By JOSE GERMAN
Special to Montclair Local
As we enter a new decade, the planet’s state is far more dire than in 2010. Climate scientist Michael Mann calls the past decade “a lost opportunity,” the price being a “procrastination penalty of climate inaction.” Due to our inaction, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Commission on Climate Change, we now need to reduce our emissions 45% by 2030 just to hold global warming to no more that 1.5 degree Celsius. Although we have the means to do this, lack of political will means there is little chance of it happening.
Because of past inaction, preserving a vibrant, healthy planet may no longer be a realistic possibility. Instead, we are now looking at “less bad” options and figuring out how to adapt to our new environmental reality. What’s worse is that we have known about the consequences of climate change for decades now, but our efforts to stop this crisis have been very limited.
It’s tempting to give in to hopelessness, but I’m reminded of a quote I saw recently: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second-best time is today.” The failure to act in the past must not become an excuse for inaction in the present.
How will the climate crisis affect us locally?
New Jersey is one of the states most susceptible to catastrophic effects of climate change. In recent years, we have seen devastating storms, most memorably the nightmarish Sandy, and such damage is likely to intensify in the future as sea levels rise, storms become more intense, and weather patterns become more unpredictable.
Sea level rise and more frequent heavy rains are expected to increase flooding and storm surges, threatening infrastructure and displacing communities. New York City is building a system to mitigate the water damage in lower Manhattan, which faces frequent flooding and may even be under water within a generation. Sea level rise will endanger Newark and all municipalities along the lower Passaic River. Last year we even had a destructive flash flood in Montclair Center, far removed from major waterways.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND OUR HEALTH
Higher temperatures in the Northeast are likely to increase heat-related deaths and decrease air quality, especially in urban and suburban areas. People at greatest risk include young children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions like asthma.
Studies indicate that “climate change is lengthening the pollen season of common allergens . . . particularly for northern portions of the U.S. including New Jersey. Warmer and wetter conditions may increase seasonal activity and the extent of suitable habitat for ticks and mosquitoes, elevating risks of human exposure to vector-borne diseases like Lyme disease and West Nile Virus.”
A THREAT TO LOCAL FOOD
The changing climate likely means reduced agricultural yields, threatening both local livelihoods and the region’s economy and affecting the availability of local food in Montclair supermarkets and restaurants. According to a Rutgers University study, “New Jersey’s $1 billion farming industry faces increasing threats from invasive insects, weeds, and diseases expected to be made worse by hotter temperatures. Left unchecked, the costs could be substantial to protect the Garden State’s 10,000 farms.”
A THREAT TO OUR TREES
Rising temperatures and changing weather patterns stress our trees, making them vulnerable to diseases and parasites. We are already suffering a major crisis with our white ash trees caused by the invasive emerald ash borer. This crisis is exacerbated by hotter temperatures allowing the insect larvae to survive winter. As a result, Montclair’s beautiful tree canopy will lose about 2,000 trees in the next few years.
WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF TIME
In the words of UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutierres, “The point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and is hurtling towards us.” The prospect is frightening, and can us feel overwhelmed and powerless. We need to get out of our comfort zone and switch from being spectators to being implementers. The climate crisis will affect our region and the beloved town where we live. Let’s act now to preserve at least a fraction of the world that we grew up in and build a better legacy for our children and grandchildren.
As a community, we can do much locally to help in the worldwide crisis.
- We can request our elected officials to create an official plan for climate crisis readiness.
- We can take part in climate change initiatives of the township and nonprofit organizations promoting education and implementing projects to mitigate the environmental damage caused by the climate crisis.
- We can take actions in our homes and yards, our transportation habits, and our diets to make our lifestyles more sustainable.
Yes, the crisis is daunting but hope comes with action. Let’s act now, as individuals and as a community, so that in 2030 we won’t be looking back on another lost decade.
Want to learn more about the climate crisis and connect with local organizations?
On Jan. 25, more than 45 environmental organizations and community groups will gather in Montclair to discuss the climate crisis and take local actions. The Acting Locally for a More Sustainable World Conference will be held at 30 North Fullerton Ave., Madonna Hall (Immaculate Conception Church), from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For additional information, visit neearth.org.
Jose German is the president of the Northeast Earth Coalition, and writes the “Gardening for Life” column for Montclair Local.