Not Meeting New Jersey State Government’s Basic Responsibility to Respond to Constituents’ Suggestions: Frustrating and a Barrier to Innovation

In a democracy supposedly everyone counts. But if you can’t communicate with state government, something fundamental is broken.

For three years, I’ve sent articles/reports/letters I’d written/co-written on climate change, a green economy, sustainability to the New Jersey Governor’s Office and four state agencies—25+ times.

These ideas were developed over four decades, and are rarely offered by others. I’ve now largely phased-out of New Jersey things, but wanted to leave something behind for others, including difficult lessons learned, to help.

But other than three brief acknowledgements of receipt, there was almost no sign of consideration of what I had to say. Promises to get back to me weren’t kept.

If the ideas are rejected, I understand. That’s a common fate for innovation. (The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s climate change policy report report, issued last week, had good ideas but missed nearly all of my suggestions.) But lack of substantive response is disrespectful. If the ideas of an 18-time Award Winner/Resolution Recipient for innovation, with much less time now, have value, even to spur further thinking, it’s a wasted opportunity.

I’m not asking them for money or a job. Just courtesy and some curiosity.

It’s particularly important to do so between emergencies as it’s perfectly understandable when crises like the pandemic dominate their time.

This really isn’t worse than previous Administrations or The Legislature, environmentalists, academics, journalists, or citizens. All need to do better hearing new possibilities to deal with the urgent challenges ahead.

I wish it didn’t come to this as I believe in government and mostly like what these guys are doing policy-wise. I would like to see them succeed.

Ironically, another agency I had not approached recently asked for help, which I gave. They replied: “Let’s talk.” We just did, and they asked: can we do it again?

There are many difficult decisions ahead for New Jersey. But some, like responding and listening, don’t have to be so hard.

For examples of what I sent the Governor’s Office, see here on the green economy, here on climate change, and, based in part on my failures so others can do better, and also bringing some international ideas to New Jersey, here on sustainability.

Been trying to leave “a gift” to New Jersey policy makers and stakeholders. But they don’t seem to want it. Guess they don’t want even more.

Can a Public Meeting Catalyze a Tipping Point for Both Accelerated Conventional and Creative Efforts to Address Climate Change?

(This was originally submitted as a comment directly on an article in New Jersey Spotlight. Their automated comment processing system is on the fritz, and threw it out after posting it for a few minutes, calling it “Spam.” With a quick fix unlikely, I, therefore, added to it and posted it as an article here.)

Tom Johnson’s article, “DEP’s First Step Toward Reducing Greenhouse Gases Dismissed as Too Tame by Critics,” on a NJDEP forum on climate change held Tuesday of this week was an incomplete view of what occurred.

While, yes, certainly “critics” thought it was “too tame” to achieve the State’s ambitious carbon reduction goals, and it was, that pretty much was going to be the case. We, and by that I mean all of us, should have started on this decades ago. NJDEP is just one agency; with limited resources; (usually) extremely limited vision, as is true of most organizations; and Air Quality, the host of the meeting, is just one division.

And yet despite this, another perspective is that at the very start of the meeting it was clarified that the usual frame that implicitly determines–and limits–what could and could not be discussed, was challenged and broken. We wound up departing from the nominal boundary: the department’s thinking to potentially just further regulate permittees, such as utility electric generating stations. Instead, it became the most open, creative, out-of-the-box forum for ideas I’ve ever heard from decades of going to these NJDEP things.

As NJDEP Director Frank Steitz stated, “Business as usual won’t get us there.” I’m not sure I’d ever heard “the long term” mentioned before at a NJDEP meeting. So he listened to non-business-as-usual ideas from attendees, non-passively, asking questions as necessary for clarification. The facilitators shushed no one. I, for one, had the opportunity to say several things not usually heard at a state government forum, such as taking advantage of, and building on, the businesses coming around on addressing climate change; linking our state’s recent interest on the latter to the still unrealized need to do the same for biodiversity; and moving much harder on efficiency at the demand level, including bringing in underutilized ideas from psychology to it.

And what was so personally rewarding, I heard urgency and creative ideas from so many around the room, such as market restructuring, putting a price on carbon, looking at advancements in other states to see what we might do, and sequestration. The “practical” interspersed with the innovative. As one environmentalist said to me afterwards, the businesspersons present seem to realize we’re in a different era now and they need to be a part of it.

Seems like an opportunity to me, for business and otherwise. While there were no illusions Air Quality or NJDEP could do all the things suggested, maybe it’s less crazy than it had been to figure out how they could be a critical part of the much larger efforts it’s going to take.

