MAY 2020

Climate Change in New Jersey: A Brief Introduction

Climate change is real. It’s happening now. And it’s affecting New Jersey.

The effects of climate change are being felt around the world, and New Jersey is no exception. Residents of the Garden State are experiencing heavier rains, warmer temperatures, and more coastal flooding, and scientists expect these trends to continue through this century.

Climate change impacts will touch virtually all aspects of life in New Jersey and will be especially challenging to the elderly, the disabled, low-income people, certain communities of color, and other vulnerable populations. Longer, hotter summers will exacerbate health conditions such as asthma, heat stress, and allergies, and diseases carried by ticks and mosquitoes may become more common.

Infrastructure – already stressed by age and heavy use – will be taxed by severe weather events, heat, and precipitation, as will industries such as agriculture that depend on natural resources. And because business in New Jersey is linked to global markets, our economy is prone to climate-related disturbances well beyond our borders.

WARMING AND PRECIPITATION
Warming is one of the principal indicators of climate change, and, broadly speaking, New Jersey has followed the global trend. The annual mean temperature in New Jersey over the last century has increased 2.9°F. In general, summers are longer and hotter. Winters are shorter and warmer. The 13 warmest years have occurred since 1990; 2012 was the warmest year on record.

Precipitation patterns have changed, too. Although precipitation varies year to year, total precipitation has trended upward 2.9 inches per century since about 1900, and 2018 was the wettest year on record. There are more intense downpours and a greater risk of flooding along inland streams and rivers. Sea level rise, caused mainly by ocean warming, is triggering more intense and frequent coastal floods during storms and causing so-called sunny day floods during normal high tides. Despite an increase in overall precipitation, periodic dry spells are expected to continue and may become more frequent.

Greenhouse Effect diagramWHAT CAUSES CLIMATE CHANGE?
The primary cause of climate change is the buildup of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is released by the burning of fossil fuels and certain other human activities such as forest clearing. Scientists have long known that carbon dioxide absorbs infrared radiation from the sun, making it more difficult for heat from Earth to radiate into space. According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased from approximately 270 parts per million (ppm) during pre-industrial times to well over 400 ppm – “levels that exceed any observed over the past 800,000 years.”

Here in New Jersey the principal sources of greenhouse gases are transportation, followed by electricity generation and fossil fuels used in residential, industrial, and commercial sectors. Other heat-trapping gases such as methane and nitrous oxide contribute to global warming and are also tied to human activity.

WHAT ARE WE DOING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?
In 2015 nearly every nation in the world committed to the goals of the Paris Agreement to prevent the worst risks of climate change by keeping global temperature rise in the 21st century under 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Achieving this goal will require dramatic cuts in the use of fossil fuels and the expansion of “carbon sinks” like forests and marshes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in plants and soil. The Paris Agreement also calls on countries to bolster their capacity to adapt to the unavoidable effects of climate change by, for example, hardening the resiliency of critical infrastructure and addressing the needs of vulnerable populations.

In New Jersey there is a statutory limit on greenhouse gas emissions – the 2007 New Jersey Global Warming Response Act – which establishes a goal to reduce emissions 80% below 2006 levels by 2050, or approximately 75% from today’s level. In May 2018, Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order committing New Jersey to 100% clean energy by 2050.

Reaching these goals will require deep economy-wide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 1) transitioning to renewable energy sources like wind and solar power; 2) restoring and expanding natural areas that sequester carbon; and 3) reducing emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases like methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons.

Meanwhile, efforts to prepare for expected climate impacts are under way throughout New Jersey, ranging from scientific research and resilience planning to reconfiguration of physical assets like energy, transportation, and water infrastructure.

Meet the Climate Corps

Angel Alguera, Rutgers Climate CorpsAngel Alguera
I am a first-year Atmospheric Science master’s degree student in the Department of Environmental Sciences, and my work focuses on meteorology and applications of climate change resiliency. My professional interests include severe weather forecasting and community preparedness regarding weather-related disasters. I work with Dr. James Shope at the NJ Climate Change Resource Center to produce applied research and reports relevant to New Jersey stakeholders. I currently assist with climate change data analysis, large dataset management, and report writing.

