New Jersey Now “Gets” Climate Change. What We Are Still Missing: Introduction: Part 1

By Matt Polsky, Lawrence Furman, Jonathan Cloud, Caitlyn Montgomery

New Jersey is finally taking climate change seriously. The Murphy Administration has several policy initiatives on or directly related to it, including some with atypically ambitious goals. An increasing number of well-attended forums are being held in the State, with speakers from some environmental groups, and a couple of keynotes from the First Lady, Tammy Murphy.  Rutgers University has gone from having a relatively minimal presence to becoming a major player in both climate science and now policy, through the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance. NJ Spotlight is running stories. The directly related area of clean energy is getting a lot of attention, including through the Energy Master Plan process and legislation.

Still, what isn’t being noticed at several forums is that we’re still missing a lot of possibilities and opportunities to do more to address climate change.

Two of the authors have attended many climate change conferences over the years, including more recent ones, such as at Rutgers University, Ramapo College, the League of Conservation Voters, Centenary University, Montclair State University, and many others. While important information is always presented, both the analyses, recommendations, and even perspectives are invariably incomplete. Panelists are often “names” or the heads of traditional groups, which is important, but they, too, do not offer the complete picture. Forums at Rutgers typically have minimal if any opportunity for real audience participation. Those oriented to students offer a limited scope of explicit messages. They emphasize advocacy and activism on voter registration, such issues as protesting proposed pipelines, supporting certain bills in the Legislature, certain actions their universities could take like divesting from fossils fuels. They identify “bad guy” companies.

Certainly these are important, but they do not mention the companies that have stepped up to support staying in the Paris Agreement, which hints at larger possibilities. They do not usually offer a lot of creative ideas, which students of all people really need to hear. They do not say or imply that it will be anything but easy to tackle climate change, or that the usually narrow paths provided will be far from sufficient. Indeed, addressing climate change will likely be the challenge of their generation!

These conferences also reveal mindset traps that make implementing or even conceiving of very large scale changes more difficult, like we can either do mitigation or resiliency. This particularly misleading either/or has gotten better, as now we hear more of “both.” But another is that there is no purpose or recognition of the need to talk to conservatives or Trump voters about addressing climate change. They’re not part of the picture; or worse, are seen as unchangeable “deniers.” Even though we’re saying we need huge carbon emission reductions, somehow we’ll work around the need for behavioral changes from them to reduce their carbon emissions.

Further, the main author has the unique experience of having been involved with climate change in New Jersey for 40 years, including 12 at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), from the end of the Governor Kean-era to the early Governor McGreevy period, as one of two change-agent/staffers[1] trying from the inside to get the department interested in the issue. And then, once they started a narrowly focused initiative, to try to get them to stretch to do more. Those years provided another set of experiences that need to be passed on, especially as the decades are passing. For example, the shifting rationales the organizational culture used for, first, not doing anything; and then, framing unambitious initiatives may not be totally gone even during this more promising period. Audiences need to be alerted to look for such things, which can be easily missed.

Over time, these included:

  • an Assistant Commissioner telling us that “global warming is not our issue in New Jersey,” although the department did agree to accept federal funding to perform a carbon emissions inventory. This became useful years later
  • we (the department) can take measures to reduce carbon emissions, but only within the government itself, not outside of it
  • we can suggest measures for the public to take, but only if these measures pay for themselves economically
  • we can hold a climate change forum at the shore, but staff must call it “sea level rise,” not “global warming,” and definitely not mention the “retreat” option. That is a politically very sensitive measure offered around that political period by a Rutgers geologist who said it was inevitable that people would have to move away from parts of the shore
  • we can set a policy goal of 3½ per cent below our inventoried historical 1990 levels (the justification being it was half of the then-Kyoto goal, a kind of compromise that actually was still ahead of other states at the time).

