State lawmakers get a wake-up call on climate change

As temperatures and sea levels rise, experts urge action on renewable energy sources.

Another record on the books and this one’s got environmentalists worried. 2016 is now officially the third consecutive hottest year on record. The top 10 hottest years have all happened in the last two decades, according to the international State of the Climate report. With President Trump announcing the U.S. will exit the Paris Climate Agreement, state and local government leaders are scrambling. A joint legislative committee met Thursday to map out New Jersey’s next steps. Senior Correspondent David Cruz reports as part of our ongoing series Peril and Promise: The Challenge of Climate Change.

On a beautiful beach day, it can be easy to let your thoughts drift away from unpleasant things like climate change and rising sea levels, but a joint hearing of the Senate Environment and Energy and Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committees convened to address those very issues in Lavallette, a borough that still has bruises left over from Sandy.

“If there’s any global climate deniers in the room, shame on you,” said Sen. Bob Smith, chair of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. “Something is missing up there. It’s accelerating, and the people of New Jersey are at terrible risk.”

Hearing from a panel of academics and advocates, lawmakers were treated to a sobering assessment of where we are and where we might end up if we don’t get our collective acts together. More frequent and longer heatwaves, more intense and frequent heavy rain, changing global wind patterns and rising sea levels.

That begged the question from Anthony Broccoli, chair of the environmental sciences department at Rutgers University: “What about climate change in New Jersey?”

“Looking back, New Jersey’s average temperature has risen at a rate of just under three degrees Fahrenheit per century, or somewhat faster than the global average,” Broccoli said. “The six warmest calendar years on record have occurred since 1998, with 2012 being the warmest year. The trend towards higher temperatures is expected to continue in the decades to come as the concentration of heat-trapping gases continue to increase,” he added.

What’s more, sea level rise along the New Jersey coast has been more rapid than the global average because the land is sinking at the same time water levels are rising.

“The question is, what are we going to do about it?” asked Edward Lloyd, a trustee with The Fund for New Jersey, which issued a report with some recommendations.

“Advancing clean, homegrown energy is the best way to reduce carbon emissions,” said Lloyd. “New Jersey should rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. We should step up efforts on renewable energy sources, mandating that 80 percent of electricity comes from those sources by 2015, doing more to move ahead with offshore wind, adopting meaningful standards for saving energy. We should stop the diversions from the Clean Energy Fund, and go back to using the money as it was intended for clean energy projects and technologies.”

Lloyd also recommended a moratorium on, and reevaluation of, all pipeline projects, tougher Clean Water Act protections and renewed concentration on fixing our water infrastructure.

“Science doesn’t care what our opinion is,” said Assemblyman Tim Eustace, who chairs the Environment and Solid Waste Committee in the Assembly. “What will happen is going to happen, so our opinions are almost irrelevant. That’s why the experts are here to tell us what’s going on. The horse is out of the barn, so it’s time to stand up and represent the planet.”

So while it may have been a beautiful day at the beach, a couple of blocks away at town hall, the message was act now to make future beautiful beach days possible.

Lead funding for Peril and Promise is provided by Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and Diana T. Vagelos. Major support is provided by Marc Haas Foundation.