the more you need a simple story.

Which might be why Storytelling is so hot in Sustainability communications right now.

As well it should be.

Climate change is the quantum physics, the Abolitionist Movement, the Moon Shot of our time.

Think it can’t be done? Einstein and Lincoln figured out how to boil things down for their audiences.

Even with outlandishly complicated topics. Think E=mc2. And Lincoln’s second inaugural.

So did President Kennedy:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Notice how simple they are?

And yes, I know that life is complicated and sometimes there’s more than one right answer. I get that.

That’s precisely why it’s all the more important that we tell the most important stories simply.

So people know why something is important, how they are part of it, and what they should do.

Simple stories pass the gut check. People can tell that you are telling the truth. (Liars use simple stories too, but that’s another post.)

If you want to learn about really good Sustainability storytelling, check out the creative people at Story of Stuff. Here’s their story:

Changing the way we make, use, and throw away Stuff so that we have a happier and healthier planet.

I heart the heck out of this twitpic they posted recently:


Simple, right?

Story of Stuff  is powered by storytelling firm Free Range,who I heard at the NYC Greenbiz Forum earlier this month.

This is Free Range’s story:

Great stories make great things possible.

Couldn’t agree more. They ran a workshop where we were all encouraged to come up with our own story.

Here’s mine (in process):

Writing for a bluer, greener world.

When you can tell a very simple story, you know who you are, and why you are here.

What’s yours?

Three new Climate Change articles worth your time.

Nutshell: Where things stand, why,  and what to do about it.

1. Where Thing Stand: Worse than we thought

Via grist.org:

Famed climate economist Nicholas Stern: ‘I underestimated the risks’ of climate change

Published in 2006, the “Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change” suggested that climate change would result in a 5 percent drop in the annual gross domestic product in perpetuity, and that stabilizing the climate would itself cost 2 percent — a massive sum.

Last week in Davos, however, Stern suggested that his conclusions were wrong. They were too optimistic. In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: “Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then.”

“This is potentially so dangerous that we have to act strongly. Do we want to play Russian roulette with two bullets or one? These risks for many people are existential.”

2. Why We Aren’t Doing Anything About It

Via CSRwire.com:

Acting As If Tomorrow Matters: Mapping the Obstacles to Sustainability

Habit-The sheer force of existing unsustainable habits — personal, social, organizational, and governmental — reinforced by both lack of urgency and uncertainty about what more sustainable behavior would entail. Essentially, sustainability requires all of us in all of our roles to do things in different and more sustainable ways. To do that, we need to take the time and effort to change something we have done, probably without much thought, for a while.

Unsupportive or hostile law and governance is the second area of obstacles. As many of us are all too aware, the legal playing field is often biased against sustainable alternatives.  Fossil fuels tend to get sustainable vs unsustainable developmentmore, and more permanent, financial support from the federal government — in the form of tax incentives and subsidies — than renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Politics–Political opposition and the growing influence of other countries. In principle, sustainable development is middle ground because it is does not put the environment over development, or development over the environment, but rather emphasizes both equally. But because it is based on a preference for sustainable development over unsustainable development, fossil fuel interests have funded climate change denial campaigns and political candidates who oppose action on climate change.

In practice, these obstacles reinforce each other.

3. What We Might Want to Start Doing

Via treehugger.com:

Why Environmentalists Need to Talk More About the Basics and Stop Skipping Steps

To Protect Nature, We Have to Be More Convincing
If you consider yourself an environmentalist, or green, or care at all about the life-support systems of our blue marble of a planet, one of the best things you can do to help is to convince others of what must be done. This is simple math. One person, even doing their best, usually cannot achieve as much as a group working together. But bringing others on board can be pretty hard. If you’ve tried before, you’ve probably noticed that people fall into three groups: Those that are already on board on one end of the spectrum, those that for various ideological reasons won’t be convinced even by a mountain of evidence on the other, and a large group of open minded but fairly neutral people in the middle.