After leaving the department, but checking back occasionally, there was:

  • when the State had finally gotten bold (temporarily, it turned out) with the passage of the Global Warming Response Act (GWRA), and its call for an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, the next Administration never mentioned it, staff said they couldn’t talk about it, and the department’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) had a dedicated hearing on climate change at which no one mentioned the GWRA, until the main author did. At that point, with the exception of one member, the SAB said they had never heard of it and requested more information about it. So much for the passing of a bold law being the be-all-and-end-all (something still assumed at conferences today)
  • Finally, at a hearing by the department’s Green Acres program, division staff conceded that they had no charge to consider the relevance of climate change to their work preserving open space.

We can’t be sure such internal cultural constraints are entirely gone. An overriding lesson from that time is the artificiality of the internally defined management constraints on policy ambition. Even their lifting, sometimes but not always in the right direction, show how superficial and arbitrary they were. That could be a lesson going forward even during better times.

Returning to these conferences, no one is saying the very blunt: “We don’t know how to get to 80-100% carbon reductions!” How are we going to figure out the answers if we don’t recognize the challenge?

Also, no one at forums is recognizing that climate change is what is called a “Wicked Problem.” According to Wikipedia, “a wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize.” The “wicked” part does not mean it is evil; it means it is “resistant to resolution (Australian Public Service Commission 2007).” Some of a wicked problem’s properties are:

  • “…effort to solve one aspect…may reveal or create other problems (Wikipedia 2018)”
  • “solutions…are not true-or-false, but better or worse (Rittel 1973)”
  • “stakeholders have radically different world views and different frames for understanding the problem (Wikipedia 2018),” and
  • “time is running out (Levin 2009),” actually making it a “super wicked problem.”

One reason climate change qualifies, at least at the plain wicked problem level, is because it “requires a great number of people to change their mindsets and behaviors… (Wikipedia 2018).” It also requires “tending to our longer term interests (Lazarus 2009),” something which is not known to be our strength.

So humility is going to be necessary and it is preferable if the need for it is at least modeled, if not explicit. We can no longer afford narrow visions, or fail to question the assumptions behind them. More likely we’re eventually going to need more comprehensiveness, at least in part because not all current policies will work as planned; much more creativity and awareness of when conditions are not conducive to that; intergenerational determination; and to be constant learners. This applies no matter what sector we are in, not something we’ve been asked to do before.

We just cannot leave audiences with the impression that the ideas and materials covered at any particular conference are sufficient. Most likely, no one conference could ever be sufficient by itself!

Therefore, the main purpose of this Series are to communicate many of the ideas that are not coming across. There needs to be a record, which exists nowhere else, even if they cannot all be considered or implemented in the near-term.

The co-authors have sought to focus on what they see as not coming up at forums—and needs to. So at least these ideas will be available when policymakers and others are prepared to hear them, to complement what New Jersey is already doing.


The limitations of this Series are:

  • there will certainly be unmentioned climate change policies which also, arguably, are not receiving enough attention. The co-authors are limited in their knowledge of the entire field. If something is not mentioned, it does not mean that it’s unimportant
  • it cannot be guaranteed that none of the overlooked policies and actions which are mentioned have never come up at a forum in New Jersey. We have not been at every forum. Perhaps they were mentioned once or twice
  • this is “forum-related.” Thus with few exceptions, the recommendations within reports of state groups, or those writing about New Jersey, are not included
  • very importantly, readers should not presume that all co-contributors necessarily endorse all points made by each other, as in some cases they do not
  • the approach taken is not overly “political,” which is certainly one of those cases, although the nature of the subject means that we will occasionally break that rule, and
  • some ideas are just listed and not fully described.

What New Jersey Isn’t Missing

Although our focus is on what New Jersey is missing on climate change, it’s fair at the start to acknowledge and describe some of what the State is already doing or planning—and it’s not a bad re-start. Plus it also describes what this Series’ recommendations do not have to cover.

