A More Comprehensive Look at a Green Economy Strategy for New Jersey
Launching this web site is an opportunity to feature the ideas of a new environmental generation — and a platform for shaping the public discourse in New Jersey. The election of Phil Murphy marks a return to a progressive, green, and socially-affirming agenda, and it’s important to support this direction against the general drift of New Jersey politics. The recent (June 2018) budget battle is an example of the frustrations and compromises that seem likely to place limits on what Murphy can accomplish, but neither he nor we can afford to be discouraged by it. His reach may exceed his grasp, but it’s worth reaching for.
Creating a genuinely green economy is, arguably, a win-win proposition.1 It creates jobs — jobs that are meaningful, satisfying, and worthwhile.2 It makes us more resilient, and more sustainable, and a better example for the rest of the country. It demonstrates that green is profitable, inclusive, and uplifting. It creates a world that works better for everyone, not just for a select few — but it works for them also. (How is it not in the interests of “the elite” to have a society that is prosperous, and generous, and fair? Many if not most of the wealthy recognize that much of their wealth comes from the rising productivity, prosperity, and well-being of everyone else.) When things get better for everyone, they get better for everyone.
This is what the Murphys, both Phil and Tammy, are all about. But it’s up to the rest of us to make sure they stay on track, and are not derailed by circumstances, naysaying, or the daunting challenges they face in pushing NJ into the fast lane toward a sustainable future.3 This web site offers a more comprehensive look at a green economic strategy for New Jersey, and provides some practical opportunities for civic action, green entrepreneurship, and grassroots engagement.
Here are some of these challenges:
In an op-ed published late last year in the Star-Ledger, Chris Daggett and Margaret Waldock point to the critical needs of NJ’s water infrastructure. “We cannot swim in the Passaic River because of pollution. Children in Camden walk through sewage that has backed up onto the streets because the pipes cannot handle the rain. Commuters sit in snarled traffic in Hoboken as crews repair water main breaks. And across the state, parents fear the danger of lead in water fountains at their children’s schools,” they wrote.
Assessment surveys conducted in 2012 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimate that New Jersey needs to spend a combined $25 billion over the next 20 years on its wastewater, stormwater, and drinking water infrastructure to ensure reliability and keep up with demand.
But investments in water systems also have a long term economic payoff. The Value of Water Campaign’s report, The Economic Benefits of Investing in Water Infrastructure, finds that for every $1 million of capital invested in water infrastructure, some 15 jobs are generated. Further, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis finds that every $1 spent on water infrastructure leverages another $2.62 in annual economic activity.
They go on to detail four major ways that the Murphy administration could help to get us back on track. Read the rest of their article here.
What’s true for water is also true for energy: we waste a lot of it, we create a lot of pollution generating it from fossil fuels, and investing in fixing it creates jobs and wider economic benefits. In fact, a 2012 Rockefeller Foundation study suggested almost exactly the same economic outcomes — 15 jobs for every $1 million invested, and something like $2.63 in additional tax revenues and other economic benefits for every $1 spent on improving our energy systems. And one of our market studies estimated that NJ could currently benefit from more than $120 billion in energy upgrades in the commercial and industrial sector.
What’s more, we’re not even talking here about government expenditures. Because energy is a major cost for businesses and residents alike, private investment is available to finance most if not all of the improvements we need to transition to a clean energy future. Through PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) and the other regenerative financing methods we’ve championed in NJ over the past six years, capital providers can offer 100% financing over the useful life of commercial building improvements at costs that are less than the energy savings, resulting in projects that are cashflow positive from day one. (For more information and examples, see www.NewJerseyPACE.org and www.RegenerativeFinancing.org.) We just need the administration to push through enabling legislation to make this possible before the end of this year.
New Jersey is not known as the Garden State for nothing. Food and agriculture are NJ’s third largest industry, after pharmaceuticals and tourism. NJ’s more than 9000 farms cover nearly 720,000 acres.
Appendix III provides more than 40 “non-regulatory ways farming and the environment come together productively” — or could, with some imaginative support and encouragement.
Critically, moreover, poor farming practices — including the overuse of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers — account for almost 10 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, while organic practices, farmland restoration, and “carbon farming” offer one of the most promising solutions.
One interesting resource that we found while developing this site is a 1973 video produced by the NJ Department of Agriculture, For Lands Sake: Agriculture Keeps New Jersey Green.
Nationwide, transportation accounts for more than 28% of greenhouse gas emissions; in New Jersey it’s 42%. Perhaps this explains why NJ is one of the states adopting California’s mileage standards, and joining the fight to prevent the Trump administration from weakening these standards and preventing the states from enforcing them.
