Toward a More Sustainable New Jersey

August 31st, 2008

Weaving together the state’s policies on energy, the environment, land use, and the economy, especially in the context of the state’s ongoing budget problems, is no easy task.

Over the past several weeks I have attended a half-dozen conferences on these topics, including sessions on the Energy Master Plan, the New Jersey Utilities Association Conference (where I moderated a panel), and PlanSmart NJ’s spring conference, as well as hosting my own event at Fairleigh Dickinson University on “growing the next generation of green ventures.” I’m left with the sense that we need a new dialogue, that connects the dots and provides an effective pathway to sustainability.

It’s my view that we need to get the big picture right, before we get to the details. But we must also then get to the details, because the policies can be good ones but they will mean nothing if they’re not implemented successfully.

Right now New Jersey is in trouble. We are not alone in this; but the impact of climate change, of rising food and energy prices, of economic turmoil – of job losses and foreclosures and Wall Street meltdowns – are increasingly felt right here at home. And at a time when we need to be investing much more heavily in cleaning up the past and building a more sustainable future, the state government is essentially under water, under a sea of debt. There’s $32 billion that the state has borrowed over the last two decades to fund operating costs; there’s $15 billion in health benefit liabilities, and $38 billion in retirement benefit liabilities to state employees – in short, close to $100 billion in “unfunded liabilities,” and this is essentially three times the size of the state’s annual budget.

This is what conservatives like Grover Norquist have always dreamed of – starving the government so much that it drowns in its own bathwater, to mix their favorite metaphors – though I don’t think they imagined it this way. But it was Christie Whitman who massively increased the state’s operating deficit and cut the state’s income taxes by 30%; and the McGreevy administration was too weak and too distracted to do anything to rectify it.

If you take that $100 billion and divide it amongst the roughly 8 million of us, that’s $12,500 per man, woman, and child – which is another way of saying that we’re that far behind the 8-ball before we can think about spending new money.

But if we’re going to get out of this hole, we’re going to have to invest in new technology, energy production, workforce education, and new initiatives to combat poverty and regional disparities.

The reality is that our present condition in New Jersey is simply not sustainable. We must cut our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, and to do this we must convert most of our transportation (including cars, trucks, and buses) to run on green, renewable electricity. And we must set an example for the rest of the world to do the same. And since we’re already on this runaway train called global warming, we’re going to need to adjust to the realities of sea level rise, species migration, and a significantly higher cost of living.

The only way out of this is to grow an entirely new kind of economy, a green and sustainable economy. This means changing the way we do just about everything, from manufacturing, to shipping, to how we move ourselves from place to place, and to the kinds of homes, towns, and cities we live in.

But why do we also need to fix regional income disparities, concentrated poverty and persistent blight in cities like Camden and Trenton, and environmental and economic injustice? The answer is that we ought to fix it because it’s immoral and unworthy of American society to tolerate such inequities and waste of human potential; and we must fix it because it is a serious drag on our economy and is just as ultimately unsustainable as $6 a gallon gasoline (which is bound to happen anyway; what’s really unsustainable is maintaining $2 a gallon attitudes and thinking it’s really going to come back down again), four-foot sea level rise, and rising asthma and autism rates. If we need “all hands on deck” this means the poor, the rich, and the middle class – and a significant amount of immigration to support our aging population, which demographers are now calling “a silver tsunami.”

Consider just the matter of housing. Not only is our housing poorly designed from an energy and carbon footprint viewpoint, but we also have too much of the wrong kinds of housing, located in the wrong places, and costing more than we can afford to maintain. We need to put people to work to fix all this – to make our homes, our communities, and our businesses all truly sustainable, that is, putting as much energy back into the grid as we’re taking out of it (each home must indeed aim do this), becoming carbon neutral, and supporting us as much as we’re supporting them.

There’s every indication that all this can be done, but there’s not much evidence that we have the will, or the wits, to do it. Consider, for example, that we need to change our entire building code, zoning laws, energy production and distribution system, the buildings we live and work in, the cars we drive, the food we eat and where we get it from.