In April, Governor Murphy signed two bills to help advance and accelerate New Jersey’s push towards clean and renewable energy. The goal now is to have 100% clean energy by 2050, including 50% by 2030. Governor Murphy is also pushing for 3,500 MW of offshore wind by 2030, a community solar pilot, and energy storage of 600 MW by 2021 and 2,000 MW by 2030 (Governor Murphy n.d.). This builds on the existing solar programs, such as net metering and solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs), as well as PSE&G’s Solar Loan Program.

New Jersey is rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state cap-and-trade program which will reduce carbon emissions in a major reversal from the last Administration.

Directly on climate change, NJDEP is:

  • following research by a number of groups on the impact of climate change on the state (New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection 2018A)
  • had its Science Advisory Board write a report on it (NJDEP Science Advisory Board 2016 )
  • monitoring emission trends in the State (NJDEP 2018B)
  • administering education programs on it, including about electric vehicles (which also includes tax incentives, grants, and recognition (NJDEP 2018C).

There have also been a number of programs approved by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) aimed at increasing resiliency in the energy grid from some of the impacts of climate change, such as severe weather.

New Jersey State Government has a number of existing, older programs that work, at least indirectly, to combat climate change. A sampling includes the NJDEP’s Sustainable Business Registry, a low cost way for businesses to promote their sustainability efforts and commitment to reducing their environmental footprint (New Jersey Sustainable n.d.). Customers can then specifically shop at businesses that they know are trying to be more sustainable.

Another state-wide program is Jersey Fresh which allows farmers to promote their New Jersey-grown produce. This means that as it doesn’t have to be shipped long distances, it saves energy. In addition, the produce is fresher and supports local farmers (What is Jersey n.d.).

Outside of state government, the New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability (NJHEPS) helps member colleges “to consistently practice sustainability and contribute to the…understanding of sustainability, through teaching, research, outreach, operations, and community life (Who We Are n.d.).” This, of course, can involve climate change.

One member university, Montclair State University (MSU), has created the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies (ISS) that “supports transdisciplinary research and community projects that grow more resilient communities worldwide (PSEG n.d.).” One of their programs is the Green Teams Internship Program, which is a paid internship program for college students that allows them to gain experience working with sustainability in the real world. It connects teams of five students with corporations, local businesses, or government agencies in order to address sustainability problems; again sometimes climate change-related. It helps students understand how sustainability can fit into their future careers while gaining experience and establishing a network (Green Teams n.d.).

Another member of NJHEPS, Rutgers University, has created the Rutgers Climate Institute in order to address climate change through research, education and outreach. They co-host the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance (NJCAA) which recognizes that “a changing climate and rising sea levels will have a devastating impact on New Jersey’s economy, the health of our residents, the State’s natural resources, and the extensive infrastructure system that delivers transportation services, energy and clean water to millions of New Jersians…[and they] will focus on climate change preparedness in key impacted sectors (NJ Climate n.d.).”

The above are not all existing New Jersey climate change initiatives. It is likely that future articles will mention others.

Recommendations for Policies and Actions

Policies are usually taken to mean goals, directions, strategies, and/or plans by State Government. Actions usually will involve other actors. Better addressing climate change in New Jersey will involve both.

Recommendation 1: Seek a Green Economy on Steroids

While certainly the concept of “green” or clean jobs is often heard at these forums, with their obvious benefits to both the environment and the economy, it is possible to take this much further over time, nearly economy-wide. It could go beyond solar, wind, efficiency to nearly every sector, and to most companies. This has never been done, but the topic of an extended green economy almost never comes up.

A report was issued by a Ramapo College class earlier this year that covers much of the ground for how this could be done in New Jersey. This report, along with substantial commentary, is available at At 123 pages and over 40 recommendations (Polsky 2018A), there is no need to discuss it at length here. It is directly related to climate change, as the major goal is to develop new creative ways to address severe environmental problems. In part, this would be through companies buying clean power and adopting zero carbon emission goals.