As noted during the 2017 campaign: “Phil also knows that transportation is by far the largest source of climate pollution in the state. That is one reason why he believes it is paramount that the mismanagement of NJ Transit be corrected immediately…. He also believes more needs to be done to make sure that electric vehicles are a priority and that all travelers, especially commuters, have easy, affordable access to electric vehicle charging stations.” (Campaign site: Building a Green Economy and Protecting Our Environment.)
What was not foreseeable even a few years ago is that the likely solution to the transportation problem is self-driving electric vehicles that are available on demand — reducing the number of cars that are needed by 80%, and making garages and parking largely obsolete.
A large part of the transportation problem is of course due to the ways that housing, work, and population are spread across the state — pretty much the opposite of “smart growth” for the latter half of the twentieth century. Cheap gas, cheap SUVs, and taxpayer-funded roads have given us massive suburban sprawl, though it’s not as bad in New Jersey, as the country’s most densely populated state, as it is elsewhere in the U.S.
The challenge is now to make the cities livable again, and affordable, and safe, and provide urban residents with good public schools so that families won’t always be inclined to run for the hills. New Jersey needs to keep preserving open land, and farming, and (though no one will as yet admit it) start retreating from the shoreline as the oceans continue to rise and the storms continue to intensify.
The need for a profound shift in consciousness is now so evident that even the Pope has called for it: “Our efforts at education will be inadequate and ineffectual unless we strive to promote a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature.” In his encyclical Laudato Si, he writes:
Environmental education has broadened its goals. Whereas in the beginning it was mainly centred on scientific information, consciousness-raising and the prevention of environmental risks, it tends now to include a critique of the “myths” of a modernity grounded in a utilitarian mindset (individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, the unregulated market). It seeks also to restore the various levels of ecological equilibrium, establishing harmony within ourselves, with others, with nature and other living creatures, and with God. Environmental education should facilitate making the leap towards the transcendent which gives ecological ethics its deepest meaning. It needs educators capable of developing an ethics of ecology, and helping people, through effective pedagogy, to grow in solidarity, responsibility and compassionate care.
Whoever thought we’d be quoting the Pope on a topic like this? But I have yet to find a better way of expressing this idea.
A growing majority of people in America and around the world identify themselves as “environmentalists,” and seek to do what they can to recycle, reduce waste, and curb emissions. A majority of states and nations (the U.S. under Trump being a notable exception) now espouse environmental policies. But in many ways where the rubber meets the road is at the community level. As Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope point out in Climate of Hope, “In the years ahead, cities, businesses, and communities—not Washington or other national governments—can lead and win the battle against global warming.”
But local leaders cannot and do not act alone; they need strong constituencies that support their actions. Citizens need to be encouraged to become involved, and help to change the rules and regulations, the policies and practices, that keep us captive to the consumer and automotive culture. “We will never win hearts and minds simply by trying to convince people to stop eating meat or give up their cars, but we can win there by demonstrating how fighting climate change is good for them, their families, and their communities. This is a conversation that must be led by everyday citizens and local leaders.”
Accomplishing any of this requires investment, and it’s important that we distinguish this from “spending” — as in the frequently-cited “wasteful government spending.” The difference really is this simple: “spending” buys you some thing, but “investment” provides a yield or return. In most cases we’re not talking about taxpayer dollars (as in the much-fought-over state budget), but private capital, obtained through bonds or direct private investment. What governments can provide (as in the example of PACE mentioned above) are the mechanisms that make these investments secure and profitable.
In many ways the Green Economy is the largest investment opportunity the world has ever seen. Addressing climate change, soil depletion, energy generation, water use, food and nutrition, buildings, and transportation essentially means transforming all of our major systems to become more efficient, more resilient, and thus more profitable. Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson recently estimated that the world needs to invest $90 trillion over the next fifteen years. This is equivalent to the total global economy today — more than doubling it, not by increasing waste and consumption, but by building for a clean, sustainable, and prosperous future.
Much of this, of course, needs to be measured in terms of emissions reductions. As many others have pointed out, we are mining the long-term carbon stores of the earth, burning them, and sending the waste products into the atmosphere as if it were an open sewer. We need to stop doing this — or at least cut back to the point where the earth’s capacity for self-renewal and recycling of toxic wastes can be restored to a healthy balance. CO2 is not, of course, the only problem — methane and other gases, diesel pollution, and the destruction of natural carbon sinks such as forests, organic soils, and the ocean are equally important. We need to think in terms of whole systems, systems that sustain our own existence, and that over time may regenerate or degenerate.
