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Kean Takes Issue With Climate-Change Deniers

Global warming conference paints grim picture of NJ's future -- including shifting weather patterns, coastal flooding, violent storms, and rising smog levels.

Former Republican Gov. Thomas Kean is such a believer in climate change that he is calling on informed citizens to "confront those who don't believe in the science of it for the ignorant people that they are." Speaking before a Rutgers University conference in New Brunswick Tuesday, Kean criticized fellow Republican Gov. Chris Christie, saying it was a "shame" that he pulled New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

RGGI represents an effort by northeastern states to tackle the problem by using a "cap and trade" system, charging companies for polluting emissions but allowing them to buy credits from cleaner firms, thus providing economic incentives to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Christie's decision to pull out of RGGI was highly controversial and was especially disappointing to its backers, who hoped the regional initiative would serve as a successful prototype for a national effort to combat global climate change. His decision also has been criticized by Democrats in the legislature who have sought to enact bills to maintain New Jersey's participation in the program, most often without any Republican backing.

When Christie announced his decision to withdraw from the program this past summer, he conceded manmade activities were contributing to global warming, but dismissed the regional initiative as ineffective and merely a tax on consumers.

Former Gov. James Florio, however, said "we ought to be asking what it's going to cost if we don't do something."

A hotter, wetter New Jersey, with significant increases in ozone and an agricultural climate much like present-day South Carolina, is what is in store for the Garden State over the next 50 years, experts told attendees. Indeed, many of the state's traditional cash crops, notably cranberries, will not be able to flourish here in the future.

The state's agricultural sector is about, $1 billion, not counting related industries such as food processing, said Robin Leichenko of the Rutgers Climate and Environmental Change Initiative. But it accounts for 16 percent of the state's land use, and some of the country's highest per-acre farm productivity, she said.

Cranberries are among the most valuable crops, but many varieties are highly susceptible to rising temperatures. Apples may be replaced by peaches and other southern crops, she said.

New Jersey's tourism industry, as well as its ports and transportation, will also be severely affected by climate change this century.

The state's $35.5 billion tourism industry, said Leichenko, will be particularly hard-hit by continual storms, such as the ones that did so much damage earlier this year. Shore areas, such as Atlantic City and Long Beach Island, are especially vulnerable to floods and rising sea levels. That's a problem for Atlantic City, where "we've seen a little over a foot of sea level rise in the last 100 years," said Anthony Broccoli, a director of the Rutgers Climate and Environmental Change Initiative.

Atlantic City accounts for one-third of the state's tourist industry, with the rest of the Shore supplying another 28 percent, Leichenko said.

Rutgers Economist Joseph Seneca pointed to a photo of Long Beach Island taken by Rutgers colleague Norbert Psuty, which he said should serve as a "wake-up call." It shows how far east Beach Haven remains while natural tidal action has pushed unprotected parkland to the west. But manmade protections for the town also have left the beach narrower and steeper, he said.

The island is vulnerable to being severed by a storm, and areas without jetties and other manmade protections would eventually be washed away, Seneca said. Many inland communities, such as Paterson and Manville, are also susceptible to floods, creating huge issues for homeowners and municipalities.

More heat means more energy in the system. One effect is average higher tides as warmer water expands, growing even higher as glaciers and ice packs melt. Another is more storms at some latitudes as surface water evaporates faster, and the warmer air holds more water vapor. Stronger, heavier storms with higher winds are one outcome.

Short-term projections for the New York metropolitan area show a belt of central New Jersey counties -- Mercer, Middlesex and Monmouth -- facing large increases in smog from higher levels of ozone.

The health effects of global warming are still being studied. For example, the debilitating effects of urban "heat islands" and extended allergy seasons could be felt across society, according to Columbia environmental sciences professor Kim Knowlton.

With the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continuing to increase, New Jerseyans can expect "a month of 100 degree days" later in this century, Melton said. For the New York/North Jersey metro area, heat-related deaths are projected to rise 70 percent by the 2050s, she said.

The real solution to the problem, most agreed, is at the national level, where, somewhat ironically, Kean called upon the Democratic White House to provide leadership. The country cannot afford to have the issue shunted aside in the 2012 Presidential campaign, he said.

A representative of the federal government, Capt. Tony Miller, deputy director of the Navy's Task Force on Climate Change, did speak at the event. The Navy has been closely monitoring the shrinking polar ice caps, with the Arctic Ocean a particular concern, he said.

Rising sea levels will affect Navy facilities around the world, as well as operations, he said. But with limited resources, it is a challenge to budget for that happening, because the effects will not be uniform, he said.

The latest projections have the sea level rising by an average of one meter -- or two -- by the end of this century.

While New Jersey cannot have a significant impact by acting alone, speakers said the state, local communities and private industry can make some plans on their own. Florio, for instance, said the state has had some impact with its surge in solar power, its move toward wind turbines, and its enacting of useful regulations. The latter includes the 1999 law requiring utility companies to invest in green energy sources.

The event was co-sponsored by PSEG, which touted the fact that it has become a leader among utilities in pursuing alternatives to polluting fossil fuels, notably coal and oil, which increase global temperatures.

Ironically, one way to attack the problem, experts noted, is through regional programs like RGGI. Seneca said that when states cooperate they can "push the [national] policy" to include health and environmental damage in the price of using carbon-based fuels, he said.

"We've got to put a price on carbon" that does not ignore the costs to society, Seneca said. Burning fuels such as coal and oil releases more gases such as carbon dioxide, which inhibit the Earth's radiation of infrared heat into space, its natural cooling process.

Despite the lack of a national energy policy that attacks the problem, Knowlton pointed out that communities need to plan for local effects.

While the event attracted past Governors, incumbent Chris Christie and other high-profile members of his administration were missing. But employees of the departments of environmental protection and transportation did attend, and said the state is working on a climate preparedness plan for release next year.

In three decades reporting in New Jersey, Joe Tyrrell has covered everything from Avon to Zarephath, with a particular emphasis on politics and government, the environment and agriculture. He founded the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, which unites civic groups, citizens and journalists in to promote transparency.

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