The report has sections on a number of topics rarely discussed in New Jersey, either at forums or elsewhere, such as “B” Corps, social entrepreneurship, quite a bit on the potential of corporate social responsibility and the Triple Bottom Line, green design, regeneration, ecosystem services, the circular economy, the presence of a relatively new green business alliance in New Jersey built around environmental protection and supportive of pro-climate change policies. It discusses a philosophy, ecological modernization, which brings together the economy and the environment, totally different from the adversarial nature of how the federal government sees them.

It also traces the history of earlier attempts in New Jersey along more limited lines, and how these were given up on. A major recommendation is to build on some remaining solid, but very modest, existing state sustainable business initiatives, but adding vision to what they can accomplish.

However, based on a just-announced several-part economic development plan for the state, while covering some welcome aspects of social equity, focusing on innovation,  and the state partnering with venture capital firms to promote new businesses, it says nothing about any of the above (Corasaniti 2018). So while it does mention some of the renewable energy areas discussed above (NJEDA 2018), it appears the “Green Economy on Steroids” vision is not currently in our future.

It should still be closely considered by State Government and others.

Recommendation 2: Follow California More Consistently

New Jersey has joined California at times, the state leader in accelerating its climate change policies, the direct opposite of the federal direction. However, New Jersey should go further than doing that from time to time, such as it is doing with its Clean Car standards, “bolstering the sale of zero-emission vehicles (Johnson 2018),” and accepting the Paris Agreement (NJDEP 2018D). As long as Governor Brown is in office, or if his successor follows the same direction, it should be a rebuttable presumption that New Jersey will automatically strongly consider any new, relevant California policy and, if appropriate after a review, replicate it here. This includes the latter’s international presence, which at one time New Jersey had, including in the climate change area.

The attention to other states’ leadership should also include, at a lower level, New York and Massachusetts.

However, while New Jersey should certainly support California if their ability to set environmental standards tougher than federal standards is threatened, as it appears it will be, we should be selective with our active political opposition. Take the big or necessary fights, by our Attorney General and state political figures, but don’t seek to make it routine or it risks becoming distracting to our own efforts, as well as making it even more difficult to bring in conservatives.

Recommendation 3: Don’t Give Up on Contributions from Conservatives and Trump Voters and Don’t Be Overly “Political”

As mentioned above, conferences ignore the potential contributions from conservatives and Trump Voters, while not infrequently criticizing the President’s climate change policies. While the latter is understandable, it makes the challenging task of persuading conservatives to pick up on the need to address climate change even more difficult.

(The topic has come up at only one forum in the nine years the main author has been living in Warren County. Even the local environmental groups don’t talk about it. Predictions that Hurricane Sandy would make such discussions much easier proved to be wrong.)

Still it is not as impossible as it often is made out to be. Boven and Sherman found through two surveys that “most Republicans agreed that climate change is happening, threatens humans and is caused by human activity—and that reducing carbon emissions would mitigate the problem.” They state: “…most Republicans were in basic agreement with most Democrats and independents on this issue (Boven and Sherman 2018).”

What is stopping them, as is now being increasingly recognized, is the tribalism of our times, and not “wanting to break ranks.”  They quote Bob Inglis, a Republican former Congressman, who turned around on climate change from anti to very pro: “All I knew was that Al Gore was for it, and therefore I was against it (Boven and Sherman 2018).”

Feeding the tribalism dynamic only makes such conversions harder, so we should try not to do so unnecessarily–which does not mean (as it has sometimes been interpreted) neglecting the “Get Out and Vote” argument. Nor does it contradict, as Sobin-Rosen urged: “that every candidate,” “in every election,” “be asked about global warming (Sobin-Rosen 2018).”

But what we haven’t seemed to realize if climate change is as urgent as we think it is, we’re going to need major carbon emission reductions from Trump voters, as well. They shouldn’t get a bye, so we should try to pursue these.