Of course, it was just one day. What happens next is unclear and rests, in part, on many others stepping up. The regulatory issues raised are important. But actually addressing the climate change issue will take many other strategies as well. Actively listening, much better than usual “Stakeholder Participation,” an audience thinking out-of-the-box, are not bad places to start and to continue to practice.

To that end, there are over a dozen articles and reports on ideas for New Jersey on this, as well as the interrelated topic of a green economy, here at that don’t usually come up (although a few did this time, which is why this article was not made “Part 7” of the earlier “What Are We Still Missing” series). For anyone who wants to go even deeper on the green economy in New Jersey, an Appendix in this one summarizes several other reports, etc., done over the decades, but which we weren’t ready for at the time.

For those interested in getting involved in climate change in New Jersey, as we really are going to have to do—and think—differently in what a European field I follow calls a Transformation, this seems like a really good time for your unique contributions. You might just have a piece that others could then build on.

Consider taking NJDEP up on its offer to send your ideas to (using the subject line: “Reducing Carbon Emissions in New Jersey”). Perhaps offer something about implementation as that will be challenging. Hopefully, they’ll consider them, and save the “really too far out there” stuff for a time when we need even those.

Returning to the mundane, I hope when that comments processor gets fixed it at least comes to see the earlier version of this is as “Elite-level” Spam.

Comments to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) on their 2019 Draft Energy Master Plan (EMP)


(This is an expanded version of what I sent to the NJBPU yesterday to meet their deadline for officially commenting on the 2019 Draft EMP.)


I have either testified and/or sent the NJBPU comments on various editions of the EMP over the years. And, as an assignment, one of my classes once sent them comments, too. This will be the final time.

I have been involved in energy issues, on-&-off-&-on, in different roles as a Sustainability Change-Agent in New Jersey, for over 40 years. I:

• Was a marketing manager/researcher for energy processing equipment for seven years at Western Electric/AT&T
• Worked with the NJBPU and it was a member of the Interagency Sustainable State Work Group I managed at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). NJBPU speakers gave a few talks at a seminar series I co-ran there. I also co-catalyzed NJDEP’s initial climate change efforts
• Attended BPU conferences
• Was on a BPU Education committee
• Worked on energy issues as a volunteer with two environmental groups
• Taught two semesters of Energy Policy at a Ramapo College, arranged with the then-NJBPU President to have some departmental guest speakers at the class, and facilitated three energy panels at a conference at the college, including a plenary with her
• Gave and facilitated talks and wrote articles (see below) on climate change in New Jersey
• Was a Senior Fellow at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Institute for Sustainable Enterprise for 12 years
• Am a perpetual student, currently pursuing a Ph.D. in sustainability at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, focusing on Sustainable Transformational Change.


To some degree I’m comforted that New Jersey now recognizes the climate change problem, its urgency, and that State Government, environmental groups and other non-profits, academics, and some journalists have begun serious efforts to address it. This had not been the case. Therefore, it’s not a bad time to leave this turf, but that doesn’t mean the NJBPU is not still missing parts of key elements of what will likely be necessary.

I understand and applaud the NJBPU for asking for guidance on 28 specific questions, but this time I cannot deeply sort through those needs. I hope they are getting sufficient input from others. Still, it should be helpful in thinking about their Question 11: “What policy, legislative, or regulatory mechanisms can New Jersey develop to ensure that it can most cost-effectively pursue a 100% carbon neutral power sector?;” the three questions which are part of “Strategy 7: Expand the Clean Energy Innovation Economy;” and indirectly helpful for some others.

Mostly this time I offer a meta-look; that is, an overall “big-picture,” “what are we missing,” “what do we need to do (or think) differently” perspective?

Some of the Best Parts of the EMP

Before I get to that, I offer some conclusions based on my review of the Report. Of course, there are many good points, including but not limited to:

• The major goals (e.g. 100% clean energy, and 80% greenhouse gas reduction, both by 2050, and 50% renewables by 2030), and the majority of its direction
• Their pretty comprehensive knowledge of the energy field
• The study contracted to Rocky Mountain Institute (something I wished was done decades ago)
• The mention of PACE financing (for I believe the first time)
• The carbon-neutral new technology incubator and research and development (which had been dropped years ago)
• The pleasant surprise of seeing green infrastructure included.

The above goals, while impressive, necessary, and bold, may have to be accelerated even further as the news about climate change continues to worsen. The NJBPU will probably need, and have to call on, a contingency plan. For instance, the greenhouse gas reduction goal should be 100% net reduction, and it may well have to happen even earlier.

