More than half a century after the first Earth Day called for changes in human activities that negatively impacted our environment, our planet continues to face dire challenges. Climate change, non-biodegradable waste and air pollution are some of the critical issues affecting people around the world, including here at Garden State.
We asked our science experts to share what they believe are the most important environmental challenges in New Jersey, what is currently being done to address them, and what we can do in the future.
We must move faster in the face of climate change
The 10 hottest years in New Jersey since 1895 have all occurred after 1990, including 2012, the hottest year New Jersey has experienced since records began in 1895. Human-caused environmental degradation continues to cause a surplus of environmental problems not only around the world, but also here at home.
As we saw last September with Hurricane Ida, weather patterns are becoming more severe and less predictable. We are fortunate to live in a country where climate change is actively being addressed, and we know that change is possible, but it has to happen now.
Resources are consumed at unsustainable rates and used in our built environment, particularly in cities. Our energy use and agricultural practices add to the carbon emissions that create air pollution and make the greenhouse gas balance work against us. Recognizing that human activities are driving climate change, it is critical that we move towards sustainable options to reduce these environmental risks, even to our own.
The initiative we are working on at the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies shows that environmental risks in New Jersey can be reduced and that climate change is not a wasted battle. For example, through our Green Team summer program, students from a wide variety of institutions and disciplines work with host organizations across the state to tackle sustainability projects that can help today, including vertical farming, electric mass transit vehicles, rainwater management, reduction of food waste, upgrades to affordable housing, new clean energy storage and more.
Everyone has something to contribute; we all need to work together to achieve a sustainable future.
– Hailey Spinks and Amy Tuininga, PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies
Cyanobacteria harm New Jersey waters, wildlife, and us
While phytoplankton play an important role in a balanced ecosystem, too much of a good thing has proven harmful in New Jersey and many other places. Harmful algal blooms (HAB) are the rapid growth of cyanobacteria in water bodies, which leads to the production of toxins that have harmful and lethal effects on humans, pets and wildlife. HABs can also negatively impact aquatic ecosystems by changing water chemistry and reducing dissolved oxygen levels, leading to incidents of fish killing.
The presence of HAB has prompted beach closures and warnings not to swim, fish or boat across the state. In response to this growing concern, the New Jersey Center for Water Science and Technology in Montclair is helping to protect our precious water resources by providing certified laboratories that test for cyanotoxins in water.
The center also offers a visual guide for the public to be able to identify common freshwater cyanobacteria, and hosts the “Traveling HAB Lab,” a mobile education program that provides on-site discovery-based activities to educate the general public about HAB and how to take action to reduce water pollution and growth. in the future.
– Meiyin Wu, Professor of Biology and Director of the New Jersey Center for Water Science and Technology
New Jersey will experience more droughts and floods
One of the impacts of climate change in New Jersey will be more droughts and more flooding. This may seem confusing, as one has too little water and the other too much, but we are expected to experience both.
Droughts have a variety of causes, but with more varied future weather patterns and increased temperatures and evaporation, our water supplies will become more stressed and there will be times when available water is limited.
On the other hand, warmer air can hold more water vapor, which causes more precipitation. This, combined with stronger storms, a longer hurricane season, and rising sea levels will result in more flooding of rivers and coastal areas.
– Joshua Galster, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Studies
Wildfires will become more frequent in New Jersey and beyond
Forest fires are one of the many threats that are a by-product of climate change. Rising temperatures and drought contribute to dry and stressed vegetation, which is more flammable. Yes, many ecosystems are used to periodic, natural, low-level fires, including the prairies, montane forests, or Pine Barrens of New Jersey – but these fires are expected and can benefit ecosystems. Climate change is exacerbating the situation, with more frequent or severe fires, leading to a number of consequences: long-term damage to ecosystems, and impacts on human health, infrastructure and natural resources.
As human settlements increase in previously wild areas (such as in mountain resorts, developing suburbs or mining and logging areas), fires pose an increasing risk. We have seen an increase in reports of catastrophic fires in recent years, in the western United States, Australia and the Amazon. Of course, New Jersey and its neighboring states are not immune. My colleagues and I investigated recent fires in the mountains of New Jersey and Pennsylvania; this may become more frequent or severe if drought conditions are repeated. Even the fires have far reaching impacts on New Jersey, like the terrible air pollution we experienced last summer from the smoke of fires in Canada and the Northwest.
The ecosystem eventually adjusts to the new fire regime, but it persists for hundreds of years. Human society cannot wait for that resilience, so it is in our best interest to mitigate as best we can the inevitable impacts of climate change, and plan carefully for these hazards.
– Greg Pope, Chair and Professor, Earth and Environmental Studies
To speak with an expert, contact the Media Relations team.