Opinion: Crunch Time for Climate Change

Michael Catania | November 15, 2010 | Opinion
Gov. Christie is a leader for tough times. It's time he got tough about climate change

Gov. Chris Christie recently said he is not sure if global warming is actually caused by people, adding that “more science” is needed to convince him. A number of Christie’s critics jumped on those remarks, accusing the governor of pandering to the extreme right-wing of his party in order to promote a future bid for the presidency.

Both the governor and his critics missed the point.

It no longer matters if humans have caused global warming. Similarly, it makes no difference if we all agree on what is behind the well-documented aberrations in our weather patterns.

What does matter, especially to a coastal state like New Jersey, is what we are going to do to minimize the impact of climate change before it is too late.

For New Jersey, the stakes are extremely high. Large portions of our coast, including key areas for shore-based tourism and casinos in Atlantic City, could be devastated if even the more moderate projections in the rise in sea level come to pass.

Short-term predictions also include more frequent droughts and floods, greater temperature extremes and more hurricanes and tropical storms. Under even the more optimistic impact models, our children will likely inherit a climate roughly similar to that of Savannah, GA.

According to David Robinson, the New Jersey State Climatologist, “Changes in our State’s climate are likely to impact natural flora and fauna, human health and safety, agricultural productivity, fresh-water resources, tourism, transportation and business and commerce in general.”

Given the results of November’s congressional elections, there’s no point in holding your breath waiting for the passage of federal climate change legislation anytime soon. Whatever response will be mounted to global warming must come from the states or the private sector.

Fortunately, New Jersey has had the foresight to enact the Global Warming Response Act, which commits us to very ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. We also participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (REGGI), a consortium of 10 Mid-Atlantic and New England states that has banded together to address global warming. We have been participating in the REGGI auctions of carbon allowances, which produce significant revenues to help us address climate change.

The revenue generated by these auctions goes into the New Jersey Global Warming Solutions Fund Act. Money in this fund is allocated by law as follows: 60 percent for energy efficiency and renewable energy project loans and grants to businesses and institutions; 20 percent for programs to reduce electricity costs or electricity demand for low and moderate-income residential electricity customers; 10 percent to support local government programs to reduce greenhouse gases; and 10 percent to enhance forest stewardship and tidal marsh restoration, which provide important opportunities to sequester carbon.

So far, so good, especially since these responses to global warming were also designed to provide other benefits as well, like cutting local government’s energy costs, and helping New Jersey’s struggling business sector go green and create new jobs.

Enter the Christie Administration. In March 2010 it used the entire $65 million balance in 2009 and 2010 REGGI funds to balance the state budget. The result: All global warming response activities were zeroed out of the budget overnight, and no one yet knows if and when this funding will be restored. Worse, rumors abound that the Governor is also considering having New Jersey withdraw from REGGI altogether.

Forging a timely response to global warming and the horrendous impact it will likely have on New Jersey, may well be one of the toughest problems we have ever faced. As the saying goes, tough times demand tough leaders, and Governor Christie is obviously nothing if not tough. He has vowed to tell it like it is, regardless of the political consequences, and to give us a different kind of government, one faces up to its problems and does not defer action for short-term political gain.

We are getting very close to crunch time on climate change. The actions we take in the next few years will determine just how bad things will be in the future. Like the infamous Roman emperor, Gov. Christie can fiddle while Rome burns. Or he can seize the opportunity — as he promised during his campaign — to usher in a green future by restoring the global warming response fund, keeping NJ as an active participant in REGGI and by doing the right thing for the state, even if these actions may not be politically correct.