Here’s why climate change matters in New Jersey

Climate change is affecting New Jersey. Here’s how, and here’s how the state is taking action.

Have you ever been affected by any of the following weather events while traveling or while outside in New Jersey?:

  • a heat wave?
  • heavy downpours?
  • flooding?
  • a snow or ice storm?
  • severe weather or thunderstorms?

If you’re not from New Jersey and you’re reading this, chances are you’re affected by many (if not all) of these impacts, too). All of these events can be tied back to climate change.

What is climate change?

When we burn fossil fuels like coal, we increase the amount of CO2, methane, and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That heats things up on Earth, which provides fuel for extreme weather events like heavy downpours and more extreme snow storms, even though they may not seem related. Here’s more on that if you’re interested.

Industrialization for Development: Factory in USA
Air pollution from a power plant in New Jersey. Credit: United Nations Photo/Flickr

How is weather related? To put it simply, climate is your personality, weather is your mood. Climate is what you’d expect, weather is what you get. Climate is the long term pattern of weather — and that pattern is changing.

Last weekend at Langosta Lounge, I attended a talk by our New Jersey state climatologist Dr. David Robinson, also a Rutgers professor (also the longest-serving state climatologist in the country!). He went into great detail about how climate change is affecting New Jersey, what actions the state is taking to mitigate it, what we can do to help, and what will happen in the future.

His office runs and, where you can go and see the data they collect from weather stations up and down the Garden State. This data is used and archived every five minutes and archived to become longer-term climate records.

New Jersey’s Climate Impacts

As we are a very large state, with the most people per square mile, spanning from the mountains to the shore, New Jersey faces many climate impacts, including:

  • Extreme heat (including heat waves)
  • Urban heat islands
  • Heavy downpours, which lead to inland flooding
  • Drought
  • Wildfires
  • Hurricanes and storm surge
  • Tornadoes and other kinds of extreme weather (like thunderstorms)
  • Sea level rise
  • Snow and ice storms

How are these all related if we are WARMING up the planet? Climate change is a game of extremes.

Storm surge flooding post-Sandy at Morris Canal Park in Jersey City. Credit: Augie Ray/Flickr

When the atmosphere is warming, it’s holding more moisture, which leads to both heavy downpours in the spring/summer/fall AND more extreme snowstorms in the winter.

Also, much of the “warmth” we have created is trapped in the oceans, leading to water expanding and creating sea level rise, which contributes to more intense “sunny-day flooding” on normal days with high tides but also contributes to storm surge during storms like Sandy.

Ocean heat. Credit: Climate Central

Dr. Robinson’s team also uses severe storms (like the ones we had at the end of May) to raise awareness of extreme weather and climate change when they happen.

“The idea of climate change is nothing new — the climate has always been changing.. We’re looking at changes now that are occurring on a decadal time scale — that’s what makes what’s happening now so unusual.”

Future New Jersey Climate

He also spoke of the future climate in New Jersey. Here’s what we should expect:

  • Rising temperatures (4-8°F by the end of the century):
    • This will negatively impact outdoor workers, impact people who don’t currently have air conditioning, and place strain on the power grid
    • Summers will warm faster than any other season, making them very uncomfortable for anyone who has to work in the heat
    • Since winters are also warming, pine beetle larvae are no longer getting killed off by cold temperatures, meaning they’re surviving the winter and wreaking havoc on the Pinelands 
  • Increasing variability and extremes (storms, floods, drought and heat): This will negatively impact, well, everyone, in many ways.
  • Rising sea level:
    • This will impact property values and cause damage all up and down the coast for years to come. New Jersey has the most new property at risk according to this new study by Zillow.
    • According to Robinson, sea level is projected to rise up to 3 feet by 2090 — that would put much of LBI and other parts of the shore underwater. You can explore scenarios here with this Climate Central map.

Resiliency efforts

The state of New Jersey is doing some things right now to mitigate the effects of climate change:

What we can do

Feeling overwhelmed? There are things we can do personally and as a community to help lessen our emissions:

Solar panels in Rosemont, New Jersey. Credit: Egan Snow/Flickr
  • Check your energy source: The number one thing you can do is reduce your energy use, and use renewable energy when you do. Off-shore wind is coming off the coast of South Jersey by 2030, which will help lower the state’s emissions. You can also use less by driving less, biking more, and taking public transportation when you can.
  •  Vote: Check out your candidate’s stance on EVERY issue you care about, and start doing it for climate change.
  • Spread knowledge: Dr. Robinson said this: It’s not about believing in climate change, because it’s not a belief system — but he understands it. So when it comes to climate, it’s about gaining an understanding. If we explain this to people, perhaps we can make a difference.

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