PETERSBURG – Two environmental speakers depicted a sobering picture, in an Aug. 28 Zoom briefing, on climate change, organized by the Sustainable Green Team of Cape May County.
David Rosenblatt, chief resilience officer, state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), referenced other states’ plans to adapt to climate change and create resilience.
“New Orleans’ plan is very much engineering-focused, while Miami’s is keeping its climate networks intact. New Jersey’s plan, and it’s important to note our time horizon is into 2100, is aligned with Rhode Island, as addressing similar issues,” explained Rosenblatt.
According to science-based statistics, researched by Rutgers University and cited by Rosenblatt, sea levels will rise to an estimated maximum of 2.9 feet by 2050; 3.1 feet by 2070; and 5.1 feet in 2100.
“The cost to address these changing levels is not feasible considering the limitations on resources, including budget and engineering costs, and so we will be focusing on educating New Jersey’s citizens about the importance of adapting.
“Do we need to move to safer areas? Consider not trying to protect certain coastal areas? These are the types of issues that need to be addressed, which then unleash so many other associated issues,” said Rosenblatt.
Studies from Rutgers predict that 93% of brackish marsh will be lost at the end of the horizon timeline of 2100, while summer heat and rain frequency will increase, and state nesting birds and crops will be negatively impacted by these changes.
Warm habitats, per Rosenblatt’s presentation, will breed more insects, which can lead to greater eruptions of potential viruses affecting human populations.
In a related statistic, past claims since 1978, in New Jersey, for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood insurance cost reimbursements reached $5.8 billion, the third-highest in the U.S.
Rosenblatt stressed that the work facing his agency and the state is to coordinate the state's 565 municipalities to craft a response and strategy that will provide solutions to what lies ahead.
As a segue to this point, Lisa Auermuller, coordinator, Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve Watershed, provided information and research that her organization is doing to inform the policy debate on the coastal zone and watershed quality.
“Our goal is to define resilience as not going back to the status quo but to a position that is better than before. Nature is always changing, and we need to change with it, even if it doesn't match with our plans. For example, storm surges will be more frequent and longer-lasting and our expectations and actions must adapt in tandem.”
Questions from the public included what should be done as a first step, with the response from Auermuller that it is critical to first acknowledge a willingness to change and adapt behaviors, which is difficult.
Rosenblatt added that the DEP will be sharing the latest in science to motivate people to change and join the solution in an environment that will be presenting new tests into the next century.
A comment from a participant pointed out that many people do not understand that sea walls will not keep water away from the mainland and that New Jersey is “geologically challenged” because the entire coast is at such a low level.
“Water will overtake land, as New Jersey has one of the worst sea-level rises in the world,” said Auermuller. “Further, levels of awareness greatly vary. Second homeowners, who are not residents, don’t understand as well as residents do, who see the effects, on an annual basis, of flooding.”
“I live in Cape May, and each year the flooding is worse and worse. People need to realize that just getting a permit to construct to a certain flooding level is looking at the past, not the future of what new, safe heights will be to protect against flooding levels in a few years,” concluded a resident.
To contact Camille Sailer, email email@example.com.