NEW BRUNSWICK - Nearly three quarters of New Jerseyans are concerned with how climate change may affect the state and two thirds of those of those people say Hurricane Sandy and other recent storms changed their views on climate change.
And while nearly three quarters of New Jersey residents believe in some way that the government needs to take steps to fortify housing, roads and bridges to be more resilient to stronger storms or more extreme weather, few are willing to pay for it.
This is the crux of a new poll released Wednesday by the Edward J. Bloustein School for Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University during a conference exploring climate change and how the state and its residents and businesses can adapt to coming changes.
"These numbers are telling me that the distance between the individual resident and the implications of climate change has closed," said Bloustein professor Michael Greenberg. The poll surveyed 1,750 people on various questions involving climate change and rebuilding issues following Sandy as well as questions concerning whether the government should impose land-use restrictions in flood-prone neighborhoods.
Greenberg found that nearly 85 percent of those surveyed supported in some way local government measures to require those rebuilding in flood zones do so such that their houses are more resistant to future floods. "This is an amazingly high number," Greenberg told the nearly 250 people in the attending the conference.
The poll also found that nearly 84 percent support in some way governmental measures to identify areas that should not be developed so that the land can act as storm buffers and about 80 percent support government financial incentives for home and business owners so they can flood-proof buildings.
But while support for new policy and efforts was strong, New Jerseyans were opposed to nearly every measure to pay for efforts. Of five potential ways to create consistent funding that would pay for projects to rebuild infrastructure or even housing to better withstand extreme weather events, less than a quarter supported those that raised taxes. A multibillion dollar bond issue had support by about 42 percent of those surveyed and a special 1 percent increase to hotels and recreation facility taxes had support by 53 percent of those surveyed.
Greenberg also found that while there was strong support for scientists who are predicting climate change effects, confidence is significantly lower that state and local government officials understand the risks climate change poses to communities. Additionally, Greenberg said, confidence is lowest for how the media communicates the climate change issue.
Sandy recovery and preparing for future storms were major themes of the daylong conference sponsored by the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance. Speakers from across the country discussed issues relating to how sea level rise will affect their community, how heavier rainstorms leading to major flooding could disrupt transportation and commerce and even how hotter summers in the future will affect public health.
New Jersey is one of the few states in the Northeast that does not have a long-range plan for how it will address climate change, though various departments including transportation are considering issues such as sea level rise when developing new projects.
Consensus has grown among scientists that climate change is occurring and humans are a major cause, but what exactly will happen remains unclear, said Anthony Broccoli, climatology professor at Rutgers University. Broccoli noted records now show that in New Jersey, the average temperature has on average risen by 2 degrees in the last 100 years, but since 1980, the rate of increase has accelerated, with the average temperature rising by 3 degrees per 100 years. Climatological trends in New Jersey also are showing that rainfall is increasingly coming from heavier storms, which could affect groundwater supplies and could cause more frequent street flooding in parts of South Jersey, Broccoli said. These trends in New Jersey reflect what is happening globally, he said.
"Superstorm Sandy, I really do believe, this is a game changer in the recognition of climate change," said James Hughes, dean of the Bloustein School for Planning and Public Policy.
Hughes this week released the results of an economic survey he helps conduct several times a year and a major finding this month was "overwhelming support" among businesses for rebuilding Sandy-damaged and other areas that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change to stronger standards to minimize future damage.
The bad news, Hughes said, is no one wants to pay for additional costs.
Two weeks after Hurricane Sandy struck, Ocean County embarked its first effort to develop a plan for how to prepare for major hazards. The county had tried to create the plan three years prior, but had no response.
Sandy changed that, said Bob Butkis with the Ocean County Office of Emergency Management. Now, instead of the county trying to contact mayors, the mayors were coming to them.
"Although we've been late, it's probably been good from a climate change standpoint because we are going to include sea level rise (in the plan,)" Butkis said.
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