Panel: NJ Ocean, Temps Rising

Flooding in Wildwood.

ERMA - NJTV’s Climate Change Forum at Lower Cape May Regional High School began with a reminder of the “hard facts” July 24. 

Dr. Lenore Tedesco, executive director for the Wetlands Institute and one of four panelists at the event, said the average temperature of New Jersey is rising faster than the global average.

Other panelists were:

* Dr. Daphne Munroe, associate professor in Shellfish Fisheries and Aquaculture, Rutgers University.

* Jenny Shinn, program coordinator, Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory, Rutgers University

* Dr. George Diferdinando, Princeton University.

The state’s average temperature is 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit, higher than it was in the early 1900s. New Jersey has seen a 55% increase in what Tedesco called “intense rainfall events” since the 1950s, with a coinciding increase in both the total inches of rainfall and the inches of rainfall per hour during such events.

“You keep seeing these urban flood systems, where people’s cars are flooded, where houses are flooded. Those are the kinds of things that are a result of climate change. That is climate change in action,” said Tedesco. 

The measured ocean level in Cape May County has risen six inches since the 1980s. New Jersey’s average ocean-water levels are increasing faster than the global average.

Tedesco stressed “the rate of rise over the past 25 years or so is more than double what it was earlier, compared to the first 100 years or so of this record. Since 1965, we are at a rise rate of 1.5 feet per century.” She also noted the county is likely to see an “additional one to 1.8 feet of rise from where we are now through 2050.”

Tedesco also cited sinking land and changing currents as side effects of climate change which impact water levels. “If ocean currents start to shift, it changes where the water is," she said. "It’s like a bathtub, water sloshes around … We also have changes where the land is moving. One of the reasons it's rising here is that the land in New Jersey is sinking.”

“This is a big deal for low-lying counties like us,” she added. 

Tedesco said mega-storms like Hurricane Sandy are symptoms of a larger problem. “What Sandy did in some weird way is it did us a favor because it woke people up to the need to start addressing some of these things," she said. "We’re way behind as a state from a lot of other states in addressing climate change and thinking about sea-level rise and coastal resilience. We weren’t talking that much about coastal resilience until Sandy.”

Tedesco explained the effects of climate change made Hurricane Sandy drastically worse than it would otherwise have been. “If you look at some of the numbers in regards to Sandy, human-caused sea-level rise was responsible for about $5 billion in direct damage," she said. "That was 18% of the bill from Sandy ... It effectively exposed another 39,000 people in the state to direct impact.”

If Hurricane Sandy had occurred in 1880 rather than 2012, with all factors being the same other than the current increase in water level, “we would have flooded 27 miles less of shoreline,” she said. 

Tedesco stressed all members of the community feel the effects of climate change in Cape May County, even if some do not acknowledge that reality.

“They do not understand that the changes they see around them are products of climate change," she said. "They see it rains more, they see more catastrophic weather events ... but they don’t see that it's climate change … we need to help people connect the dots.”

The nature of scientific inquiry is partly to blame for the large amount of people who deny climate change, Tedesco said. Scientists “will always tell you the uncertainty of what they don’t know," she said. "You would never go into a negotiation with the numbers on the table, but people like to focus on the uncertainty of that conversation.”

Tedesco also cited “guarding wealth” as another barrier which prevents the layman from accepting the reality of climate change.

“There’s a lot of money in this game, especially if we have to move away from oil and gas," she said. "The same kinds of folks who tried to tell you that cigarettes won’t kill you are the same people who are trying to convince you that climate change isn’t real.”

Even when climate-change denial persists in the highest offices of the land, Diferdinando, who has done extensive academic research on climate change, stressed local communities should not be hesitant to take action.

“If you’re waiting for the president to lead you in your community on climate change, that person isn’t going to do it," he said. "Leading your community frees you from feeling frozen by the current state of affairs. You can break free of what the people above your head are thinking about.”

As the panel closed, Diferdinando urged the attendees to carefully evaluate the choices they make which impact the climate.

“People need to wrap their heads around how their behaviors really impact the climate: the size of your house and the amount of energy it consumes, the size of your car, and the behaviors you do, like fly," he said. "We focus too much on 'where am I putting this newspaper? Where am I putting this plastic bottle?' If you're not doing those big things in your life, you're missing the point."

Drive an electric car, he urged. Drive a hybrid, and do so with others.

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