‘We’re not going to beat Mother Nature’: Tackling climate change in the Delaware River basin
Environmental officials say urgency and innovative thinking are needed
| February 1, 2023
The effects of climate change are already readily apparent in the Delaware Estuary and the window to respond is rapidly shrinking, a panel of federal, state and New York City environmental leaders warned on Tuesday.
“Every time we think we have 20 years to do something, it turns out we have 10 or five,” said Rohit Aggarwala, the commissioner of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection.
Localities and residents are ill-prepared for the effects of climate change, including dry periods being drier, which will be worse in unexpected ways, he said.
“We are at risk of thinking this is a zero-sum game,” he said. “The reality is, it’s a negative-sum game unless we act together.”
The other panelists – Shawn Garvin, secretary of Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control; Shawn LaTourette, commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection; and Adam Ortiz, Region 3 administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – spoke on the second day of a conference about the estuary.
LaTourette put things in plain terms.
“No one’s coming to help us,” he said. “There is no help. We are it.”
He noted that New Jersey is “ground zero” for some of the worst impacts of climate change, such as flooding. Sea level risks rising by a foot by 2030 in the estuary, endangering homes and businesses along the bay shore.
“We have an incredible increasing risk of extreme precipitation,” he said.
Garvin sounded a note of exasperation at how the public can delude itself into thinking it will get the upper hand against climate change without changing how we think and where we build.
He described being on a beach after a damaging storm and discussing ways to replenish sand that had been lost. Meanwhile, a house on the beach that had been destroyed was being rebuilt.
“There is still a willingness not to change,” he said. “We’re not going to beat Mother Nature.”
The officials noted that the effects of climate change disproportionately affect tenants who live in low-income or public housing because those units need retrofitting to improve resiliency.
Despite the comments of doom and gloom, officials did sound a hopeful note, saying there was a growing recognition of the need to work cooperatively – and not competitively – to address the effects of climate change.
“What we have to realize is we’re all going to have to hold hands and jump off this cliff together,” Aggarwala said.
The conference, the Delaware Estuary Science and Environmental Summit, which is organized and hosted by the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, concludes on Wednesday.
Follow @delawarecurrent on Twitter for live updates, or look for the tags #PDEScienceSummit, #PDESummit23 and #DRBCClimateForum.