Governor Chris Christie’s home state of New Jersey has been picking up the pieces left by Superstorm Sandy for 6 months, and it has become quite evident that the governor has little patience for those who stand in the way. He made that perfectly clear during a town hall meeting this week:
When Gov. Chris Christie told the kids “cover your ears,” at a packed town hall meeting on Long Beach Island today, you knew something was coming.
The topic was building dunes to protect the Jersey Shore in case another Sandy hits — something the Republican governor is gung-ho about.
But some property owners are refusing to give the federal government access to their property. And Christie isn’t happy about that, saying these “knuckleheads” are claiming the state wants to build everything from roads to bathrooms and showers on their land.
“Let me use an indelicate word,” the governor told the crowd, giving his warning to the kids. “Bullshit. That’s what that is … That’s the excuse they use. Here’s why they’re really concerned: They don’t want their view blocked.”
“We are building these dunes, okay?” Christie said. “We are building these dunes whether you consent or not.”
Overtaxed national flood insurance and realistic coastal planning are important conversations to have. Still, “knuckleheads,” eminent domain, and FCC complaints aside, what Christie is really talking about here is climate resiliency.
Across the country, people who live on or near the coast are discovering first-hand the dangers of a warming climate. Storm surge, coastal flooding, more powerful storms, sea level rise: All are happening more frequently as our carbon emissions change the thermodynamics and chemistry of our atmosphere and oceans. The warmer it gets, the more energy storms encounter as they head toward the coast. And the warmer it gets, the more glaciers melt into the sea and the oceans expand, making storm surges that much higher.
While states like South Carolina would prefer to metaphorically cover their ears (instead of being asked to do so physically like the children warned in Governor Christie’s town hall) and pretend sea level rise is not an issue, this cannot be ignored. The sea level off Atlantic City has risen nearly 4 millimeters per year since 1911.
A Center for American Progress report out this week found that for the last two fiscal years, federal taxpayers were on the hook for $136 billion in domestic disaster aid. $60 billion is for climate change-fueled Superstorm Sandy.
What about those dunes? It’s true that sand dunes, whether natural or artificial, are an important strategy in protecting vulnerable coastal populations from the risks posed by damaging storms. So are salt marshes, coral reefs, mangroves, sea grasses. And so is reducing carbon emissions. Governor Christie may acknowledge humans are responsible for climate change, and he may be advocating for climate resiliency, but he still pulled his state out of RGGI: an effective, economically beneficial regional cap-and-trade system.
Becoming climate resilient is important because we are locked into a certain amount of climate change — probably about 69 feet of sea level rise as of now, though we can still affect whether that happens relatively fast or slow. That said, making real progress on the causes (mitigation) of climate change-amplified storms would be more impressive than preparing for the next one (adaptation) even if that preparation involves swagger, swear words, and sand dunes.