Rutgers’ Scientists Challenge Christie’s Skepticism on Climate Change

Environmentalists organize forum on global warming, worried that NJ may back away from commitment to clean energy

Gov. Chris Christie may be on the fence about whether humans are causing global warming, but three Rutgers professors harbor no doubts about climate change.

“There is no honest argument against human climate change,” said Paul Falkowski, a professor at the Institute of Marine & Coastal Sciences, speaking yesterday at a forum on global warming in the Statehouse Annex, sponsored by Environment New Jersey and other environmental organizations.

“In fact, humans are causing climate change,” echoed Alan Robock, another Rutgers professor and lead author of the ongoing Fifth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “There is no other credible explanation for the warming going for the last century.”

Climate Modeling

At the forum, organized in response to comments made by the governor last month at a town hall meeting in Toms River, the professors conceded the climate models used to predict global warming are not perfect, but given the data and information already gathered, the time for action is now.

“Even though the climate models are imperfect, we’ve got to move forward,’’ Robuck said.

The professors and environmentalists worry that Christie’s words and, in some cases, his actions raise doubts whether New Jersey is going to follow through on steps already taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Asked whether humans are causing global warming, Christie responded: “I’m skeptical. I’d be honest with you, I don’t know. And it’s probably one of the reasons why I became a lawyer and not a doctor or an educator or scientist. Because I can’t figure this stuff out. But I would say at this point, that has to be proven and I’m a little bit skeptical.”

Christie was invited to attend the forum but did not, although members of his staff did. Robert Marshall, an assistant counsel, declined to comment.

Carbon Footprint

As worrisome as the governor’s skepticism is, his actions also disturb those seeking action on global climate initiatives. Falkowski noted mass-transit costs have increased under Christie’s tenure (which means fewer people ride trains or buses, relying instead on their cars). Christie also has expressed concerns about the cost of a regional initiative aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions. “That’s the wrong message to send if you want to reduce your carbon footprint,” Falkowski said.

In his first year in office, Christie lobbied to build wind farms off the New Jersey coast and opposed efforts to open the waters to offshore oil drilling, stands that won praise from environmentalists. But he also diverted more than $400 million in clean energy funds and money for energy efficiency to help balance the state budget, steps that drew harsh criticism from the same groups.

“Clearly, it is important that top leaders in the state be willing to move forward with policies to fight climate change,” said Dena Mottola Jaborska, executive director of Environment New Jersey.

Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, believed Christie’s comments were aimed at shoring up his political standing in the Republican party. “We believe this calculated move on the part of Christie to become a global-warming skeptic is political. It’s a deliberate move to the right — against science and contrary to the best interests to the people of New Jersey.”

While the forum sought to change the Governor’s view, it did not seem to succeed with skeptics who showed up at the event. Paul Saunders, a Pennsylvania resident, who frequently challenged remarks of the three professors, said the debate was not balanced.

“They cherry-picked three scientists who represent the alarmists’ view,” he said after the event. “They did not have anyone who questions the science. Mother Nature always slaps humans’ arrogance.’’

Robuck dismissed the skeptics. “I’ve heard 100 arguments against climate change,” he said. “They’re all fallacious.”