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Talk addresses climate change in New Jersey

Marjorie Kaplan explained how global sea level rise, increased temperatures and changing precipitation levels indicate the severity of climate change.  – Photo by Julian Perez

Climate change is more widely accepted as a phenomenon now than at any previous point in history, said Marjorie Kaplan, associate director of the Rutgers Climate Institute. Despite this, there are still people who believe it is not real.

On Wednesday, Jan. 27, Kaplan gave a lecture on “Climate Change Adaption in New Jersey” at the Cook/Douglass Lecture Hall, where she analyzed how the state is impacted by and is preparing for climate change.

“There is an enormous body of scientific, peer-reviewed literature and scholarship that supports the fact that climate change exists," she said.

Climate change can be observed by measuring the 4-millimeter annual increase in sea levels, the 1.8 degree Fahrenheit increase of temperatures and the increase in precipitation and droughts globally, Kaplan said.

Scientists project warming temperatures and higher humidity to push certain species of weeds, pests and pathogens that had not been able to survive in our region before northward, she said. 

Additionally, climate change may cause cool season crops like potatoes, broccoli and spinach to have a shorter growing season, she said. Warm season crops, like peppers, melon or tomatoes, may have a longer growing season.

The unfortunate reality about climate change is that it would take decades, hundreds or even thousands of years to get rid of the amount of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, Kaplan said. 

“Even if we stop using fossil fuels and stop driving all of our cars today, the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere endures for a very long time. We need to prepare to adapt,” Kaplan said.

Before coming to Rutgers, Kaplan worked with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for over 20 years. Before that, she worked in the private sector for 10 years.

Kaplan discovered a strong appreciation for nature at an early age, she said in an email. During her school years, her need to address the balance between humans and the environment became apparent.

The landscape architecture major is an up and coming program that deals with how social and natural structures interact with the environment, said Gail McKenzie, a School of Arts and Sciences sophmore and event coordinator for the Department of Landscape Architecture, which hosted the event.

The major is a good choice for those interested in the environment and in architecture, said Joseph Tidona, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior. 

Landscape architects must design in a way that supports ecological and environmental health. The climate change adaption lecture directly correlates with their interests, which is why it is a requirement for their classes, McKenzie said.

“The University has tons of classes on climate change. We are utilizing clean energy with solar panels. But what we need is a stronger push towards renewable energy ... we can do more,” Tidona said.

Beside addressing the concerns of landscape designers, agriculturists and environmentalists, the lecture spoke to the interests of every citizen in New Jersey.

Many states in the northeast have incorporated climate change legislature, but New Jersey is not one, she said.

Although New Jersey does not have laws mandating the state to develop a climate adaptation plan, groups like the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance are working to prepare the state for climate change, Kaplan said.

"New Jersey does have laws that address climate mitigation, eg the global warming response act which sets a limit on emissions reductions by 2020 and 2050, but New Jersey does not have a law that mandates we plan for climate adaptation," Kaplan said.

One way to lessen climate change is by reducing the use of fossil fuels. Understanding the causes and impacts of climate change is essential, Kaplan said. 

Rutgers also plays a key role through its research and education.

The Climate Institute includes 95 faculty members from a range of fields.

"Members of the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance, which includes businesses, non-profits and regional and local government organizations, along with Rutgers, are working together to help New Jersey better able to prepare for a changing climate,” she said.

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