New Jersey Now “Gets” Climate Change. What We Are Still Missing: “From Government and Really Helping”: Part 3

By Matt Polsky

Image result for Texas National Guard aid residents in flooded areas from Hurricane Harvey daily kos

Photo by Army National Guard/Lt. Zachary West

The first two articles of this Series, see here and here, discussed ideas and gave recommendations about opportunities to address climate change about which we’re not hearing enough of in New Jersey. We continue to provide more of these in Part 3.

Two historians of science, Oreskes and Conway, responding recently to the latest IPCC report, and invoking the “transformation” concept, both discussed in Part 2, tell us that “Major transformations can happen in a generation. But not without government help.” So, we’re going to have to talk about State Government yet again, because it is that important.

They also rebut the conventional wisdom that the technological advancements many are counting on to address climate change are going to come solely from the private sector.

They say: “None of the major technological transformations of the 19th and 20th centuries were the product of the private sector acting alone and responding only to the market. Railroads, radio, telegraph, telephone, electricity and (of course) the internet were all the results of public-private partnerships.” “…change driven solely by the marketplace is unlikely to suffice.”

And so government is going to have to become actively involved in technology development to address climate change—as much as some will not want to hear that. And with a government presence, we’re also not going to be able to “avoid the messiness of politics and partisanship,” “policies (Oreskes and Conway 2018),” or even administration and process. So, as we’re still talking transformation, we’re going to have to get much better at the messy stuff, too, we tend to typically complain or make snarky jokes about, or just put up with while expecting little more.

Vaguely remembering J.F.K’s idea that public service could be noble, some things do need to change to return to what once didn’t seem so crazy. Two classic examples of the government doing great things are the Peace Corps and the space program. Neil Armstrong did not take “one small step for (a) man, and one giant leap for private industry.” He took “one giant leap for mankind.” The economic spin-offs came later (NASA n.d.).

This has a number of elements, both the mundane and the cutting edge, and cuts across a number of departments that would be involved in meeting the climate change challenge.

Recommendations for Policies and Actions

Recommendation 16: Relevant State Agencies Should Take Customer Concerns and Stakeholder Input Seriously and Define Their Success on The Latter’s Terms, not on Whether an Existing Policy or Process is Being Met

The author provided input to four prior Energy Master Plan (EMP) cycles and a Ramapo College Energy Policy class he taught had a term project to comment on a fifth. A collaborator in this Series has been speaking to the BPU and other agencies since 2005, focusing on economics, the externalities of conventional energy sources, and renewable energy. We never heard back on how our comments were received, or what and whether any of our ideas were implemented. When the author once specifically asked, the response was “They are considered.”

The same was true for the recommendations of a BPU Education Committee he was on.

Which begs the questions: What happens to stakeholders’ ideas, and how does the BPU decide on their fate? It would be nice to know, including for stakeholders to decide whether it is worthwhile for them to continue to provide comments.

In addition, the protocol for testifying at these hearings does not encourage, or perhaps does not even allow, the public officials and staff at the table in the front of the room to actively engage with the person providing input. It is a wasted opportunity for mutual learning, as well as for truer democratic exchange between citizen and their government. Otherwise, it can be difficult to tell if the process is more than token public input.

A former NJDEP Commissioner did not respond to a critical letter about a speech he had made on environmental regulation. After being asked about it several months later, an Assistant Commissioner wrote back, but missed some of the key points.

When a couple of times the main author wrote to New Jersey Transit about disagreements with their policies, which neglected valid customer concerns, there was either no response or was told they had to “follow policy.” Their lack of listening and responsiveness showed they don’t really understand customer service, despite the nominal name on the website. If this is happening at any larger scale, the result could be less-than-otherwise use of their trains, and that much more unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions.

The author’s Ramapo College class’ Proposal to the Governor for a “Green Economy on Steroids” was sent to him, several cabinet officials, and some sub-cabinet officials in June. It still has not received an official response from any of them.

State government needs to understand, and build their culture and practice around the philosophy: “The customer is the customer.” Even if the answer is not going to be what the customer wants to hear, the request should be seriously considered, and a polite, substantive, respectful, and reasonably prompt written response sent. Even a phone call is not out of line, especially if the customer had made an extensive effort.

Recommendation 17: Unless it is Already Known, Use Market Surveys to Determine Why People Don’t Use More BPU Energy Programs

If owners of homes or buildings have a formal energy audit, but don’t follow through with implementing it, does the agency know what was stopping them?

The same thing with solar or any other relevant program. The main author recently had to wait 7 months after receiving and accepting a proposal for a solar system, and biting the bullet on accepting the need to have a few trees removed, to try to find a reliable tree company to give a reasonable estimate and actually come on-site when promised. We went through several of them and still couldn’t find one. This wasn’t anything anticipated as it was assumed this was the easy part of the process, before the actual solar installation would kick-in, and then the fun of seeing the meter reversing. In part for the reason of not being able to find a responsible tree company, this solar transaction now will never happen.

