Talk about extremes.
In the first nine months of this year, New Jersey suffered record snowfalls, the wettest March on record and a powerful nor’easter that left 157,000 people without power and caused two deaths. Yesterday, the state Department of Environmental Protection extended a drought watch from five northern counties to the rest of the state.
It may not be enough to convince global climate skeptics, but environmentalists, climatologists and other experts said the extreme weather occurring in the Garden State and elsewhere around the world offer persuasive signals to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions here and elsewhere.
“This summer’s record-breaking heat and this spring’s nor’easters were just two examples of how extreme weather causes extremely big problems for New Jersey’s economy and our public safety," said Whitney Larsen, clean energy associate for Environment New Jersey. “Given that unchecked global warming will fuel even more severe weather, we need to stop global warming pollution now."
Larsen called for both state and federal action to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, calling on the Christie administration to refrain from making sweeping changes to New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan, a document that requires the state to dramatically increase use of alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind. The federal government needs to tighten fuel standards for cars and trucks, which are one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gases, Larsen said.
Others called for even more dramatic steps. Paul Falkowski, director of the Rutgers Energy Institute, argued gasoline prices are too low to spur consumers to drive less. He urged the Christie administration to impose a one-cent per month increase in the gas tax over the next two years and urged the federal government to take action to limit emissions from coal-fired power plants, one of the largest stationary sources of greenhouse gases.
“I’m hopeful in the next two years, the U.S. becomes enlightened on these issues that will frame the environment for centuries to come," Falkowski said.
Assemblyman John McKeon, chairman of the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee, also cited cars as an area where policymakers ought to focus their efforts to help curb global warming. He noted New Jersey has adopted California’s low-emission vehicle program, which calls for increased use of hybrid vehicles that run on electricity and gas. “The biggest bang for your buck is with motor vehicles," McKeon said.
“The record temperatures that we experienced in New Jersey this summer has given us a glimpse of what we can expect in the future," said Jim Miller of the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.
As if to underscore that point, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin expanded a five-county drought watch to the entire state yesterday, calling on all residents to voluntarily conserve water because of the unusually hot and warm conditions New Jersey has experienced this summer.
"The drought is deepening and showing no sign of letting up soon, which has made it imperative to take this step now," said Commissioner Bob Martin. "Our scientists have been closely monitoring the water situation and feel this is a necessary measure."
According to State Climatologist David Robinson of Rutgers University, New Jersey is experiencing its warmest summer (June - August) on record since weather data has been kept, starting in 1895. This followed the warmest spring on record. Every month since March has ranked in the top 10 of all time for heat, he said.
At the same time, below-average rainfall has accompanied the heat. The preliminary average for summer precipitation stands at 8.35 inches statewide, making it the 10th driest summer of all time.
The Environment New Jersey report projected such a pattern in the future, saying the largest increases in heavy rainfall in the U.S. are projected to occur in the Northeast and Midwest, with most of that occurring in the winter and spring, a trend that occurred this past year.