Climate Denial in Storm-Battered New Jersey?

Almost everybody hates Congress these days. Its job approval rating has sunk to a paltry 17 percent. It only passed 23 laws this year – including one to name a bridge, and another to promote fishing in some river. But strangely, politicians don’t seem to be all that worried. And that’s because of a curious disconnect among voters: We hate Congress, but fully half of us are okay with our own representatives.

They’re a total disaster, we say. But don’t blame my guy (or gal).

Here in New Jersey, I keep wondering how long this disconnect can survive. Of all states, we’ve suffered among the most from environmental chaos. We absorbed the direct hit from super-storm Sandy. We’ve suffered three straight years of major power outages due to severe weather. We’ve dealt with 100-year storms on a nearly routine basis. We’ve experienced increases in both extreme rainfall and drought, and broken virtually all records for hot weather.

Congress, however, has shot down all legislative attempts to deal with the changing climate, and forced the President Obama to rely solely on executive measures. What a mess! But – perhaps we reassure ourselves – my congressman is probably okay.

And then again, maybe not. Take my congressman, Scott Garrett. Reelected for a sixth term in Congress, he most recently captured 55 percent of the vote here in New Jersey’s 5th District. Despite what we’re suffering here in the Garden State, Garrett still openly doubts the findings of climate science.

In 2010, he told North Jersey News: “The real question that still exists in a lot of people’s minds, experts and non-experts alike, on the area of global warming and what role the government should have in this realm… I’ve heard a number of experts on both sides of the equation on this issue and to me the evidence, the question is still out there.”

We might think that such “questioning” of science means neutrality in the climate debate. Not so for Rep. Garrett. He opposes any action on climate. He even signed a pledge drafted by the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity that reads as follows: “I, Scott Garrett, pledge to the taxpayers of the State of New Jersey and to the American people that I will oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.”  (Note: the Kochs are Garrett’s biggest oil-sector political contributors.)

Remarkable: No matter how dire the consequences for us folks back here in New Jersey, he won’t ever – on his solemn pledge – do anything about climate change if it results in government revenue. Nothing. End of debate.

So really, what’s going on in New Jersey that makes this so awful? Well, we keep good records here in the Garden State. And they show beyond any doubt that it’s getting hotter, wetter, stormier, and more extreme. Let’s start with the heat. The 75-year mean temperature in our state was 51.8 degrees Fahrenheit from 1895 to 1970. In the ensuing three decades, it rose a bit to 52.7 degrees. Since 2000, the mean has jumped to 54.2 degrees. And in 2012, it registered a sweltering 56.0 degrees. That means all kinds of harm to our state’s citizens and ecosystems.

New Jersey mean temperature rise is accellerating

New Jersey mean temperature rise is accelerating. Courtesy NJ State Climatologist

Since 2000, New Jersey has broken month-long heat records twelve times, in measurements dating back to 1895. But it’s not just hotter, bad as that is. Because at the same time, we’ve had way more than our share of rainfall extremes, with six record wet months and two record dry months.

So while New Jerseyans struggle to cope with the effects of a climate on steroids, Rep. Garrett insists that “the question is still out there.” Fortunately, most of our state’s House members don’t join him in climate denial, but two others still do.  Central Jersey’s Jon Runyan has joined Garrett in signing the no-climate-action pledge. And South Jersey’s Leonard Lance voted in 2011 to kill a non-binding bill that called on Congress to simply accept the consensus of climate science: “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.’’

NJ summer mean temperatures trending up

NJ summer mean temperatures trending up. Courtesy NJ State Climatologist

But lest we get carried away with inexplicable bad news, we now have some reason to cheer here in the Garden State. One of our congressional representatives, physicist Rush Holt, a leading proponent of climate action, is running for the U.S. Senate. And unlike most politicians of either party, Holt is willing to talk about climate as a central feature of his campaign. I suspect he’s trailing some better-known candidates in the polls; but surely many voters are set to hear a climate-action platform for the first time.

Back here in Jersey, we’re struggling to rebuild our shore communities; we’re paying heavily to keep our buildings cool in heat waves; we’re repairing downed power lines after freak storms; we’re cleaning up our properties after severe floods. And no doubt, we join the rest of the country in its assessment of Congress’ performance. But wouldn’t it be good to know where our own representatives stand on key issues like climate chaos? You can find out here.

Last week, Charles Redfern reminded us of the Christian leader Abraham Kuyper, and his famous quote: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”

Not one square inch. And, I know how hard this may be to handle, but that includes New Jersey.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

2 thoughts on “Climate Denial in Storm-Battered New Jersey?

  1. Darren B

    A couple of thoughts

    First of all, I’d be really interested in know who are the climate change denier experts Garrett is referring to

    On the positive side, you might have noticed that Christine Todd Whitman along with a number of former GOP EPA heads urged Congressional action on climate change in the New York Times.

  2. John Elwood Post author

    Great to see the EPA chiefs under Nixon, Ford, Bush 1 and Bush 2 coming together to speak plainly about the need to act on climate.

    As for your question, there are many sources who can speak to the “experts” who champion the skeptic cause. Here’s a [retty good plae to start for secular climate deniers:

    But the Christian Reformed Church has done a great job in looking at the debate within the church. Read pages 48-56 for a summary treatment of one particular Christian-based denial declaration:


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