What I list below are: (a) where key points are mixed; that is, while present, an important area appears too lightly covered, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot; and (b) a few key areas which appear totally missed.

Somewhat Good/Somewhat Lacking Parts of the EMP

The areas of the Draft which are mixed, with too minimal or not enough emphasis of a key point or area, are:

• While the document’s “Endnotes” are impressive, showing familiarity with a range of both primary and secondary sources, none of the documents I have sent you or State Government are referenced. If these publicly available documents are unknown to you, then there is a different meta-problem. How are you supposed to innovate, something you cite (see below) if there is not an adequate channel for you to receive, and a culture to allow for pondering, new ideas?
• Sustainability. While some of its concepts are implicitly included, what is missing are using it as overall frame for the entire area, many of its concepts including values, tapping into the initiatives around the state that involve it (that usually involve energy), the necessity to keep up with developments in the field. Just today, “Choose NJ” reported that Governor Murphy said: “Sustainability…is a future which all of us are committed to…” (He also announced the signing of two MOUs today between institutes in India and Princeton University on renewable energy and sustainability.)
• The use of the key concepts “Transition” and “Transformation” are very understated. Without fully realizing it, perhaps, at least in this area, New Jersey has begun what could be called a “Sustainability Transformation.” This European-oriented concept (and sub-field) offers frameworks and ideas that could be useful for the state. However, one aspect of this that even they are not aware of is that a “Transformation” has to mean, at least potentially (if not practically), that nearly “everything has to be on the table.” That is, business-as-usual policy, processes, thinking, assumptions may have to be re-thought. Very importantly, New Jersey is not going to get there through even incrementally positive improvements to how it’s used to doing things. Now, in reality, it is impossible to re-think literally everything, at least at any one time, but the NJBPU does have to be open to questioning conventional practices and assumptions as they come up, including from those who interface with them (or try to). And by no means is it just the NJBPU. Note this very recent article and my comments about its concerns over alleged “costs” if the EMP, as drafted, is finalized. There is nothing in the article itself on the fundamental concept of externalities or sustainable businesses who would likely support the new energy goals. This conventional journalistic practice reflects what one article below calls the prevalent “there’s nothing new under the sun” mindset that is widespread in several sectors involved with energy (as well as other issues) in New Jersey. It has to be challenged
• While the Draft states: “Minimize reliance on natural gas as the state transitions to a clean energy economy,” I, like others, currently don’t see how this can be squared with possibly allowing the proposed new infrastructure involving natural gas. I recognize that banning new gas pipelines and compressor stations can be a politically and economically painful decision, but don’t see an alternative. A formal European-informed “Transitions” process might help both you and our state to come up with a way to address this “Elephant in the EMP”
• Other concepts which are mentioned, but either somewhat or badly understated are:
• Externalities (the Document continues to emphasize “least cost,” which implies conventional market pricing, not at all the same thing as factoring them in. I don’t really see the point of mentioning externalities if the NJBPU will not at least gradually adjust pricing to (a) recognize them, and (b) use the market system to reduce/eliminate them. Once you do that, you can begin to talk about “least cost.”)
• Education (see that section in this recent article)
• Pilots (these are a major area with the Sustainable Transitions field, with a lot to learn from)
• Learning from international experience (e.g. such as Germany’s prominent transformation of their electricity sector, both for better or worse), and to some extent from other states
• Seeking increased renewable energy use by the commercial and industrial sectors
• Innovation. Missing is social innovation. Also, is the NJBPU set up to recognize those innovations that are so new and different that they don’t look like “innovation” is supposed to look, or coming from places it’s not used to looking for them? Will they focus on the negatives of innovative approaches, including when to reject them if they’re too severe, or minimize them when feasible?
• Financing, the Green Bank and the role of the Economic Development Administration (EDA) are not bad, but miss the potential huge incentive of linking all EDA financing, for nearly any reason, to sustainable ends. This idea should not get lost in the current controversy about this agency
• Green jobs. This also is pretty good, but misses the idea, and taking seriously, that “all jobs can be green jobs,” recognition that businesses don’t necessarily know all required job skills, and the importance of learning lessons from previous such efforts
• Neither sustainable business (nor similar expressions like corporate social responsibility, B Corps, regenerative businesses) is never mentioned. These go way beyond just clean energy companies; include the concepts in this field (such as triple bottom line, purpose, impact investing, zero pollution goals, green design, etc.); and the potential for them to help New Jersey meet its public policy goals (a major theme of the “Green Economy” reports listed below). If that sounds far-fetched, note that in the last two weeks, Governor Murphy cited the CEOs’ “Statement” that they now recognize their social responsibilities go beyond their shareholders; and, in a sustainable business-relevant policy, announced the State will stop using or working with financial institutions and retailers who do not support gun control efforts
• The use of the state’s colleges (it’s still, though, only the usual players)
• Terms like “systemic” and “holistic” (which are not quite as total as it might seem)
• Bicycling (very badly understated)
• “Advocate for net zero carbon buildings in new construction,” but with no mention of “Living Buildings”
• The well-thought out support of the wind sector, but I saw nothing on minimizing environmental consequences
• Strategic partnerships with industry (e.g. what will be the ground rules? Will the public benefit financially from, say, successful government-funded R&D?)
• Labeling as a policy option (This has its own do’s and don’ts. The list of “Resources” in the Green Economy Report below does not include a “White Paper” I did, while at NJDEP, on environmental labeling in the early 1990’s because I was unable to locate a copy. It offered guidance on labeling. If interested, check the State Library or the Division of Consumer Affairs which might have a copy.)
• Metrics to evaluate performance. (This also has its own do’s and don’ts. If interested, see me for any of 22 articles I did questioning conventional wisdoms about that.)
• Idling was briefly mentioned I believe once. It deserves more attention
• While the inclusion of biodigestors is welcome, as I don’t remember it in older iterations of the EMP; otherwise, the connection between energy, recycling and solid waste is minimal.

