New Jersey Now “Gets” Climate Change. What We Are Still Missing: Starting with Organizational Culture: Part 2

By Matt Polsky and Lawrence Furman

You may have caught the release of the latest IPPC report two weeks ago. That report, Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (IPPC 2018), found that the intense damage of droughts, floods, and everything that goes with that, anticipated to occur at 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, will occur at this lower concentration, and earlier, by 2040.

It mentions the term “transformation,” saying “avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has ‘no documented historic precedent” “within just a few years (Davenport 2018).” We’ll mention that term a little later. But a major implication is that we’re going to have to extend our reach, the required speed of getting there, and fundamentally question business-as-usual assumptions which, consciously or not, justify seeking the much smaller, incremental levels of change we usually pursue and, to those of us on this issue, had seemed acceptable.

However, the report says levels of greenhouse gas emissions would have to drop to zero by 2050 (which sounds like a close cousin to New Jersey’s 100% renewable energy goal).

While “affordability” is always rightfully a big concern in energy policy, the report discusses magnitudes of carbon taxes much, much higher than anyone has ever conceived as one way to effect the immense levels of behavioral change necessary to reach such a goal (i.e. up to $27,000 a ton by 2100 in one scenario) (Davenport 2018). Even at levels well below that shocking number, we’ll probably have to re-think what affordability means, including weighing it against damage to Gross State Product, and come up with more ways to mitigate and offset the pain such a tax would bring (like the carbon dividend which returns revenue back to the public). It should also put any criticism about the size of solar or wind subsidies in perspective.

As explained in the first part of this Series, see here, we discuss many ideas and will provide many recommendations for New Jersey to consider now that we’ve begun to take climate change seriously. Several conferences have been held, always with good ideas, but still many opportunities are not coming across, and need to in order to improve our chances of meeting this multi-generational challenge. Perhaps the more effective measures we could take, the less likely we may someday have to fathom such a humongous level of carbon tax and more likely one at a more affordable, if still necessarily biting level—as, still, there may be no better single way to change behavior–even if we’d rather not talk about such a subject.

But as much as ideas, we need a different perspective; one that is more comprehensive about what it is willing to explore, more open to possibilities, more reflective, and much less accepting of what has always been. We’re really going to have to think differently this time, and be prepared to do more than just say that.

Here’s another set of recommendations to build on those discussed in Part 1.

Recommendations for Policies and Actions

Recommendation 6: Monitor the Organizational Culture of the Two Most Relevant Agencies

The first article of this Series discussed the shifting historical reasons given within NJDEP for its positions on addressing climate change, starting with justifying doing nothing; then, for varying incremental levels. All were unambitious. Then when an ambitious policy was instituted, the Global Warming Response Act (GWRA) by the Corzine Administration, the succeeding Christie Administration rejected it, even though the law remained nominally on the books. The temporary and shifting nature of these reasons showed how arbitrary they were, clearly with no sense of the scope of the problem. (To be fair, though, few constituencies during those periods were all that interested themselves in climate change and were not asking much more from DEP.)

This felt need to hold back may not be totally gone even within a more engaged agency, as opposed to one becoming more thoroughly bold and creative. This might be true, too, at the BPU. Audiences need to be alerted to look for such things, which can easily be missed, even with good intentions.

Senior Managers and others need to continue to test that bureaucratic obstacles, even where still necessary for legal reasons, are not worse than they need to be; while ensuring that elsewhere vision is maintained, communicated, and lived; and innovation is truly being encouraged (see below).

As organizational culture is so important, we will return to it one more time in Part 3.

Recommendation 7: Set an Explicit Goal of Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions within New Jersey by 2050 or Soon Afterwards

This could be on a “net” zero basis as long as sequestration (see below) and trading are legitimate, safe, and working.

Recommendation 8: Become Acquainted with and Follow the Sustainable Transformation Field

How do we encourage, catalyze, at least quasi-plan big societal change, such as the one we’re going to need to address climate change? But “transform” is not just a verb. There is a European-oriented field which studies it, as well the closely related, also-European-oriented field called Transition. As mentioned in some other Comments in this Series, New Jersey could benefit from more international contacts.