Polsky discussed several ways some have tried to approach conservatives and Trump voters, with at least modest success, including joint field trips; the solar jobs argument; bi-partisan policy development, both at the regional level on flood control, and at the Congressional level, the Carbon Dividend (a variant of a carbon tax we will likely discuss later) proposed by super-prominent Republicans (Polsky 2017). There are also other arguments which can be tried, such as the “Threat Multiplier” point about climate change made by the Defense Department in the previous federal Administration.

Recommendation 4: Implement Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE)

PACE is an innovative way of providing comprehensive, long-term financing for major clean energy and resiliency improvements to private properties. PACE financing typically covers 100% of hard and soft costs with no cash outlay by the property owner; is spread over the useful life of the improvements; and is off-balance-sheet, can’t be called or accelerated, and the full amount is not considered a liability to the property owner. Repayments are typically calculated to be less than the immediate savings in energy costs, making PACE projects cash flow-positive to property owners from day one. This effectively allows property owners to implement state-of-the-art energy-efficiency, renewable, and resiliency improvements, and take advantage of the long-term benefits without tying up their own capital. Additional benefits of PACE include that the assessment runs with the property, and that the repayment can be prorated so that tenants who share the benefits of lower energy costs also pay their share of the costs.

While most property owners are focused on the savings, PACE has the potential of providing significant public benefits as well. In fact, the preamble to the current New Jersey PACE legislation (S1611/A1902) notes that:

  • investing in energy and water efficiency improvements, and flood and hurricane mitigation projects, is critical to conserving natural resources and mitigating the effects of floods and hurricanes, and is financially beneficial over time; and upfront costs are a barrier to such major improvements
  • PACE helps communities create local jobs, results in lower mortgage foreclosures, and stimulates local economies and lower emissions; and
  • PACE financing will allow New Jersey municipalities to meet community sustainability, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and energy goals, and will provide a valuable service to the citizens of their communities.

In fact, PACE is a win-win-win financing mechanism. Property owners, capital providers, energy services providers, municipalities, and the general public–all benefit. PACE is a way to fundamentally enable the transition to the clean energy economy needed to mitigate climate change, by making it profitable to invest in building this economy today.

New Jersey isn’t the only east coast state looking to expand PACE financing programs: Pennsylvania and Delaware both approved laws this past summer; and New York City is also looking at implementing PACE under New York State’s law. As Rich Kassell, Executive Vice-President of Capalino & Company, recently wrote about NYC, “As our City’s leaders consider ways to implement near-term steps on the road to meeting our long-term climate, sustainability, and resiliency goals, adopting Commercial PACE legislation this year should be at the top of the list” (Capalino, 2018).

Recommendation 5: Solar at All Schools

Back in 2012 when Sandy hit, many people lost power for a week or longer. Lives were disrupted and property damaged. As this was relatively recent, and well-known, there’s not much need to discuss this here.  But here is one way to prepare for the next one.

There are about 2,500 public K-12 schools in New Jersey. Taxpayers pay the electric bills and pay for infrastructure. If we install a 50 KW solar array on each of those schools, at a cost of $2.00 per watt, or $100,000 per school, it would come to $250M statewide. But we would have power systems that do not burn fuel and create waste with every kWh they generate.

Our public schools operate primarily during daylight hours. So with solar they would have power when needed when the weather is good. If we add the equivalent of 20 Tesla Powerwall battery packs to each school, at a cost of about $90,000 per school, then for an investment $190,000 a school, or $475M, we would have schools with power day and night in every community in New Jersey.

Taking the next step, if we add a grid–disconnect circuit, something that knows when there is a power failure and takes the school off the grid without endangering utility line staff, then when the next Sandy hits we would have emergency shelters with power in every community in New Jersey, from Cape May to the Skylands. The grid disconnect would probably add $250 to $1,000 per unit, or $625,000 to $2.5M to the above estimate.