Having this type of understanding should facilitate BPU’s understanding of how it might be able to address unexpected issues blocking use of renewable energy and efficiency programs.

Recommendation 18: Adjust the State’s Estimates of Carbon Inventories to Count Emissions from Products Manufactured Outside of the U.S. that are Imported to New Jersey

Inventories are, of course, necessary to track our progress, or lack of it, towards goals. So while they should be as accurate as possible, there is the definitional issue of which emissions to track. Currently and conventionally, emissions estimates only count in-state emissions.

Arguably, if New Jersey uses products made from outside the country, we ought to count them as part of ours—or, if not, at least track them in a separate account. Otherwise, while it might make our performance look worse (the country’s emissions level would be 14% larger if it did that), we are vulnerable to the response to any claim we make of “progress” that we have simply “exported” our pollution somewhere else (Plumer 2018).

Recommendation 19: Take Education Seriously. Explore and Take More Advantage of the Relatively Untapped Fields of Social Marketing, Behavior Science, Behavioral Economics, and Climate Communications

Consistent with lifelong learning and an attitude of humbleness discussed in Part 1, take education seriously. It shouldn’t be a token, superficial response to a desired but complex behavioral change challenge sometimes heard towards the end of forums: “And we need more education.”

Some of the ways to do this involve becoming more familiar with, and better utilizing subfields within marketing, communications, psychology; as well as utilize certain themes and practices.

Keep up with, and take the best from, the evolving climate communications field.

Consider utilizing more of the social marketing field, which focuses on “changing…how people behave” “for the benefit of individuals and society as a whole (NSMC 2018, Summer).” A BPU education committee the author was once on three EMP cycles ago recommended this.

At a September forum on “Green Restaurants,” although speaking more about recycling than climate change, the mayor of Princeton discussed their “behavior science-motivation” strategy. They do such things as favor “opt-out” strategies, rather than opt-in, to improve participation; conduct “empathy interviews;” practice segmentation, with different strategies for each segment; and consider “what can go wrong,” before implementing strategies, a major component of social marketing.

STEM needs to continue to expand into the humanities, becoming “STEAM,” as we’re starting to see. The “A” in the latter stands for the arts.

Experiment with the argument that New Jersians, through their carbon emissions, are partially responsible, even if unwittingly, for the plight of drowning Pacific Islands, who have done nothing to us. Perhaps that knowledge, which might be new to many people, could catalyze more support for actions to address climate change.

Try to be aware of when people find key concepts confusing, such as SRECs; the pros and cons of bioenergy; composting versus biodigesters; community and distributed energy, and micro-grids; and any new terms appearing on the horizon; and try to clarify these. Check to see whether the better explanations are working.

The farming community needs to become engaged on this issue, and the NJDOA needs to become involved.

Pick a carefully chosen key theme for an education/communications theme each year; such as leaf blowers, vampire energy drain, or some obstacle revealed by the market research discussed above.

Recommendation 20: Aggregate and Utilize What Has Learned from Decades of Tree-planting

For years, even before the current concern about climate change, tree-planting has been a popular way for citizens and citizen groups to show their environmental sensitivity as it has so many benefits. The State has encouraged this through education and even giving away free saplings.

However, trees planted don’t necessary thrive. And in the climate change era, it is important to consider both survivability, resilience, sequestration potential, and other characteristics in selecting which species to promote and how to take care of saplings. There might be factors which formerly would not have been applicable.

This accumulation of knowledge should guide state efforts to educate citizens and possibly even the species of saplings distributed.

It is also important to encourage more efforts by municipalities to protect the trees they already have as environmentally concerned citizens often get frustrated at the low priority publicly owned trees get (as well as sometimes privately owned ones) when seen as conflicting with some supposedly higher objective. Sometimes the initiation of a surprise tree take-down could have been a complaint by someone who just doesn’t like trees. The latter’s concerns should be understood and an educational approach (and maybe a policy one) tried.

Recommendation 21: Develop a Payment for Ecosystem Services System

Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) is based on the increasingly recognized idea that as nature provides us with a host of free services, such as pollination by bees, the breakdown of toxins and purification of water by soils, oxygen generation and carbon sequestration by trees, and many others, these ought to be protected. What’s more, as they are usually free, they’re bound to be over-used and under-funded. They’re also essential, both to our survival and even to our economy. To facilitate their protection, those who benefit from these services ought to pay something for them. That money could then go towards their preservation.

There are a host of practical challenges to be resolved in order to do this. Artigas addressed some of them and developed some calculations about how such a system could work in The Meadowlands. It could provide a revenue source for preserving this this area, which could better compete against alternative uses that would degrade the ecosystem services it provides.