Missing Parts of the EMP

Concepts which were totally missed are:

• The use of the field of psychology, and related fields such as social marketing and behavioral economics, which now have a literature on behavioral change as applied to energy
• The need to stop new subsidies for nuclear energy, unless, arguably, they are absolutely needed for a new generation of advanced technology nuclear power with major benefits (But that is a whole other subject, and subject to several caveats. See the second Green Economy report below.)
• The need to legally and politically support California’s right to stay ahead of national regulation as New Jersey, as well as some other states, follow some of their actions.

I have mentioned many of these in comments on other drafts of EMPs over the years.

The Bigger Picture/A Different Way to Look at Things

The bulk of my contribution is to offer you articles and a report I have either written, co-written, edited, or worked with my students to produce. Summaries of each are included. These should be helpful to a few of your questions, but, as mentioned, overall, provide more of a big picture perspective. The former emphasize “What is (still) missing?”

Here are those articles and reports.

1) “New Jersey Now ‘Gets’ Climate Change. What We Are Still Missing: Introduction: Part 1,” with Lawrence Furman, Jonathan Cloud, & Caitlyn Montgomery. October 15, 2018.

Summary: Important players in New Jersey, including Governor Murphy and his Administration, are finally taking climate change seriously. However, as shown by attendance at several climate change conferences, and perspectives offered there on how to address it, while important perspectives are offered, they are limited and not going to be enough. For example, not mentioned, and therefore one recommendation of this article is not to give up on conservative voters as carbon reduction contributions will be needed from them, too. Suggestions are made on how to pursue that.

2) “New Jersey Now ‘Gets’ Climate Change. What We Are Still Missing: Starting with Organizational Culture: Part 2,” with Lawrence Furman. October 22, 2018.

Summary: To reach our climate change goals, we’re going to have to think very differently than we have been: “more comprehensively…more open to possibilities, more reflective, and much less accepting of what has always been.” This includes the historical culture of NJDEP and possibly NJBPU. Bureaucratic and other innovation-killing cultural obstacles cannot be allowed to stifle vision and progress. Instead, state government, as well as other sectors, should be more reflective about these. The Jevons Paradox about possible reversals from energy efficiency measures should not be ignored, but looked for and countered where seen. The Sustainable Transformation field should be followed and borrowed from where appropriate. A zero greenhouse gas emission policy goal by 2050 should be set.

3) “New Jersey Now ‘Gets’ Climate Change. What We Are Still Missing: ‘From Government and Really Helping:’ Part 3,” October 28, 2018.

Summary: We’re not going to achieve our climate change goals without a vital, active, and respected State Government. This includes active involvement in the economy and better engagement with the public. Survey the public about how NJBPU energy programs are actually doing, looking for unexpected issues.

4) “New Jersey Now ‘Gets’ Climate Change. What We Are Still Missing: Why We’re Not Talking About What We’re Not Talking About: Part 4,” January 3, 2019.

