Planning officials monitoring rebuilding efforts in coastal New Jersey towns hit by Superstorm Sandy are getting a little worried.
Will the state make permanent decisions about coastal infrastructure that simply make the problem worse down the road? Will developers construct houses, roads, and sewage systems without taking into account sea levels, which are rising faster than average in the Northeast?
Re-building efforts in New York and New Jersey offer a unique opportunity to think about climate resiliency efforts. But in the aftermath of a storm like Sandy, those hard decisions can get swept aside in an effort to build as quickly as possible and bring life back to normal for residents.
As Governors, planners, and residents start putting their communities back together, it’s helpful to look back at a bit of history.
In 1989 — just one year after NASA’s James Hansen testified before Congress about the looming threat of climate change — New Jersey’s Republican Governor Thomas Kean issued an executive order calling on his state to recognize the “scientific consensus” of climate change and to prepare for rising sea levels, intensifying storms, and other threats posed by a warming planet. (Click to enlarge the documents below).
Recognizing those threats, Governor Keane called on the New Jersey government to begin reducing chlorofluorocarbons and take modest actions to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Most importantly, he called on the state to begin planning for the threat of rising sea levels:
It’s fascinating to see how far backward we’ve fallen. In Virginia this year, lawmakers struck any mention of the phrases “climate change” or “sea level rise” from a report on increased coastal flooding, saying they were “liberal code words.” And in North Carolina, legislators passed a bill this summer preventing state agencies from acknowledging the rise of the oceans — even as the state sees rising sea levels at more than three times the global average.
According to research from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, areas around New York and New Jersey could see 20 inches of sea level rise by mid-century. And as a Climate Central analysis shows, there is a one in six chance that storm surge levels could top eight feet by the end of the century, impacting nine percent of New Jersey’s homes.
New Jersey hasn’t slipped into denial. Over the last five years, the state has implemented some pretty aggressive renewable energy programs and carbon reduction efforts. In addition, state officials have reaffirmed their commitment to acknowledging the impact of climate change on coastal areas, and have rolled out resiliency pilot programs in a few communities.
But Sandy revealed how exposed the state and region really are. And now the building process will reveal how committed officials are to true “resiliency” — 23 years after New Jersey’s Republican Governor first warned of the problem.
(Hat tip to Kevin Kirchner for flagging the documents).