Some people believe the problem is our 566 municipalities, our mostly powerless 21 county governments, and our almost entirely dysfunctional state government that are to blame. But the reality is both simpler and more complicated than how our decision-making is structured. The fact is, we can make this system work; we’re just not doing so. Reorganizing it – unless we change some other things – just isn’t going to make enough of a difference. We’re not going to find $100 billion by consolidating a few municipalities or fire departments.

In the next section, I suggest some things that can be done.

 

II

Like the rest of the world, New Jersey faces a bleak future if we don’t address multiple challenges – climate change, rising costs for food and energy, a slowdown in new job creation and wealth generation, ever-widening economic disparities, and concentrated poverty. What can we do about this converging set of crises?

The real problem is that we don’t have the right incentives, the incentives we need for people to do the right things. On the contrary, we mostly have incentives for them to do the wrong things. We have incentives for people to send jobs overseas; buy cheap energy from coal-fired plants in Pennsylvania and Ohio, while producing and selling our power to New York State (where they’re paying even more for it than we are); drive to Wal-Mart to get stuff so cheap that it makes up for the cost of getting there; and pay to have people pour chemical fertilizers and pesticides on our lawns and then drive around in lawn tractors that emit as much carbon dioxide as an SUV.

As long as it’s cheaper or more profitable to do that than it is to build energy-efficient homes, put in sustainable landscaping, buy clean energy, get our fruits and vegetables from local farmers’ markets, and so on, guess what? Most of us are going to keep doing it, and chilling out in front of our big-screen TVs or videogame consoles. As long as it’s easier for public officials to say no to new ideas and proposals than to live up to their ideals of public service, or more accepted for workers to do what they’re told rather than what they know is better for the company and for the customer, or cheaper to buy goods from China rather than from around the corner, or more convenient to throw stuff out than to reuse or recycle it – we’ll keep doing it. The problem is certainly a scarcity of vision, creativity, and courage; but it’s compounded by the fact that in most of our institutions these are not qualities that are always rewarded.

At the same time, things are changing, and in some cases changing a lot more rapidly than most of us realize. Given that $4 a gallon gasoline is not going away any time soon, people are buying a lot fewer SUVs these days. A recent survey of 20 dealers revealed that they were all sitting on inventory that simply wasn’t moving. Virtually every town is now considering or holding a green fair, promoting those squiggly light-bulbs, and buying hybrids, ATVs, or even bicycles for their local police.

The head of PSE&G, Ralph Izzo, said recently that our starting point for addressing global warming has to be the complete electrification of our transportation system. Fairleigh Dickinson University is working on a plan to convert many of its existing vehicles to plug-in hybrids, a step towards full electrification; and we should seriously consider giving people incentives to do this.

But this is only going to increase the demand for electricity, so we really need to find ways to cut waste and increase output from clean, renewable sources. Much to the dismay of the suddenly hopeful nuclear industry, this probably does not include nuclear – because we can’t build it fast enough, cheaply enough, or safely enough to allay everyone’s concerns. Building offshore windmills may still be environmentally controversial, but at least no one’s worried about fallout. Besides, uranium is not a renewable resource, and some studies suggest it may be running out sooner rather than later. There’s no silver bullet, and no free lunch. We have to invest in the right technologies, the ones that are going to see us into the next century.

Right now there’s a lot of discussion around NJ’s draft Energy Master Plan. It’s good as far as it goes, but in the end it’s still both insufficiently bold and insufficiently realistic. The challenges are greater, and the steps that need to be taken are more far-reaching. And the design of the programs that are supposed to get us there has not yet shown itself to be successful.