While $477.5M is a lot of money, it’s less than 5.31¢ on lost dollars from the settlement with Exxon Mobil for their historic toxic pollution. And the citizens of New Jersey would actually derive benefits, in sustainable energy infrastructure and emergency preparedness, from this investment.

It would make life during a stressful time much less hectic and a little closer to normal if people can re-charge their phones and other devices; call their  children, parents, and people important to them to let them know they are ok; refrigerate their medicines, get a hot cup of coffee or a cold glass of soda. They can talk to their neighbors, relax a bit, and wait more comfortably until they can (hopefully) return to their homes.

Conclusion and What’s Next?

New Jersey will need more ambitious actions by all levels of government, business, and civil society to select and actively capitalize on a fuller range of opportunities, including those we are not hearing about, if we’re going to make a serious multi-generational effort to address climate change. Part 1 has begun to provide them.

Part 2 of this Series, and succeeding Parts, having dispensed with the lengthy Introduction, will offer many more ideas for policies and actions for the consideration of State Government, the increasing number of New Jersey citizens who are concerned about this issue, and those who will become so.


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Boven, Leaf Van and David Sherman. (2018, July 28) Gray Matter: Actually, Republicans Do Believe in Climate Change. The New York Times.

Corasaniti, Nick. (2018, October 1) Jersey Wants to Invest in Your Start-up. The New York Times.

Governor Murphy Signs Measures to Advance New Jersey’s Clean Energy Economy. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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Johnson, Tom. (2018, April 4). New Jersey to Join Clean Car Initiative, as EPA Eases Fuel-Economy Standards. NJ Spotlight.

Kassel, Rich. (2018, October 1) C-PACE and New York City’s Pathway to a Clean Energy Future. Capalino & Company.

Lazarus, Richard (2009, July). Super Wicked Problems and Climate Change: Restraining the Present to Liberate the Future. Cornell Law Review. 94 (5): 1153–1233. in Wikipedia. (2018, September 14). Wicked Problem.

Levin, Kelly; Cashore, Benjamin; Bernstein, Steven; Auld, Graeme (2012, May 23). Overcoming the Tragedy of Super Wicked Problems: Constraining our Future Selves to Ameliorate Global Climate Change”. Policy Sciences. 45 (2): 123–152. doi:10.1007/s11077-012-9151-0. in Wikipedia. (2018, September 14). Wicked Problem.

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New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (2018B, August 13) New Jersey Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory.

New Jersey Department of Environmental Program. (2018C, October 4) Drive Green New Jersey.

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. (2018D, August 13) Take Action.

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Science Advisory Board (2016, January 4) New Jersey Climate Change Charge Question.

New Jersey Economic Development Administration. The State of Innovation: Building a Stronger & Fairer Economy in New Jersey.

New Jersey Sustainable Business Registry. (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2018, from

Polsky, Matt; O’Brien, Stephanie; Montgomery, Caitlyn; Eveigan, Christopher; Passmore, Kiernan; Glans, Willem; & Plungis, William. (2018A, June). A Green Economy for New Jersey: A Proposal to the New New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. Ramapo College.

Polsky, Matt. (2018B, July 23). We Can Grow a Robust Green Economy. New Jersey Environment.

Polsky, Matt (2017, August 19). Seven Projects with Potential to Talk To the Trump Voter: Part 4. The Medium.

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[1] The other was Mike Aucott.

6 Replies to “New Jersey Now “Gets” Climate Change. What We Are Still Missing: Introduction: Part 1”

  1. What a great challenge and dialogue-starter to think more boldly than most people are accustomed to doing. I hope this gets the dissemination it deserves and that citizens in all positions of influence or authority take it seriously, share it, push back, and dare to take their own steps to realize any of the goals. The authors’ openness and humility are a model of how to start to get a grip on arguably the world’s most important wicked problem.

    A brilliant concept and piece of work. Congratulations!

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