Summary: This is a detailed exploration of mindset barriers, or ways of thinking which make it more difficult for us to imagine, evaluate, discuss new ideas and possibilities for addressing climate change. These are similar to several other concepts, such as cognitive biases, blind spots, ideologies, dogma, unquestioned assumptions about business-as-usual practices, etc. They cannot be blamed on others, say certain climate change “villains,” but are things we do to ourselves. They can be held even by those who are actively seeking to address climate change. An example is an organizational cultural practice that makes it acceptable to ignore letters and messages. A consequence is an additional, unrecognized, and unnecessary barrier for a promising idea to get heard and possibly break through. Another is that only minor improvements in the level of bicycling are seen as possible. These are pervasive, as this article lists 60 of them. At this point, there are not a lot of obvious ways to overcome them, but at least we can try to be aware of when they are occur.

5) “New Jersey Now ‘Gets’ Climate Change. What We Are Still Missing: Focus State Support for a Carbon Tax at the Federal Level: Part 5:” Mike Aucott, January 20, 2019.

Summary: This argues for the need and the many benefits of a revenue-neutral carbon tax to address climate change, but to apply at the federal level. A “state-level…is too narrow.” But state-level efforts could be directed at supporting the former (This one also generated and included back-&-forth between the author and others about these points. Note that while I edited this one, I don’t agree with its conclusion that a carbon tax would be inappropriate at the state level.)

6) “New Jersey Now ‘Gets’ Climate Change. What We Are Still Missing: A Climate Vision for Montgomery County, Maryland: Should We Be Doing This in New Jersey?: Part 6,” Herb Simmens, March 11, 2019.

Summary: This was an unusual “looking back from the future” visioning exercise for a county in another state that asks if such a process would be useful for New Jersey. By placing our frame in the future, “experiencing” what things could be like when the climate change challenge is at least partially met, it temporarily suspends the various obstacles we may face in achieving difficult goals. Then, once we’re back in the present, we might be more prepared to be creative in overcoming those obstacles. The article envisions the many ways life would be different, including how county government innovates to make it work, including working with the state, as well as some remaining challenges. The idea would be to provide hope, unleash innovation in a number of ways, while keeping a guidepost to the direction.

I hope and anticipate four more “Parts” to this Series. Three of these will be psychology-oriented, with the first on ideas to tackle the widespread mindset barriers discussed above. If the NJBPU wishes to receive them if I am able to write them, they should let me know.

Also, although it de-emphasizes the energy dimension, the below is still highly relevant, given the Draft’s discussion of the similar “Clean Energy Innovation Economy.” This is my class and my report:

7) “A Green Economy for New Jersey: A Proposal to the New New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy,” with Ramapo College class; & “Postscript: Going Wider and Deeper with the Green Economy,” June 12, 2018.

Summary: This class effort is a very, but not fully comprehensive vision/proposal that goes beyond conventional green jobs (e.g. solar, wind, recycling) to include potentially nearly all sectors of the economy, and many or even most companies to some extent in the state. (Since it is light on the energy dimension that the EMP is strong on, it complements it.) While taking the concept of a “green economy” further than others have, it frames this more as an opportunity for addressing environmental and social problems, like but beyond climate change, than as green jobs. But the latter will come, too. It cites several developments in the sustainable business field, which could be taken advantage of, and contains many recommendations, including building on NJDEP’s existing Sustainable Business Initiative. It also has an extensive References section, with summaries, of many previous relevant reports about New Jersey.

There was also another class report on “Defending the Green New Deal: Recommendations to Build on What’s Actually In It While Reaching Out To Others,” although this one was aimed at the federal level. Still, it could have insights for New Jersey.

Ending Thoughts

I wish New Jersey success in achieving its bold, but necessary, renewable energy goals and carbon reduction goals.

I hope that while I have no particular reason to believe it, my efforts over the years have been helpful to the NJBPU and to those it serves, and will be both for the final EMP and as you move into tackling those very ambitious goals.

Speaking of the innovation theme, mentioned above, perhaps it is time to adjust the process-laden “Public Comment” routine, with the NJBPU looping back to specific commenters when one or more of their ideas actually pays off.

12 Ideas for Sustainable Jersey’s “Next 10 Years”


This past Tuesday, Sustainable Jersey (SJ) held a “Listening Session” in Maplewood, the first of three they will be holding around the state. SJ is a non-profit, residing within The College of New Jersey. They set criteria for, and certify, municipalities at three increasingly challenging levels of sustainability. This is on the occasion of their 10th Anniversary, to provide direction for their “The Next 10 Years.” They emphasized they “will listen,” are “open to ideas,” and “willing to change.” Their Executive Director, Randy Solomon, added: “The next 10 years will be crucial,” with which I (as well as famous marine biologist Sylvia Earle) agree.

They received many ideas two nights ago from members of the audience, but I thought I would add 12 of my own.

