Climate change is happening in New Jersey, and some of its impacts are already occurring: warmer summers, more days of extreme rainfalls, and increased frequency and intensity of floods due to rising sea levels.
Hoping to kick off a statewide dialogue to fashion a comprehensive strategy for climate-change policy, Rutgers University and the New Jersey Climate Adaption Alliance gathered thought leaders at Duke Farm yesterday to begin hashing out strategies to deal with global warming and its consequences.
“Someday soon, someone is going to ask, ‘So what is the plan, guys?’ ‘’ said Michael Catania, a co-chair of the alliance. “It is time for our leaders to lead,’’ repeating a comment made by former Gov. Thomas Kean more than six years ago.
About two-dozen former state officials, academics, and nonprofit leaders have endorsed a list of options that could significantly curb greenhouse-gas emissions contributing to climate change. Theyto consider some as a way to adapt to and avert some of the worst effects of climate change.
The actions range from curbing emissions from power plants and vehicles, to reducing energy consumption, to increasing reliance on renewable sources of electricity, such as solar and offshore wind.
‘’Climate change is real; it is happening,’’ said Anthony Broccoli, co-director of the Rutgers Climate Institute. “We are going see more record temperatures in the years to come.’’
With the fifth anniversary late next month of Hurricane Sandy, a storm that devastated large areas of the state, much of the discussion focused on whether the state is prepared to deal again with a storm of that magnitude.
Indeed, as the climate changes, the state has seen an increase in heat-related illnesses and more pediatric Emergency Room visits, according to Dan Fatton, executive director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council.
“It is beginning to affect public health here in New Jersey,’’ Fatton said, adding the most vulnerable populations are most at risk.
“Seniors in New Jersey remain incredibly vulnerable to power loss and flooding in their homes,’’ said George DiFerdinando Jr., an adjunct professor of epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health. Many are not assured of finding shelter in those events.
Others echoed warnings that neither the state nor the region is yet prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change, including figuring out what it will cost to adapt to and mitigate new conditions.
“We don’t have a budget. We don’t have a plan,’’ said Rob Freudenberg, director of energy and environmental programs for the Regional Plan Association. The organization plans to lay out such a program within the month, Freudenberg said.
“The way we get funding now is to have a catastrophe strike,’’ he noted, saying the region needs to take a serious look at how its coastlines are managed.
Others were more optimistic. Sen. Bob Smith, a Democrat from Middlesex County and chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, said legislative staff is working on a package of bills to address climate change, including measures to promote the use of electric vehicles. Transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in New Jersey.
“We’re ready for an environmental governor,’’ Smith said.
But former Gov. James Florio cautioned, “there are no painless options. Nothing is for nothing. People can handle that.’’