In 1989, NJ Republican Governor Issued Climate Order, Warning Of ‘Increase In The Intensity Of Major Storms’

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).

7 Responses to In 1989, NJ Republican Governor Issued Climate Order, Warning Of ‘Increase In The Intensity Of Major Storms’

  1. BillD says:

    And, of course, scientists and insurance companies have long been concerned about the the damage that hurricanes hitting NYC would cause and how this would grow graver with climate change.

    This letter underlines the damage caused to our country and the GOP by the tea party mentality.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Nice find, Stephen. It’s weird how, as things have gotten worse, denial becomes more strident.

    There will be a lot of pressure to rebuild in existing locations from residents and the construction industry, which politicians will have trouble resisting. Maybe the best approach is to require flood insurance in the private marketplace in order to get a permit. If insurance is not obtainable, or is too costly, that market signal will cause people to rebuild on higher ground.

  3. Mark E says:

    FYI in case you did not see this already…. in a blog that purports to be written by Shells official climate change advisor, David Hone had a Nov 20 headline

    A Simple Choice – 4C or a price on carbon

  4. Mike Roddy says:

    That was interesting, but Hone uses a carbon price as a way to tout CCS. If there is a price on carbon, CCS coal and gas will not be competitive with wind and solar, so I’m not sure what he’s trying to accomplish.

  5. al loomis says:

    there is not necessarily going to be a happy ending here. humanity may simply be too stupid, and/or too selfish, to survive. metastable processes are in train that make talk of 2% a fantasy, 6% more likely. even a mass extinction is more likely than 2%.