This comes from a long-time Sustainability Change-Agent and “friendly critic” of the Program; who co-chaired one town’s Green Team (the first and most basic requirement for a town pursuing certification) in Union County, whose application was successfully certified, and advised two more in Warren County, one of which, after building internal support for two years, just applied last week-end for the first time; catalyzed, was on a committee, and demonstrated the Program’s “Green Business” Activity; sent ideas to staffers developing new Activities, such as Agriculture and the Gold Star Standard Certification; defended the Program publicly to attacks from less-friendly critics; advocated (successfully) for the Executive Director to receive an “Excellence Award,” was once named a SJ “Hero of the Month;” discussed SJ in some of the college courses taught; and attended many SJ forums over the years, and presented at one, always with something out-of-the-box to say.

This most likely will be my final input to, and efforts concerning, SJ.

I had previously commented, publicly, on how much this Program exceeded my initial modest expectations based on how they originally sought to approach sustainability. Never did I foresee that a majority of towns in the state would seek or get certification. I now note the emergence of an expressed urgency as a part of the context in which sustainability is discussed at SJ forums. This wasn’t there during the early years, which bothered me as it is an essential tenet of the field of sustainability. The same for the recognition of climate change. It’s also now present. Similarly, they clarified that those municipalities successfully receiving “Bronze,” or the basic level, certification does not mean they are sustainable, whereas the emergence of the “Gold Star Standard” a few years ago is the way for them to actually, if very approximately, approach that level.

I must note some limitations of what I suggest as I have been nearly totally out of touch with the Program in the past two years. It is possible some of what I propose below has already been considered. The same is true for their “Schools” initiative as I have not followed that at all.

(However, years ago, in my “Parent” hat, the then-Superintendent of Schools in my then-town set up an “Education” Committee with teachers to accommodate me. Later, when that town’s in-process certification efforts were falling short of the required point level, that Education Committee joined the Green Team, adding the schools-based based activities they had been doing. The combined result was sufficient. That Superintendent is now the head of the New Jersey School Boards Association, an active partner to SJ. Also, I’ve taught 28 sustainability college courses.)

How SJ could do the below is not addressed. It is understood that SJ cannot do all of these things. While some of these may be out of their current comfort zone, hopefully SJ can do some. The needs are there, for the most part no one else is doing them, and real innovation can be conceived and attempted.

(Speaking of innovation—and what couldn’t have been imagined even the day before, I note the announcement on Monday of Governor Murphy’s new policy that the State will stop using or working with financial institutions and retailers who do not step up to support gun control. Here is my separate comment on that. If such an innovation is possible there, why not what currently can’t be imagined at the municipal level?)

Here are the 12 ideas for SJ’s consideration, as well as those who work with them.

The 12 Ideas

  1. Sustainability needs to be mainstreamed in New Jersey. While it was nice that CivicStory was at the “Listening Session,” and, in accordance with their new reporting initiative, there will probably be a story, sustainability needs to be in the media all the time! SJ could write or facilitate op-eds on how a sustainability lens effects the issues of the day, including non-environmental ones. Approaches to sustainability need to be discussed at all levels of government, by citizens, environmental and social welfare non-profits, businesses, and others. It can no longer be a niche of which relatively few are aware. (In Europe, where I’ve been spending at least a week each of the last three years, everyone I speak to has heard of it. Not so in New Jersey.)

  2. The Gold Star Standard Certification should be expanded and promoted. It should be clear that over the next 10 years that “Gold” is really the goal for municipalities.

  3. Global Connectedness. Sustainable development, as well as environmentalism, in their early days emphasized the theme of interconnectedness, including between parts of the world. Potentially, this could be between municipalities in New Jersey and countries, or cities in them. Whether we’re sensitive to it, or not, we touch them both in good and bad ways, and vice-versa. In a way, the emphasis on municipalities in New Jersey in the past 10 years has employed a useful fiction of, in contrast, independence. However, if we can help them, and/or learn from them (e.g. the you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it levels of bicycling in some European cities; the German experience, both good and bad, with electricity sector restructuring to seek unprecedented levels of renewable power, with which Governor Murphy might be familiar from his time as U.S. Ambassador there), then why not seek those ties? This contrarian perspective actually has precedents. SJ already has, among other things, visited certain other parts of the world and worked with schools there, and sponsored international visitors here. Very recently, the movie, “Blinded by the Light,” came out about a Pakistani youth who was inspired by Bruce Springsteen lyrics to stretch his life goals. I once worked out a mechanism with SJ by which municipalities could develop, and get points for, an international connection through the existing “Innovation” Activity. But this needs to be much better promoted and municipalities’ mindsets expanded to consider it. (It can be a stretch! Still, see here for the first page of an article with several more examples of local: global ties, now called “glocal.” See the author for the rest of it as it got “de-Interneted” somehow. Here’s a more recent example of local: global connection.)