A few of these fields’ concepts are:

  • use of pilots to encourage super-innovative ideas. It is good that the BPU’s Guidelines for EMP commenters during the just-passed Public Comment period asked about pilots. So, yes, BPU and DEP staff should encourage and participate in these. It should try to shield these as much as possible from unnecessary and counter-productive regulations and practices. When successful pilots are ready, BPU and DEP should facilitate their introduction and acceleration into mainstream circles
  • strong resistance to big change from existing players. So if Tesler still wants to distribute its electric vehicles in New Jersey without the use of dealers, let them compete that way. In the past, they were prevented from doing so
  • studying historical or current cases of transformation.

Relatedly, the Transformation field sometimes looks at Germany’s ongoing electric utility restructuring initiative, called the Energiewende. This is an explicit, very unique, extremely bold, and unusually mainstream initiative to move the country out of both coal and nuclear. It is highly controversial, with strong arguments both for its successes and failures.

Regarding the former, renewables generation has increased significantly in a not overly-sunny country (making up 32% of consumption in 2016). The country has shown that, with ingenuity, it is possible, so far, to handle the intermittent energy from renewables. Reliability has been maintained. This was important to demonstrate.

On the other hand, energy surcharges to support the feed-in tariff to generators of solar power are high (e.g. it rose by 50% between 2016 and 2007) and, as expected, are not universally accepted. Political battles about the value of the initiative and its costs continue, and the country, like many others, still struggles to meet its carbon reduction goals. They also might have “to pay big sums to the utilities to close (nuclear and coal) plants early…”

It is also prompting a major disruption of the conventional electric utility industry, but it looks like at least some companies have been able to evolve and adjust to a new role (Ball 2017).

The Governor may be somewhat familiar with the Energiewende from his time as U.S. Ambassador to Germany, its use of prosumers—part electric energy producers/part consumer, and their role in helping drive this transformation.

In so many aspects then Germany’s experience as a leader is worth studying. Explore both sides of the policy, especially as it adjusts to new economic, technological, and political challenges, and seek to bring back from it both what is working and relevant, as well as the applicable lessons learned from the adjustments it has or will make.

Recommendation 9: Less Known Aspects of Efficiency: Avoid Lags, and Keep an Open Mind About the Jevons Paradox. Seek to Address it Where it is Valid

Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 28 included a provision to “require each utility to implement energy efficiency measures to reduce use by 2% (Governor Murphy n.d.).” While the State’s attention now to energy efficiency is welcome, one can ask what took so long? Amory Lovins’ classic, contrarian article, “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken” in Foreign Affairs was written in 1976. Our response time to new ideas has to be much better than that.

A possible negative aspect of efficiency, though, has to be faced and addressed. The Jevons Paradox is the social science finding that, at times, certain measures or technological progress that improve efficiency, and the promotion of these, lead to blowback, also called “The Rebound Effect.”  That is, for reasons of saving money or unanticipated behavioral actions by people, overall energy use actually increases. Academics would call this a non-linear property (Wikipedia 2018).

These can include, with cars, improving gas mileage so much that the consumer decides to buy a car with a more powerful, gas-consuming engine; or with refrigerators, after buying a new, more energy-efficient model, deciding to move the older, inefficient one to the basement to store beer instead of, as what would have been assumed, discarding it.

It is unclear how extensive or serious this problem really is, and academics and others who have studied it disagree. But where it is found to exist, supplementary educational or policy measures might be able to reduce or eliminate it—preserving the benefits of efficiency.

A problem is that this subject almost never comes up at forums. When it did once, most had never have heard of it. One respondent liked it as it would result in selling more energy to his customers; while another cited one article that criticized the Paradox, which actually offered only partial refutation, and was not interested in taking the debate further.

As energy efficiency is so important, which we’re finally realizing, the existence or not of the Paradox is too important to let pre-existing interests and views dominate its assessment. So be open to the arguments on both sides.

Recommendation 10: Encourage Many More New Jersey Municipalities to Pursue the “Gold Star” Standard in Energy from Sustainable Jersey

More municipalities need to take the next steps beyond “Bronze” and “Silver” Certification by Sustainable Jersey, and consider the much more ambitious—and needed—levels of carbon-reducing activities involved at the “Gold” level. This standard is explicitly linked to the 80% reduction target of the GWRA. Gold Standard municipalities are expected to reduce carbon emissions from their own operations by 3.6% each year, while businesses and residents in their towns, less under their control, would have to reduce them by 1% per year.

This will not be easy for any municipality, but they should be encouraged to try. If successful, this would open up an almost entirely new front (Sustainable Jersey n.d.).

Sustainable Jersey should integrate their “Gold Standard” activities with an evolving set of activities in their “Green Business Recognition” and “Green Jobs/Economic Development” areas.