Let’s take one example. New Jersey has adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standard that requires 22.5% by 2020, with at least 2.12% of that from solar. Sounds aggressive, right? But that translates into only about 3600 MW of renewable capacity by 2020, generating 16,000 GWh of electricity – out of an estimated 80,000 GWh needed even if we can cut consumption by 20%. (Just to be clear about the renewable energy and energy efficiency goals: in the first draft of the new Energy Master Plan the NJ Board of Public Utilities used 2 different bases for their calculations. Our renewable energy production is 20% of the total projected production; it’s this production which is supposed to be 20% below what it otherwise would have been.) Meanwhile, Maine set an RPS of 30% by 2000, and has increased that to 40% by 2017. Texas is aiming for 5000 MW of wind alone by 2015. And using the system of issuing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) that can be traded on an artificial market is also leading to some anomalies. When it was recently determined that there was more than 2200 MW of unused, environmentally benign small hydro capacity in the Northeast, which could generate nearly 20,000 GWh (the equivalent of three or four new nuclear reactors, and a whole lot cheaper), there was a concern that this would “swamp” the market for RECs for wind and solar. But the answer is not to hold back the development of small hydro, it’s to increase the RPS to 44% by 2020.

In fact, it’s really not a stretch to think about moving a majority of our businesses, our homes, and our communities over to renewable energy over a ten-year period. If you think about it, you can probably imagine your household doing this (after all, wouldn’t everyone prefer to get their electricity from solar, hydro, or wind than from coal, oil, or nuclear?); and if you can do it, so can everyone else.

And this is just one of a number of examples. What’s needed is a system that responds quickly to the opportunities – for New Jersey’s economy, its energy needs, its transportation, and its persistent inequities. Instead, we have BPU Commissioners acknowledging that “we’ve lost two years in the solar industry market transition,” and the DEP acknowledging that the RGGI auction (originally scheduled to raise $70 M this fall for renewables and conservation) has now been pushed off to the first quarter of 2008.

Of course, this requires boldness – not just bold talk but bold action. The Corzine administration seems to know what it needs to do; the challenge is implementing it. If New Jersey had its act together, its citizens would be communicating about this on an entirely different level.
Instead, judging by the results, we have a well-meaning but ultimately timid administration in Trenton; a relatively weak legislature; a divided industry and business community, that is beginning to wake up to the need for true sustainability, but is not yet willing to devote adequate resources to it; and a largely uninformed electorate that – though perhaps for the wrong reasons – does not trust any of them. (Most of our environmental groups are also struggling to catch up to the new threats and new challenges, while municipalities, and other major institutions such as hospitals and universities, are just starting to look at appropriate actions.) Somehow we need to move – partly back and partly forward – onto the track of sustainable economic development. We must face reality squarely: we must increase our energy production from clean and renewable resources, we must put our population back to work in the right sorts of “green collar” jobs, and we must restore a sense of purpose to the affairs of our state. And unless we rethink our relationship with nature and with each other, we’re not likely to come up with the right answer.

At a couple of these conferences I listened to the Governor, and I wondered how he felt about his campaign promises to root out corruption, stimulate the economy, and deal with NJ’s structural issues. My guess is that Corzine would be the first to admit he’s not made much headway. At the PlanSmart NJ conference, the Reverend Buster Soaries, once Christie Whitman’s Secretary of State (and like Whitman one of the casualties of the Bush Administration), said that NJ’s problems could only be solved if we had either a charismatic leader or a devastating natural disaster. I don’t think we can afford to wait for either.

I think what we need is a new conversation; a conversation built around the idea of a truly sustainable state – one that leads the way toward a more just and prosperous economy, and a healthier ecosystem for ourselves and for the rest of the planet.

— Jonathan Cloud (Director, Community Green)

Jonathan Cloud is Entrepreneur in Residence at the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and responsible for the Sustainable Business Incubator. Recipient of a UN Environment Award in 1985 for his work in renewable energy, conservation, and appropriate technologies, he has been an entrepreneur, community organizer, and research manager in both the U.S. and Canada. He currently lives in Basking Ridge, NJ with his wife and daughter.

Originally posted at Communitygreen.org/GreenNJ, August 13, 2008.

8 Responses to “Toward a More Sustainable New Jersey”

  1. Planet Aid Facebookon 11 Apr 2014 at 4:00 am

    What started as some fall containers in the Boston space during 1997, has risen into an institution capable of benefiting millions of people world wide. Planet Aid now has their efficiently famous drop boxes spread over 21 states. Furthermore, they allow organizations to hold a drop case in their area. That is a clear mark that this business is specialized in giving back.