  4. Soften the required Municipal Government condition for activities occurring in the town to be eligible for points. Find a creative way, if necessary, to maintain an association between those doing something innovative within the town that isn’t technically a government or public school initiative and those affiliated with local government. Or, even more flexibly, just allow anything sustainable happening within that town to qualify for an Activity even if there is no real municipal government connection at all. For instance, something a business, non-profit, church, private school, citizen, or university located in the town is doing.

  5. While less formal, re-look at cultural factors. Loosen or eliminate the sense that activities cannot be undertaken or considered because municipal officials “do not have control” over them, such as pollution from a highway running through the town. In an importance sense, invoking the complex systems context, which is often overlooked but within which much of society actually functions, “control” can be an illusion anyway. Even when you think you have it, surprises often occur, quite possibly beyond anyone’s ability to foresee (not that they shouldn’t try). Also, attempts can still be made to influence or encourage what clearly can’t be “controlled.” Finally, the risk-inhibiting onus of a “failure” can be re-conceived as a step along the way to a better outcome, as long as it was a worthy and well-conceived project and a “lessons learned” approach taken towards it. Another town could then pick up on that “failed” attempt, benefit from knowing precisely what didn’t work, and add a different strategy, perhaps leading to more success.

  6. Pay more attention to Conservative areas of the state. They may need special attention, including regional Hub creation where there isn’t yet sufficient enough obvious interest. Relatedly, seek to re-engage Frelinghuysen, which dropped out of SJ some years ago when approached by The Tea Party. They promised when they dropped out that they would one day re-consider.

  7. Follow, more actively take from, explicitly invoke, and contribute to the field of sustainability. Participate and bring back to SJ participants current topics and ideas, and thought on them, such as Sustainable Transformation and Transitions; proposals to replace or go beyond sustainability, such as “Regeneration,” “Thrivability,” “Flourishing;” the UNSDGs; systems thinking; cutting edge Corporate Social Responsibility; the “despair” theme now getting a lot of attention, as well as how it will hopefully be addressed; complexity.

  8. The subject of “Benefits” and, relatedly, “Motivation” often come up at SJ events. The usual and compelling answer are grants. Getting certified increases the size and availability of them. Sometimes a secondary reason like “bragging rights” comes up. At my table someone mentioned: a way to “Uplift the community,” the first time I’d heard that. It is time, though, to take advantage of the emergence of what was seen at the forum: that greater sense of felt urgency. Expand what is seen as a “Benefit” to having the opportunity to participate in opening up and expanding a whole new, relatively untapped front—the local level–to help address the challenges of our time.

  9. Clarify what is unique about sustainability. What is its relationship to environmentalism? Where, in practice, are they basically the same thing, and where are they different? If some are confusing the two, using them too synonymously, quietly point this out to them. What is special about sustainability? What are some of its relevant properties and how can SJ ensure these are part of its thinking, operations, and communications? For example, are at least some SJ Board members from the academic sustainability community and are they specifically tasked with bringing in this dimension? Can a stakeholder participation process—such as this one—attain a standard of co-decision-making between participant and SJ manager/staffer on what gets incorporated and what doesn’t? Are failures acknowledged and learned from? Are what is not known about sustainability part of the discussion?

  10. Extend SJ Manager/Staff participation in others’ sustainability activities. Be more involved, particularly at academic conferences in the State. Seek to help others’ sustainability initiatives using the SJ network, fundraising and other capacities, and brand. Help distribute others’ sustainability articles and reports.

  11. Education in its largest sense should be seen as vital to the pursuit of sustainability. While it might already seem that it is, too often the word is used in almost a (not necessarily intended) superficial way. Often heard is: “We have to educate the public about (say) recycling.” It actually needs to go much deeper than that. Related to some of the above, some of the special qualities of sustainability (and learning) need to be part of the process. These include: systems thinking (including when it is cited but not actually done, as well as when its apparent opposite, reductionism, is still legitimate); critical thinking; lifelong and perpetual learning and curiosity; real interdisciplinary thinking; double-loop and triple-loop learning; co-learning; the distinctions between knowing what we don’t know, not knowing what we don’t know, thinking we know but are actually wrong; humility; complexity and when you need to go there; social entrepreneurship; opportunism; creativity and real innovation; personal resiliency, as participating in sustainability activities can come with a few “hits;” and truly working sustainability into every job category. The focus sometimes seen on “Projects” and “Activities,” while perhaps more tangible, practical, and measurable than alternatives, risks losing some of these. Finally, while the frequent focus on “The Young” is important, don’t forget about the “Oldsters.” We may have a few tricks to pass on and might stand to still learn a few more.