Recommendation 11: Start to Bring Bicycling to European Standards

There is so much that could be done to encourage not only a bit more bicycling—but a lot more. Mass biking in certain European cities like Rotterdam almost has to be seen to actually be able to process just how many people, of different ages, for a number of purposes—bike to get from here to there.

They have much to teach us about how to encourage it, and safely (Mohn 2018) with innovative physical infrastructure, culture, serious education, and multi-modal accommodation.

Even New York City has shown a partial transformation over a fairly short period of time on what can be done to encourage bicycling, even in challenging circumstances, although they still need to improve safety.

Just making people aware of what is really possible could go a long way.

Recommendation 12: Install Solar on Railroad Right of Ways and Between the Sides of Divided Highways

NJ Transit states we have 1,001.8 “Rail Network Directional Route Miles (NJ Transit 2017).” That probably means 500.9 miles in one direction and 500.9 miles in the other direction. Similarly, the Turnpike is 122 miles long, the Parkway 172.4 miles long. Other divided highways, like Routes 78, 80, 195, etc. probably add another 100 to 150 miles, or more. That gives us about 895 miles of right-of-way and median between the sides of roads. Even if we subtract 10%, we are looking at about 800 linear miles of right of way and median. This is 800 miles of developed real estate, not pristine habitat, which is owned or controlled by the State of New Jersey and, with little other developable purpose, is very probably a strong candidate for solar.

Solar modules are typically 77 inches long and 40 inches wide. That’s 6.4 feet by 3.3 feet. A mile is 5,280 feet long. We could easily mount 820 modules along each of those 800 miles. We could probably do 1640 to 3280 modules per linear mile. Installing 400 watt capacity modules yields 328 KW of capacity per mile and 262.4 MW of capacity along these 800 linear miles of right of way or median. A system two (2) modules thick would provide 524.8 MW of capacity – greater than the nameplate capacity of the Oyster Creek nuclear station. Four (4) modules thick would be 1.0 Gigawatts on state-controlled land.

This is a monetizable asset – the state would be able to use or sell this power, eventually saving the taxpayers money.

Recommendation 13: While Promoting Innovation, Keep an Eye Out for Innovation-Killers

Innovation initiatives are not uncommon and the Governor, as mentioned in Part 1, announced a new economic development one two weeks ago which included some aspects of social equity (Governor Murphy n.d.).

However the actual pursuit of innovation has several barriers which can kill it. Some are well known and some are not. These include:

  • overly bureaucratic climates and processes
  • organizational cultures which are not as open as they think they are
  • a culture that has not accepted or truly understands sustainability, misses the need to integrate conventional profit potential with environmental and social concerns, or does so in less-than-meaningful ways
  • similarly, not “get,” or even be open to social innovation. Initiatives are into technology, which tends to be high-tech, often glamourous, with established financial infrastructure and culture. (The main author’s students to this day typically have never heard of it, even though the social innovation/entrepreneurship field is not so new anymore, with journals and a parallel set of conferences.)
  • similarly, little awareness or openness to integrating profit potential with corporate social responsibility (CSR), even within the renewable energy sector where CSR is presumed by the nature of the product to be sufficient
  • not open to innovation that does not look like innovation is supposed to look, even within innovation-touting organizations. So it can be missed—without realizing the opportunity was ever there
  • not open to low tech, such as bicycle-powered phone charging, lighting, appliances
  • too much emphasis on what is “verifiable and measurable,” discouraging ideas with transformative possibilities as these might be too uncertain to meet that standard, or even fit that way of thinking.

Instead, try to develop an ethic within government, as well as elsewhere, as innovation-killers are not unique to them, that asks these types of questions:

  • “Are we missing something which might be important?”
  • “Who has the beginnings of an idea, even if not-yet-well-developed, we need to hear?”
  • “Are we inadvertently driving out new ideas and even ways of thinking?”
  • “What if we looked at things differently?”

We could also use this kind of ethic within other sectors such as higher education, business, journalism, and by those who administer award programs.

Recommendation 14: Use Art as a Medium to Explore Other Ways to Communicate Aspects of, and Addressing, Climate Change

In New York City, the non-profit, the Human Impacts Institute, has had a series of events, sometimes partnering with the countries of Taiwan and Germany, to use various types of art to communicate the threat of climate change.

