When the solar eclipse happened on Aug. 21, millions of people in the continental U.S. went outdoors to witness this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon of nature. No one called it a hoax, denied it was happening, or asked what was the cause.
Climate change – and the human activity that causes it – is equally validated by scientists, unfortunately some continue to deny the reality as the clock ticks and temperatures rise.
Changes in our planet’s atmosphere did not cause Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but the consensus among scientists is that the effects of climate change – such as rising sea levels and warmer oceans – made those storms far more destructive than they would have been in previous decades.
In a recent column, Paul Mulshine falsely concluded that voters don’t care that much about climate change because they elected a climate-denying president who promised to lead the resurgence of coal mining. Hogwash!
Voters in New Jersey care deeply about the environment. According to a recent poll by Washington, D.C.-based Global Strategies Group commissioned by the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, 62 percent want the government to do more to address climate change, and 57 percent oppose President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement. Seventy-one percent want our next governor to be a leader in fighting climate change, and more than two-thirds support moving New Jersey to a 100 percent clean energy portfolio.
Finally, the poll confirmed that voters want to hear more – not less – from the gubernatorial candidates on their plans to protect drinking water from source to tap, preserve open space, and how they plan to wean New Jersey off of fossil fuels like natural gas to reach 100 percent clean energy by 2050. As their cellar-dweller poll numbers confirm, Trump (and Gov. Christie) are outliers on environmental issues, deeply misreading (or thumbing their noses at) the will of the people.
New Jersey voters have their fingers on the pulse of the future. They know that investing in clean energy creates more jobs than fossil fuel infrastructure. (Some 9,739 New Jersey residents now work in solar and wind electricity generation, according to the U.S. Energy Department’s 2017 employment report – that’s three times as many in-state jobs as natural gas and coal combined.) They know that New Jersey’s multi-billion-dollar tourism industry depends on clean water for swimming and fishing. They know that industries as diverse as pharmaceuticals and beverage manufacturing depend on an abundant, clean, affordable water supply.
Despite the naysayers (I’m looking at you, Paul Mulshine), New Jersey cannot afford not to transition to 100 percent clean energy.
Off-shore wind has the potential to be major source of clean energy here, but the state Board of Public Utilities has dragged its feet on rules permitting off-shore wind construction. Happily, companies are waiting on the shores for a new governor, having already won a federal auction to develop wind farms in waters off the coast.
Homegrown solar must also be encouraged – on rooftops and in brownfields, not on forested lands – as another piece in New Jersey’s clean energy pie. A few U.S. cities have begun requiring installation of solar panels on new construction. As the World Economic Forum reports, wind and solar provide energy at the same price – or cheaper – in more than 30 countries worldwide.
Wind and solar are important components in our clean energy future, but there are other actions we as citizens and businesses can take to reduce our carbon footprint. Since transportation is New Jersey’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, investing in mass transit is a smart, sensible long-term solution. Meanwhile, we can encourage electric vehicles by installing charging stations along interstates and highways. Locally, we can make more roads and streets pedestrian and bike friendly. We can – and should – impose a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects (aka pipelines) until a new Energy Master Plan determines whether they are needed. Lastly, both major party candidates for governor have pledged to rejoin the multi-state greenhouse gas reduction pact known as RGGI, righting a Christie-era wrong that was based on personal ambition, not sound science.
New Jersey can achieve a 100 percent clean energy future, but this assertive goal requires long-term, big-picture leadership. A growing, bipartisan percentage of the electorate demands nothing less.
Ed Potosnak is executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting our precious natural resources.