The climate crisis is here and already impacting New Jersey. Greenhouse gas emissions globally set an all-time high last year. Our oceans are warming 40 percent faster than previously believed. The IPCC has given us 12 years before the worst climate impacts will become irreversible.
Gov. Phil Murphy’s state Board of Public Utilities recently released its Draft Energy Master Plan dealing with many issues affecting climate change and green energy. There is a growing sense of urgency to do more in combating climate impacts, but the EMP does not address natural gas.
There are things to like in the draft EMP, especially in electrifying the transportation sector and dealing with home heating. There is also a lot that’s missing, including any mention of a moratorium on fossil fuel projects.
What’s really troubling is the plan redefines clean energy as carbon neutral. This is a cynical move with major consequences. Clean energy is usually defined as wind, solar, energy efficiency, hydro and geo-thermal. Carbon neutral, by contrast, means that carbon will still be released. The definition includes natural gas, fossil fuel plants with carbon sequestration, nuclear power plants, incinerators, biomass, carbon credits and offsets. Redefining clean energy as carbon neutral will include a lot of dirty fuels. This is an Orwellian approach that sells out renewable energy by promoting natural gas and nuclear power.
Montgomery County, the most populous county in Maryland, was recognized today – Day 1 of the International Decade for Emergency Climate Action – by President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Congress and the United Nations as the first Post Carbon(P-C) community in the United States and the largest jurisdiction on the planet to reduce its net Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions to zero, while also removing millions of tons of GHGs from the atmosphere.
The county government in partnership with its one million residents achieved this ‘moonshot’ goal through the transformation of its energy, transportation, building and agricultural systems, while strengthening the ability of its residents and businesses to withstand the increasingly frequent and severe physical and socio/economic shocks resulting from accelerating climate change.
The Green New Deal resolution introduced in Congress calls for a massive U.S. mobilization over 10 years to achieve the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions while creating millions of high-wage jobs and sustainable economic growth. Unfortunately, while the science and need for federal action on climate change are clear, we can’t expect serious policymaking on the topic to come out of Washington until 2021 at the earliest.
Fortunately, it’s a new day in Wisconsin and the state is well positioned to make headway on many of the goals and objectives as outlined in the Green New Deal. For example…
February 14, 2019: NJ’s new stormwater utility bill (A2694/S1073) authorizes municipalities to collect fees on parking lots and other impervious surfaces to fund improvements to failing stormwater systems. But it has many commercial property owners concerned that they will now face significant new charges on their property. If the legislature and the Murphy Administration want to address these concerns in a meaningful way, PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) is the obvious answer.
PACE can provide 100% long-term financing for projects designed to reduce stormwater runoff by building retention systems, green roofs, and permeable paving. These improvements add to the value of the property and allow the owner to avoid some or all of the fees likely to be charged by the new utilities. When coupled with other clean energy and resiliency improvements, PACE projects are typically cashflow positive from day one. The capital is invested in the property by private lenders, but is off-balance sheet to the property owner, and the interest and other costs can often be treated as operating expenses. There is no public money involved. The municipality simply makes the Special Assessment mechanism available to the property owner, and provides a pass-through for the repayments.
The idea of putting a broadly-applied price on carbon dioxide emissions from combustion of fossil fuels from all major sectors of the U.S. economy is gaining traction. Several national organizations are actively supporting a carbon tax, including Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the Climate Leadership Council, the Carbon Tax Center, and PUTAPRICEONIT.
A number of nations and other jurisdictions already have some form of carbon pricing. A group of Princeton University students, the Princeton Student Climate Initiative, is exploring ways to strengthen New Jersey’s effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions, including development of a state-level carbon tax.
While state-level programs to price carbon could be effective, carbon pricing approaches will be more effective if they are national and, ideally, international in scope.
We recently came across a series of podcasts by our personal Financial Advisor, Jim Cox. Jim focuses on sustainable investments, but we had no idea he was actively interviewing experts and activists from across the country on a variety of topics related to the emerging green economy. Jim writes, “Sometimes it feel like I’m a voice in the wilderness…” which led us to the idea of posting his podcasts for a wider audience.
James Cox is a financial advisor with FFG Advisors. He focuses on wealth and risk management for clients of the firm. He is on the board of several organizations. James joined FFG/DFP in January of 2012. Many of Mr. Cox’s clients are entrepreneurs and business owners. His practice helps individuals manage risk within their finances, even as they are striving toward creating successful companies. To learn more go to http://jamesacox.com.
The first one that came to our attention was the conversation with Janet Kirsch, a physician and public health specialist, who is devoting her life to climate mobilization.
Mobilizing for Climate Disruption (September 21, 2018)
Janet Kirsch is a physician and speaker with 350 Bay Area. We had initially talked days before hurricane Florence made landfall. We chat today about the need to approach climate disruption with increased vigor and commitment.
And here are some other selected podcasts from James Cox, available on iTunes and elsewhere.
Over the past several decades, scientists have warned us that we need to curtail further greenhouse gas emissions if we wish to keep global warming below 2°C, which many consider a major danger limit for the Earth’s climate. The latest IPCC Special Report suggests that our economy must undergo a series of rapid transformations if we are to have a chance of staying at or below 1.5°C, and going over that could have disastrous consequences for many millions of people. The global emissions trajectory we are on is clearly incapable of even slowing the rate of temperature growth and sea-level rise, and must be reduced dramatically if we are achieve even a modest extension of the time we have before the Earth hits another milestone and potential tipping point.
Both U.S. and NJ emissions have been declining since the early 2000s, and NJ actually hit its 2020 goal of bringing emissions down to 1990 levels by 2008. But reaching the next set of objectives, an 80% reduction by 2050, will be significantly harder. According to a 2017 Rutgers report, “meeting the state’s limit of an 80 percent reduction from the 2006 level by 2050 will require a 75 percent reduction from 2012 emissions.” The UN estimates that global emissions overall must be trending firmly downward by 2020 (just over a year away) if we are to have any hope of staying “well under the 2°C limit,” which is the language of the Paris Accord.
New Jersey’s new “economic development master plan” is embedded in a report issued by the NJ Economic Development Authority titled “The State of Innovation: Building a Stronger and Fairer New Jersey.” First accounts of the report, such as this one from NJBIZ, mentioned a focus on wage growth, on community college education, on innovation, and on streamlining regulations for small business, but did not specifically mention that clean energy is a major part of the “innovation” focus.
Murphy unveils NJ economic development ‘master plan’
Gov. Phil Murphy announces his major economic agenda on Oct. 1, 2018 at ON3 biotechnology campus in Nutley. – (EDWIN J. TORRES/NJ GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)
Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday unveiled his “master plan” aimed at reimagining how the state attracts and keeps jobs and businesses and kick starting New Jersey’s economy, which he said lagged for the past decade under the administration of Chris Christie.
Murphy, at the ON3 biotechnology campus in Passaic County, said his goal is that by 2025 New Jersey will have added 300,000 new jobs, achieved a 4 percent wage growth or an increase of $1,500 in median wages, 40,000 more women and minorities working in STEM fields, $645 million in new venture capital investment, and the employment of 42,000 more women and minorities.
More broadly, Murphy’s economic outline has four parts – investment in people, investment in communities, a build-up of the innovation economy and making government work better for small businesses by streamlining much of the permitting and application processes and bureaucracies online.
Which led us initially to wonder “where’s the green in Murphy’s new economic master plan?” Fortunately the answer is pretty clear—it’s a key part of the Innovation Economy, and already getting some new attention at the agency.
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).
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.