At their event called “Collaboration Across Borders Salon,” speakers and artists discussed some of what art can do (perhaps better than other fields):

  • bridge divides
  • inspire
  • raise consciousness
  • demonstrate imagination
  • “create sparks we can’t see”
  • show that “generations before us people worked on this,” creating a sense of continuity.

We’re not aware of similar forums in New Jersey, although DEP has shown environmentally related art on the walls of the main aisle in their 7th floor Headquarters, and has some built-in to their courtyard. DEP or BPU might want to sponsor a forum or partner with another group or a sister agency more familiar with the arts to hold one.

They might brainstorm how art could be used as a way to encourage people to connect with a particularly difficult specific climate change subject. If no such art exists, they can put the word out to artists in the state and see what the latter comes up with.

Recommendation 15: Keep an Open Mind About and Encourage Environmentally Benign and Tolerable Forms of Carbon Sequestration

Sequestration can mean many things: from tree-planting; to enhancing the soil with compost, cattle dung (under certain circumstances), biochar; bioenergy carbon capture and storage; enhanced weathering; to extracting carbon from the air or from industrial processes, and putting the carbon into stable geological formations, or reusing it in the same or other industrial processes. Sequestration is even seen by some as covered by geo-engineering. In addition, sequestration is sometimes seen as “negative emissions.” All of this can make it harder to communicate.

It seems unavoidable that at least some of these are going to be necessary—we may not be able to get to 100% reduction of greenhouse gases in time, or even if we can we may still need lower ambient carbon levels. The above-IPCC report said “We’ll…have to figure out how to undo some of the damage that’s already been done (Shankman 2018).” Kelly Levin, of the World Resources Institute, said: “Given our current knowledge, we can’t get to 1.5 degrees (Celsius) without removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it (Shankman 2018).”

As the first set of these are environmentally benign, or better (enhancing the soil is getting more attention recently in farming circles for its favorable properties under certain conditions), we should more proactively encourage them. The Rutgers report recommended “sequestering carbon dioxide through forests, soils, and carbon dioxide removal technologies,” and “restoring natural carbon sinks such as forests and wetlands (Rutgers Climate Institute 2018).”

According to Shankman, the IPPC report ranked the above sequestration options both by potential carbon storage capacity and cost per ton and reached similar conclusions (Shankman 2018).

But perhaps we shouldn’t fully rule out any of them. We may very well need them at some point. Certainly, the latter batch need some special protective measures, and the fear that some have about promoting any sequestration; i.e. “It provides an excuse not to mitigate,” cannot be allowed to happen.

So keep an eye on this overall area and promote at least the first set of them.

The next article in this Series will discuss another set of recommendations based on other opportunities about which we’re not hearing enough.

References

Ball, Jeffrey. (2017, March 14). Germany’s High-Priced Energy Revolution. Fortune.  http://fortune.com/2017/03/14/germany-renewable-clean-energy-solar/

Davenport, Coral. (2018, October 7) Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/07/climate/ipcc-climate-report-2040.html

Governor Murphy Signs Measures to Advance New Jersey’s Clean Energy Economy. (n.d.) Retrieved October 14, 2018. https://www.nj.gov/governor/news/news/562018/approved/20180523a_cleanEnergy.shtml

IPPC. (2018, October 8) Global Warming at 1.5 Degrees Celsius. http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/

Mohn, Tanya. (2018, October 5) The Dutch Reach: A No-Tech Way to Save Bicyclists’ Lives. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/05/smarter-living/the-dutch-reach-save-bicyclists-lives-bicycle-safety-drivers.html

NJ Transit. (2017) NJ Transit Facts at a Glance. https://www.njtransit.com/pdf/FactsAtaGlance.pdfSimilarly

Rutgers Climate Institute and Georgetown Climate Center. (2017, September) An Examination of Policy Options for Achieving Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions in New Jersey. New Brunswick, N.J.

Shankman, Sabrina. (2018, October 12) Capturing CO2 From Air: To Keep Global Warming Under 1.5 Degrees C, Emissions Must Go Negative, IPCC Says. Inside Climate News. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/12102018/global-warming-solutions-negative-emissions-carbon-capture-technology-ipcc-climate-change-report

Sustainable Jersey. (n.d.) Overview of a Gold Star Standard in Energy. http://www.sustainablejersey.com/fileadmin/media/Actions_and_Certification/Gold_Star_Standard/Overview_of_Gold_Star_Standard_In_Energy_FINAL_12-4-17_.pdf

Wikipedia. (2018, August 31). Jevons Paradox. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox

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