He calculated that while most carbon entering into the peat of the Meadowlands would eventually leak out, so its sequestration potential should not be counted, 22% remained. So that is what we would have to work with. The economic benefit of the ecological service, sequestration, would increase as the value of carbon credits increase with tightening carbon emissions levels. That would further increase the economic value of keeping the Meadowlands as wetlands.

He says that “there is little doubt in my mind that in the long term we will need to involve financial markets to regulate carbon emissions (Artigas 2018).” Therefore, this would help open a relatively new front to address climate change.

This idea could be applied more broadly to other environmental assets in New Jersey, starting perhaps by working them into New Jersey’s carbon trading system, as well as bringing the idea to the other participating northeast states in RGGI. Polluters could buy carbon credits, the money for which would be used to protect wetlands and other carbon-sequestering natural systems.

Recommendation 22: Develop and Utilize Accounting of the Social Costs/Externalities of Carbon Emissions, Including as Support for Subsidies for Renewables

As also recommended in the Rutgers Climate Institute report, we need to know the approximate social costs of carbon and begin to use them in public policy-making (Rutgers Climate Institute 2018). As discussed early in introductory economics classes, at least briefly and perhaps forgotten, and sustainability courses more frequently, conventional energy “costs” and “prices” are misleading as they leave out pollution and other damages imposed on unwilling third parties. The prices for goods are just so powerful in influencing behavior that identifying and overcoming the hidden subsidies for polluting sources will become increasingly necessary. We would also need this if we ever adopt a real carbon tax.

Therefore, we must begin a social process to setting, using, and getting adjusted to much more accurate prices that reflect the actual costs of production, both on the manufacturer and on society. We need pricing which works with us, instead of making the tasks of addressing climate change much more difficult, particularly as we set our emission reduction targets higher.

(Of course, this politically difficult task becomes a bit easier if neighboring states do this at the same time; and even better if the federal government ever did it. But you have to start somewhere.)

It also is a rebuttal to the charge that solar subsidies are too high and unjustified, often made in the context of an argument for a “free market.” Shahan urges journalists who write about solar power subsidies to be cognizant of some of these points (Shahan 2018).

It is also necessary to ensure managers and staff are aware of the concepts of externalities and social cost. A former BPU President was not when asked about it.

Recommendation 23: Allow DEP and BPU Staff to Attend Key In-State Events so They Can Keep Learning and Educating Others

Key government staff need to be in the room when important and relevant ideas are being discussed. They have an important role to play, as both fellow-learners and contributors. Unnecessarily rigid travel guidelines and processes for travel approval makes this more difficult than it needs to be.

 Recommendation 24: International Monitoring and Participation

Relevant international progress should be monitored and promising ideas brought forth for New Jersey to consider. An ethic should be developed of asking: “What might be happening elsewhere that we don’t know about and which could be helpful?”

State employees should also occasionally attend conferences in other countries, visit relevant foreign ministries, as well as host foreign visitors from time to time, and provide input to international policy bodies (as Governor Brown has done and New Jersey once did) (Polsky and Shinn 2002).

The major objective is to learn and bring back ideas. Others are to help those with similar challenges in foreign countries learn from New Jersey’s progress (or even from our instructive failures), as well as keep an eye on promising business opportunities for the state’s green businesses (to then pass on, such as to EDA).

Recommendation 25: Promote More Use of White or Green Roofs

These seem either very cheap to do, easy, and/or have secondary environmental benefits. The option to do these needs to be better known and practiced.

References

Artigas, Francisco. (2018, Summer) Turning Carbon into Cash. Hackensack Tidelines. https://www.hackensackriverkeeper.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/news_Summer_18.pdf

NASA. (n.d.) Apollo Spinoffs. https://spinoff.nasa.gov/pdf/Apollo_Flyer.pdf

NSMC. (2018, Summer) What is Social Marketing? https://www.hackensackriverkeeper.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/news_Summer_18.pdf

Oreskes, Naomi and Erik M. Conway. (2018, October 16) Fixing the Climate Requires More Than Technology. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/16/opinion/climate-change-warming-technology.html

Pierce, Charlie. (2017, September 9) A Few Words About Self-Government. Daily Kos. https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/9/9/1697364/-We-are-the-Government-and-We-re-Here-to-Help

Plumer, Brad. (2018, September 4) You’ve Heard of Outsourced Jobs, but Outsourced Pollution? It’s Real, and Tough to Tally Up. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/04/climate/outsourcing-carbon-emissions.html

Polsky, Matt and Bob Shinn. (2002, Summer/Fall)The NJDEP’s Non-Traditional Role in Promoting Sustainability Internationally. The Seton Hall University Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations. Fall, 2002. http://s2concepts.com/article_main_pg.htm

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.

Shahan, Zachary. (2018, August 31) New Jersey Solar Subsidy Stories Miss 4 Steps. CleanTechnica. https://cleantechnica.com/2018/08/31/new-jersey-solar-subsidy-stories-miss-4-steps/

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