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Opinion: When Disaster Looms, Doing Nothing Is Not an Option

Aided by climate-change deniers in the administration, Christie and Co. are helping precipitate a global disaster

Credit: Amanda Brown
R. William Potter

"The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"

So warned Chicken Little. But it isn't falling, right?

That about sums up the response of the "climate-change deniers," including key members of the Christie administration. But the climate really is changing.

State policymakers, and for that matter, everyone else, should watch a short video making the rounds on the Internet, entitled "Last Hours."

In 10 short minutes, the video portrays the path we are on. Put simply, the planet could become uninhabitable for almost all life -- including humanity -- if atmospheric temperatures continue their steady rise and reach 10-degrees C above preindustrial levels.

When that happens, it's too late. As the oceans heat up, they will release vast stores of frozen methane gas trapped beneath the seabed. Methane gas is by far the worst greenhouse gas. The result will mimic the Permian Extinction of 250 million years ago, when volcanic eruptions triggered planetary climate change, robbing the oceans of oxygen-producing microscopic life, resulting in the suffocation of 95 percent of all life on earth.

According to scientists, we're on our way to the same fate. They are pleading with us: "There is no time to waste. We must reduce carbon drastically in order to survive."

What's to be done? We in New Jersey can do our part to help stem the tide of these catastrophic climate changes. New Jersey used to be one of the leading states in this endeavor, starting in the mid-1970s, when the state was among the national pioneers in advancing progressive energy policies.

But not any more.

Both Republican and Democratic governors, including the benighted Tom Kean and the much-maligned Jon Corzine, promoted clean and efficient energy development. Under Gov. Corzine and the Democratic-controlled Legislature, New Jersey enacted the Global Warming Response Act. The GWRA set a goal of reducing state greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

At that time, New Jersey also joined with eight other mid-Atlantic and New England states to establish the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative ("RGGI”), which set up a cap-and-trade system for carbon reduction.

Most important of all, the state became a powerhouse of solar energy projects, rapidly vaulting to second place behind only sunny California in renewable energy development.

All that is now being trashed by Gov. Chri Christie and his handpicked leadership at the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). By executive order, Christie terminated the state's membership in RGGI, and since 2009 he has diverted nearly $1 billion of the Clean Energy Trust Fund into the general treasury.

And now, the BPU has submitted a report to state lawmakers -- as mandated by a 2012 law -- on how to prevent recurrent boom-or-bust cycles in solar energy. (To stem the tide of climate change we need a vast expansion of alternative energy sources such as solar.) The BPU's recommendations can be summed up by two words: "Do nothing!"

That's right. Despite solid evidence that solar energy is heading into another bust (after reviving somewhat following the most recent development crash), the BPU is washing its collective hands, and will just let it happen. This avoids responsibility for the future of one of New Jersey's few growth industries during the Great Recession and ignores the crucial role of solar energy in staving off the looming threat of global warming.

While our state regulatory agencies remain frozen, unwilling to do anything that so much as hints at curbing the role of fossil fuels in heating the planet, Christie is hugging voters and kissing babies in Iowa and New Hampshire, during his open pursuit of the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

What's to be done? For starters, let's hope Sen. Bob Smith, a long-standing legislative leader in environmental issues, carries out his promise to implement the GWRA in a bill captioned the "Renewable Energy Transition Act," which includes enforceable targets for substituting energy efficiency and renewable power for 80 percent of electricity generation by the year 2050.

What can you do? Well, for starters there's the September 21 Climate Change March in New York City, planned to coincide with the United Nations' special session on global warming. You can take part in this collective action to avert disaster.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the great civil rights demonstration in Washington, with Martin Luther Kings' "I Have a Dream" speech that transfixed the nation. It may be time for a new citizens army to get out its marching shoes again. Failure is not an option.

R. William Potter is a partner in the Princeton-based law firm Potter and Dickson. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm or any client.

Dr. Clara S. Haignere is a professor of global public health at Temple University.

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