     

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    Together with the Humana People to People service, Planet Aid assists to coach instructors at one of their many educational institutions. More than the tasks these lecturers achieve in the class, they come to be energized group members and activators of improvement. Through the microfinance motivation, Planet Aid gives low interest financial loans to females within India. The capital can be used to start up a small business or to buy an animal whose products provides food and something worthwhile to market locally.

     

    Quality coaching also is a challenge for the people helpless to find an employment.This matter is extremely challenging for younger people just starting out of their careers if they can’t find the money to attend a practical institution. Planet Aid gives assistance to trade institutions within Mozambique, Guinea, Bissau, and Zimbabwe. When completed of these strategies, student have the opportunity to apprentice in a business. That working knowledge provides practical experience to launch a new employee right into a new job.

     

    As a whole, because of the help and generosity of persons home, their job does remarkable an impressive number to save the wellness of the environment along with building the towns that they assist overseas.

  2. Wade Larsenon 25 Apr 2014 at 5:53 am

    Well-written, Jonathan. As you know, the path to sustainability is being slowed by greed.

     

    But as for the ‘Planet Aid’ commenter: wow, talk about stream of consciousness.

     

    Actually, I’ve researched this alleged nonprofit clothing collector with its ubiquitous yellow bins, and have become concerned.

     

    Planet Aid has faced a storm of media criticism for disturbing reasons. For starters, the Chicago-based CharityWatch gave Planet Aid an “F” grade after analyzing its 2012 tax form and audited financial statements, determining that Planet Aid spent only 27% of its expenses on programs. See “Planet Aid’s ‘Recycling’ Program, Debunked!” (CharityWatch, 2013)

     

    A charitable spending ratio of 27% is certainly too low, but the actual figure may be far lower than even that. In 2009, WTTG News in Washington DC examined Planet Aid’s then most recent tax records and noticed many of the overseas charities Planet Aid claims to support have the same address. A list of South African charities was shown in example. But the South African Embassy told WTTG those groups are *not* registered charities.

     

    WTTG’s investigation found that all of the charities listed in Planet Aid’s most recent tax return are controlled by the same parent organization — a group called International Humana People to People Movement, which, according to its own web-site, also controls Planet Aid.

     

    Worse, prosecutors in Denmark have linked Humana People to People and Planet Aid to an alleged cult called the Tvind Teachers Group. Five leaders of this group are Interpol fugitives wanted in their native Denmark in connection with a multimillion-dollar tax-fraud and embezzlement scheme. See “Kindness into Cash” (WTTG News, Washington DC; 2009: Pt. 1) [More info in the above report’s description box; click ‘Show more’ while on that page.]

     

    Thanks for letting me share my opinions. Please research before you donate.

  3. Jonathan Cloudon 25 Apr 2014 at 7:45 am

    Delighted to see comments on this older but still relevant post. Haven’t yet had a chance to check out the contentions in each of the comments, but happy to host what is increasingly rare on the internet, an informed and thoughtful debate.

  4. Wadeon 25 Apr 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Hi Jonathan; thanks for the reply. And thanks for being so patient with my comments, as admittedly they are long and a bit off-topic. At least there’s the somewhat related theme of ‘research before donating.’

     

    Certainly, someone at Planet Aid is trying to saturate the internet with favorable tidings for the company, which, as I’ve pointed out earlier, receives a considerable amount of bad press over its questionable business practices and alleged affiliation to the Tvind Teachers Group, said to be a political cult involved in financial criminal activities.

     

    And, knowing what I know after 5 years of research on Planet Aid and related companies under the Tvind umbrella, I’m compelled to sound a warning wherever I find their rhetoric. In this case, the verbiage was obviously written by someone whose native language is not English, as evidenced by passages such as “… Planet Aid’s work also maintains many millions of scales out from the squander procedure.”