  12. Some other vital SJ projects and efforts beyond municipal certification in New Jersey can be overlooked in a “Listening” context when the latter is the focus. These include Sustainability Goals for the State and tracking of metrics showing progress, or not, towards reaching them; very graphic mapping of projected sea level rise in vulnerable areas around the state; helping other states adopt their own municipal certification programs; and perhaps others. Most likely these also would benefit from a re-look to help guide the next 10 years. Consider a mini-Listening Session for them, too.

Hopefully, these ideas will hold SJ for most of the 10 years until the next “Friendly Critic” comes along.

Defending the Green New Deal: Recommendations to Build on What’s Actually in it While Reaching Out to Others

“You can have the Green New Deal and your hamburger, too” —Embriette Hyde, Writer, SynBioBeta, & Luisa Schetinger, Photographer, Unsplash

“Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.”

—Robert F. Kennedy

By Matt Polsky, Jillian Connelly, Candace Barr, Jazmine Garcia, Dillon Negrao, Dana Ogden, Zachary Potter, Matthew Wojciechowski, Brian Woodward, Andrew Wortman, Margaret Cawley, Mary Dragone

An open letter to:

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
229 Cannon HOB
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez:

For the course I teach at Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey, Economics, Ecology, & Ethics, we studied the Green New Deal in the last third of the spring semester. We read and discussed articles and viewed videos about it, featuring both its fans and critics. This was after we had explored the course theme: how do we best put economics and the environment together, pulling in equity issues, while learning to identify economics ideas inconsistent with sustainability.

We find that your Resolution already is doing much that is right and is unusually admirable. It is extremely bold, because, as you have pointed out, it has to be to deal with the problem of climate change. It also boldly integrates economic and social issues with it. It is blunt. Its approach is unusual and very challenging, but consistent with tenets of the sustainability field that it invokes.

Much of this, though, has bought the Resolution a lot of criticism, both fairly and unfairly.

The eleven students and I aim to provide ideas to you, your staff and advisors that would build on its strengths, while providing responses to some of the criticisms. For example, as the Resolution has been criticized as “light on details,” this report provides more of these.

In any group report it is best not to assume that all contributors agree wholeheartedly with every point or recommendation, although no one expressed any reservations to anything in the report itself. As this was largely the students’ report, while I guided their exploration, for the most part I went with their views. The nuclear one was tricky. I concurred with it, partially because of the stakes, and the power of their arguments and those of some guest speakers we had. But I want to point out the necessity of the associated conditions with that recommendation discussed there for reluctantly “coming out” on the “pro-nuke” side. Another is the hope that the “new nuclear technologies” advocates cite really does result in less waste and potential for proliferation of plutonium, although I’m still not persuaded that the argument “nuclear waste is a political problem, not a technical one” gets us anywhere. But—still—as climate change is one of the biggest challenges for the next generation… there is that compelling “carbon-free” argument.

Continue reading “Defending the Green New Deal: Recommendations to Build on What’s Actually in it While Reaching Out to Others”

New Jersey Now “Gets” Climate Change. What We Are Still Missing: Why We’re Not Talking About What We’re Not Talking About: Part 4

By Matt Polsky

Image result for pie of knowledge image

Image by Claire Bryden[1]

Introduction and Importance

Why are we not talking about the things we don’t usually talk about that need to be involving climate change? Why is it so hard to talk about or hear certain things like a carbon tax, a zero carbon emissions goal, or the many other steps we can or may have to take to address this immense problem, or it’s taking decades which we no longer have?

Mindset barriers or traps are a big part of the reason. They overlap to various degrees with many other concepts, such as world view, mental models, obsolete paradigms, cognitive biases, cognitive sticking points, blind spots or blinders, myths, ideology, stories, narratives, unquestioned assumptions, dogma, mantras, emotionalism, faith, group think, and certitudes. Some of these can have a positive or neutral side, or are necessary in some way.

We also can include unquestioned beliefs about business-as-usual practices—and not just in business, or “that’s just the way it is” shrugs. In certain contexts we can add references to someone’s “mentality,” “psychology,” “temperament,” or “the way the person is wired.” There are also language, framing, and communications issues.

Continue reading “New Jersey Now “Gets” Climate Change. What We Are Still Missing: Why We’re Not Talking About What We’re Not Talking About: Part 4”

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.

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

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).

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

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.

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