Benjamin GoldbergBenjamin Goldberg
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in climate adaptation and resiliency planning, with experience in sustainable food systems. I joined the Climate Corps last summer to help develop a GIS-based food waste recovery tool, and currently support community resilience through flood vulnerability analysis. I hold a B.A. from Middlebury College and a Certificate in Ecological Horticulture from UC Santa Cruz.

Surya Jacob, Rutgers Climate CorpsSurya Jacob
I am a graduate student in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School concentrating in community development, focused on housing, land and finance, as well as pursuing the Real Estate Development/Redevelopment Certification. Prior to Bloustein, I worked as an architect and interior designer in India and Canada and am pivoting towards a career in urban planning to engage in extensive projects at the macro level. My interests include affordable and mixed income housing, urban redevelopment, and housing finance, and I am deeply passionate about climate resilience in community planning. Being part of Climate Corps is a foundational step towards helping to solve equity issues in vulnerable communities along the coastal region.

Vineesh Das Kodakkandathil, RutgersVineesh Das Kodakkandathil
I am an urban planner with five years of professional experience in community-led ecotourism development and land use and environment management planning in ecologically sensitive areas. I have worked on and conducted extensive environmental sensitivity analyses, flood and landslide vulnerability assessments, and human impact assessments with the help of GIS tools. I’m currently pursuing my master’s in City and Regional Planning at Bloustein School with a concentration in Transport Planning and GIS.

Douglas LeungDouglas Leung
I am working with the Climate Change Resource Center to identify vulnerable communities and places affected by climate-induced flooding in coastal New Jersey municipalities. I am a Master of City and Regional Planning candidate at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. As a planner, I want to develop strategies and solve problems affecting our cities and communities that enable more equitable outcomes in housing and transportation. I am also a recent Army veteran, having served as a company commander of recruiting in the northern suburbs of Chicago and as a reconnaissance platoon leader in the 10th Mountain Division. For fun, I enjoy weightlifting, running, reading fiction, and board games.

Nihar MhatreNihar Mhatre
I am a master’s candidate in city and regional planning at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, focusing on urban design and land use planning. Before being accepted at Rutgers, I worked as an architect at JD Studio and had my own architectural practice, Vastu Insights. My research interests revolve around designing and developing climate change adaptation and resilience strategies to promote equity in urban landscapes. Having the opportunity to work on real-world projects through Climate Corps will be an essential step in the development of my understanding of addressing climate change issues in vulnerable regions.

Josephine O'GradyJosephine O’Grady
I am a first-year student in the Master of Public Policy program. Through the Coastal Climate Risk and Resilience (C2R2) certification, I am focusing a significant portion of my graduate coursework on topics including coastal geomorphology, environmental justice, and hazard mitigation planning. Before beginning my studies at the Bloustein School, I received my bachelor’s degree in public health from Kean University, where I first became interested in how coastal dynamics shape lived experiences. I previously served as an intern at the New Jersey State Policy Lab and currently work for the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.

Jessica Parineet Jessica Parineet
I am a first-year Master of Public Policy student at the Bloustein School with a strong interest in climate change policy and related topics. In my previous work, I gained experience in a number of dimensions of climate change issues through carbon capture storage research, urban heat island research, and community level engagement as I am currently on the Student Advisory Board for the Rutgers Office of Climate Action. I am excited to expand on my interests in environmental justice and local level resilience planning through my involvement in the Climate Corps.

Dillon Patel Dillan Patel
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in Environmental Planning and International Development. I have previously worked as an economist performing cost-benefit analysis and conducting monitoring and evaluation for renewable energy in developing countries. I have also spent a summer in western Massachusetts mapping stormwater infrastructure and working with planners to identify suitable places for green stormwater infrastructure.

Moira Sweeder, Rutgers Climate CorpsMoira Sweeder
I am a graduate student enrolled in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School. My concentration is environmental planning with a focus on coastal resilience. Before pursuing my master’s degree at Rutgers, I studied sustainability at Stockton University. During this time, I interned for the PSEG Institute of Sustainability Studies, the Jacques Cousteau National Estuary Research Reserve, and NJ Audubon. I am thrilled to now be a part of the Climate Corps, researching coastal resilience as a part of the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.