     

    My other reasons for opposing Planet Aid include the following:

    • a) Reports across the country say some Planet Aid boxes cause blight and public right-of-way issues.
    • b) Clothing donations to local charities reportedly dwindle when outside groups like Planet Aid move in.
    • c) Some towns’ officials complain that non-local clothes collecting companies get a free ride — paying no local taxes or fees — even while little or none of the proceeds from their collections benefit the local populace.
    • d) Of particular concern to me is one of Planet Aid’s affiliates, “One World Center” (formerly “IICD”), with a “volunteer training school” in Dowagiac Michigan, and another in Williamstown, Massachusetts. These so-called schools have elicited numerous complaints from former students, with allegations ranging from low standards of “training” to dire living conditions, unreasonable work hours, bullying and even a “cult-like” atmosphere. These students further claim they were required to beg for money on American city streets and were exploited as free labor benefiting Tvind-owned businesses.

    Researchers contend that One World Center/IICD is running a visa scam. Foreign students are brought into the country on tourism visas, and the school’s main fundraising activity — street soliciting — routinely crosses state lines.

     

    Another Tvind-run school — “Campus California” — once operated in Etna, California, but reportedly closed under mysterious circumstances in late 2009. Campus California has since relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, and also Phoenix, continuing only with a used clothing collection bin program.

     

    A call in 2010 to the phone number listed on Campus California’s website was automatically re-routed to one of the IICD schools. “Anthony” answered, and assured the caller that IICD and Campus California were “one and the same.” With that in mind, watch this news investigation of Campus California and “Gaia Movement USA,” yet another Tvind-run nonprofit: “Behind the Green Box,” CBS San Francisco; 2006

     

    Other reports on One World Center (as ‘IICD’). Planet Aid & other Tvind companies are also mentioned: “Humanitarian work turns into servitude,” Chicago Tribune; 2004 and “Mission Control,” Boston Magazine; 2000

     

    Thanks for the chance to share my opinions.

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  6. humana people to peopleon 18 Dec 2014 at 1:55 am

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  7. Wade Larsenon 18 Dec 2014 at 9:39 pm

    “An informed and thoughtful debate.” That would be nice, Jonathan. But all I see here from Planet Aid and now its direct parent group, Humana People to People (HPP), is the same copy-pasted, PR pablum I’ve read a thousand times from them online. As I said months ago in regard to Planet Aid, HPP also regularly and randomly posts such fluff in an attempt to flood Internet search results with positive tidings for itself, while burying all the negative reports. The bad news being that, basically, these groups finance a cult exploiting the Third World.

    At any rate, a close read of the comments left by Planet Aid and HPP reveals some hilariously bad writing.

    One of my favorites: “Planet Aid’s work also maintains many millions of scales out from the squander procedure.” What does that even mean?

    To be fair, the people posting these comments are likely not native speakers of English. But one would think that such large organizations would have properly written PR content. This frequently appearing, clumsy and bizarre verbiage clearly indicates that Planet Aid and HPP are massive frauds. Indeed, this is suggested by a Danish court case summary against their ultimate controller: the Tvind Teachers Group. Five leaders of this group are Interpol fugitives wanted in their native Denmark in connection with a multimillion-dollar tax-fraud and embezzlement scheme.

    Watchdogs say that HPP is essentially an offshore entity which benefits the Tvind Teachers Group more than it does ‘African development’. Its parent body, the Federation for Associations Connected to the International Humana People to People Movement, is a private trust based in Switzerland. More than 30 member organizations, all Tvind Teachers Group-run, each pay a significant ‘membership fee’. In 1996-7, the UK Charity Commission investigated and shut down Humana People to People UK in Britain for ‘serious financial impropriety’ and it remains closed.

    True to form, programs run by member-organisations of HPP have been widely criticized by former volunteers as being ineffective, culturally insensitive, environmentally unsustainable and even abusive toward volunteers. I personally know people who’ve been to some of HPP’s programs in Africa. My sources corroborate the numerous negative testimonials I’ve read.

    Informed and thoughtful debate? No, not from Planet Aid and HPP. All they’re interested in here is having you provide them with free advertising space.

    By the way, the oddly-worded ranting actually gets much worse on HPP’s own website! http://www.humana.org/English/english-charter-1

    Please also check out links to reports on Tvind, included in my other comments here. Please research before you donate … and volunteer.

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