The planet, it’s been pointed out, will be fine; it’s just the current inhabitants who will be impacted, and possibly doomed to extinction, as we’re already seeing with many of our fellow life-forms.
Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) or Drawdown
And looking at the bigger picture, it’s already clear to a majority of scientists and other observers that “emissions reductions” are simply not going to be enough. We’re not going to be able cut emissions quickly enough, and even if we were to stop emitting them overnight, the excess greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere will last hundreds and in some cases thousands of years. We need technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere and restore it to the parts of the earth where it is actually needed.
Paul Hawken’s Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming lists 100 solutions, mostly available today, and mostly profitable and beneficial over the long run. New Jersey, with its history of creativity and innovation, could play a leading role in developing these solutions — as China and California and an increasing number of other states and countries are doing.
And we need, of course, to be better prepared for the unfolding consequences of our centuries-long assault on the environment, on our own natural habitat, in the form of sea-level rise, heat waves, flooding, ever-more violent storms, and so on — not to mention the potential food and water shortages, climate-induced migration, and growing civil conflict.
Resiliency means both the ability to withstand greater shocks, and the ability to bounce back more quickly and more effectively from them. Currently the state is still in the midst of investing some $200 million of the Sandy recovery dollars in better civic facilities, including on-site generation, energy storage, emergency facilities, and stronger infrastructure. But this is really a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed — and what’s possible if we tap sources of private investment.
Media, Disillusionment, and Political Cynicism
It’s appropriate for the media, including much of the New Jersey media, to be critical of government, of business, and even of our public attitudes. But it’s destructive to adopt a tone of cynicism, and to fan the flames of divisiveness and disillusionment. It’s easy to accentuate the negative, to sensationalize the inevitable failures and setbacks that we will encounter, to suggest that our leaders are corrupt, or self-aggrandizing, or at best short-sighted. But this needs to be balanced, not just by the positive, but more importantly by a continued emphasis on the needs of individuals, communities, and the ecosystems on which all of us depend.
In short, we need to keep the long-term objectives — the health of the planet, of the society and its institutions, of the most vulnerable among us and of the myriad other life-forms on which our existence depends — in view. We need to hold not our leaders but also their critics to the highest standards: not just palliatives and entertainment, but rather education and enlightenment; not just cleverness but real thoughtfulness; not just skepticism but also genuine honesty, truthfulness, and compassion.
Buckminster Fuller once suggested that our choice was between Utopia and oblivion, in the sense that we have the means — the technologies, the resources, and the capacity — to bring about one or the other. But even though we will not, in any given lifetime, achieve a world without pain, injustice, or suffering, it’s pretty clear which of these outcomes we should be striving for, and which we should be striving to avoid. We should count each win, however small, as an accomplishment; and each loss, however devastating, as merely a temporary setback. Superstorm Sandy was an enormous catastrophe; we’ve mostly built back (albeit with some continuing difficulties4), but we’re not yet stronger, more resilient, or necessarily wiser for it.
In the end my goal — our goal — is to engage New Jerseyans in a discussion of the most useful actions for the state and for the citizenry to take. Arguably, individual actions are of limited value when the problems are systemic, as many of them are, but government policies are limited as well. Real change requires new knowledge, new thinking, and new paradigms; it requires a shift in consciousness. We need to begin to think of ourselves as, first and foremost, stewards of the Earth and of our shared environment. After all, there’s no economy, green or otherwise, on a dead planet.
1Except of course for the fossil industry. But most green solutions, as Paul Hawken points out, are “no regrets” solutions — they’re beneficial in themselves, as well as being green.
2Which isn’t to say that all “green jobs” are pleasant, only that the end result is worth accomplishing.
3Already there’s speculation that Phil Murphy’s actions are being driven by an interest in running for president, as if this casts doubt on the principled nature of his actions. “Watching the behaviors that he has undertaken since winning, he must be entertaining the prospect for running for president,” said Brigid Harrison, a professor of law and politics at Montclair State University. “Otherwise, why would be he be tackling such national issues and spending a disproportionate share of his energy on things that may be important but are not the highest priority among the constituents that elected him?” (Is Phil Murphy already running for president?)
Well, many of the things Professor Harrison cites are among the highest priorities for this constituent, and are the kinds of things that are needed from a NJ governor in this moment of political degradation at the national level. Which does not mean that he is necessarily neglecting the “domestic” needs of New Jerseyans. Occupying what is said to be the most powerful governorship in the country is obviously a possible launching-pad for national office; but to be credible he also needs to do a great job in the state.
4See “Hurricane Sandy continues to haunt N.J. residents 5 years later,” NJ.com.