The List: Ten Warnings About Potential Impact of Climate Change in New Jersey

Scott Gurian | September 22, 2014 | Energy & Environment, The List
According to these reports, now’s the time to act to prevent sea-level rise -- and worse

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Earlier this summer, the Christie administration took steps to formally withdraw from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multistate compact aimed at reducing carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade program. Gov. Chris Christie has previously called the initiative ineffective, “gimmicky” and “a failure,” and he’s said it amounts to nothing more than an unnecessary tax on utility customers. His efforts to withdraw were sharply criticized by environmental groups, who’ve filed a lawsuit forcing the state to go back and accept public comments before officially abandoning the program. Senate

Democrats have taken moves to block the state’s effort to withdraw.

Christie’s public statements on climate change have been mixed over the years. Back in 2010, he told a crowd he was skeptical that humans were responsible for global warming and that “more science” was needed to convince him. The following year, he acknowledged that “climate change is real,” that it was impacting New Jersey, and that “human activity plays a role in these changes.”

But then, asked about the potential role of climate change following Sandy, the governor called it an “esoteric discussion,” claimed it’s above his pay grade, and attacked a questioner for being a member of what he called the liberal media.

Environmentalists have also pointed out that discussion of sea-level rise, climate change, and global warming are conspicuously absent from many official state documents pertaining to the Sandy recovery.

Among scientists, however, there’s little doubt about the risks New Jersey faces in the coming decade. From the “don’t say we didn’t warn you” department, here’s a list of 10 significant studies and research papers detailing some of those threats.

1. U.S. National Climate Assessment

Released last spring, this federal report warning about the future effects of climate change across the country includes a section focusing on the expected impacts on New Jersey and the northeastern part of the country. Among the specific concerns it highlights are the region’s aging infrastructure, which could be stressed by continuing severe weather and droughts. The report notes that heat waves in the state are expected to increase in frequency, intensity and duration. In addition, it says that sea level-rise along the coast is expected to exceed the global average due to local land subsidence.

2. Resilience. Preparing NJ for Climate Change: Policy Considerations from the NJ Climate Adaptation Alliance

This paper prepared by a group of policymakers, academics, NGOs, and business leaders from across the state identifies a number of vulnerabilities and issues nearly 50 recommendations for making the state more resilient to climate change in six key areas: agriculture, coastal communities, built infrastructure, natural resources, public health, and water resources. The report calls on New Jersey to incorporate consideration of future climate predictions into long-term planning, budgeting, and decision-making, and it recommends that the state once again pursue opportunities to participate in multistate initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (like RGGI).

3. New Jersey and the Surging Sea

Climate Central’s analysis finds that close to 300,000 New Jersey residents live less than five feet above the high-tide line, and are thus at particular risk of rising sea levels. What’s more, a quarter of these people live in just three zip codes in Atlantic City, Hoboken, and Wildwood.

The study notes that the annual chance of extreme coastal floods in Northern New Jersey has risen by 50 percent over the past hundred years and could reach historically unprecedented levels by the end of this century.

4. Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States

Much of the research for this report — whose cochairs include former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson — was led by Rutgers climate scientist Bob Kopp. Though it provides an assessment of the threats to the entire country, the section focusing on the Northeast does include some sobering predictions for New Jersey. By the year 2100, it says, the state could see dozens of days each year with temperatures soaring above 95 degrees. And those increasingly hot summers could have big impacts on electricity demand, mortality, and labor productivity

5. Assessing the Costs of Climate Change in New Jersey

Among the likely victims of climate change cited in this 2008 paper from the National Conference of State Legislatures and the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Environmental Research is New Jersey’s tourism industry, which will be affected by more severe storms, beach erosion, and the threat of regular flooding. By the end of the century, the study notes, Atlantic City is predicted to flood to the current 100-year flood level every one to two years on average. The change in weather patterns could also prove costly to the state’s transportation infrastructure, shipping ports, and agriculture industry.

6. Economic Vulnerability to Climate Change in Coastal New Jersey

This research study authored by a group of Rutgers and CUNY professors drew on interviews conducted with stakeholders in Ocean County both before and after Sandy to highlight a series of economic stresses caused by changing weather patterns. The study brought several unexpected vulnerabilities to light. For example, participants were surprised by how much damage the power grid sustained, and they found themselves unprepared for such long-term outages. In addition, prior to the storm, much of the concern was focused on how elderly and low-income residents would be impacted, but many middle-income homeowners found that they also lacked adequate insurance coverage or savings to repair their damages.

7. State of the Climate: New Jersey 2013

The Rutgers Climate Institute notes in this report that the statewide average temperature in 2012 was the highest in 118 years of recordkeeping and that nine of the 10 warmest calendar years on record have occurred since 1990. At the same time, precipitation has increased, though much of this has come in the form of heavy downfalls and winter storms. Sea levels also continue to rise. These continuing trends will have detrimental impacts on public health, as allergy seasons expand, as well as on coastal fisheries, the report says.

8. Future Sea Level Rise and the New Jersey Coast: Assessing Potential Impacts and Opportunities

A 2005 Princeton University study that looked at flooding and coastal inundation over the next century recommended a gradual withdrawal of development from the most sensitive areas of the coast. The study also warns that sea-level rise could threaten the state’s water supply, since advancing salt water contaminates freshwater resources. In addition, the changing climate could spell trouble for natural wildlife habitats, including the homes of many threatened and endangered species.

9. Building Coastal Resilience: Using Scenario Planning to Address Uncertainty and Change

This report issued by the Regional Plan Association in the aftermath of Sandy considers four possible scenarios of how the future could unfold, based on how officials in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut metropolitan region respond to the threats of climate change. It also includes a thorough explanation of the various sorts of “coastal adaptation strategies” that can be employed, including dunes, bulkheads, levees, building elevation, floodproofing, and strategic retreat from the shoreline.

10. Meeting NJ’s 2020 Greenhouse Gas Limit: NJ’s Global Warming Response Act Recommendations Report

Unlike all the other reports and papers on this list, this one was actually written by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection itself, in 2009 under then-Governor Jon Corzine. It was released pursuant to a law state legislators had passed two years earlier that would have required New Jersey to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by the year 2020 and 80 percent below 2006 levels by the middle of the century.

“Not only does climate change threaten New Jersey’s shoreline and ecology, but the socioeconomic impacts of climate change stand to be profound and costly,” acting DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello wrote in his cover letter to Corzine. But just a few weeks later, Christie became governor. He closed the DEP’s Office of Climate Change and Energy, eliminating funding for carrying out the Global Warming Response Act.