Koch Brothers' Influence Preventing Chris Christie From Acting on Climate Change?
“Real. Honest. Direct. Tell It Like It Is.” Those were the words on a banner at a recent campaign event by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Christie is one of the latest entrants in the crowded 2016 presidential field, and political observers say that he’s trying to distinguish himself by telling voters the truth, even when it’s tough to hear. The trouble is, Christie doesn’t seem willing to tell the truth when it comes to climate action, clean energy and the environment.
Denying Need to Act
Where does Christie stand on climate change? He’s not denying the science of climate change, but he does deny the need to act.
Back in 2011, Christie said:
"There’s undeniable data that CO2 levels and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are increasing. This decade, average temperatures have been rising. Temperature changes are affecting weather patterns and our climate. […] But when you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts."
More recently, in May 2015, Christie said:
“I think global warming is real. I don’t think that’s deniable. And I do think human activity contributes to it. […] There’s no use in denying global warming exists. The question is what we do to deal with it.”
That’s a good start, and it is certainly a big improvement over competitors who claim that evidence of climate change is “not conclusive” (Rand Paul) or that snow and ice in New Hampshire prove that climate change is fake (Ted Cruz). However, accepting the science of climate change means accepting scientists’ pleas to act urgently to avoid the worst consequences of a warming world. And, on that count, Christie has failed miserably.
Christie closed his state’s Office of Climate Change and Energy and withdrew New Jersey from the regional carbon reduction program, known as RGGI, calling it a “gimmicky [program] that hasn’t worked.” In fact, RGGI has returned “more than $2.9 billion in lifetime energy bill savings to more than 3.7 million participating households and 17,800 businesses” while avoiding the release of 1.3 million tons of carbon to date. More than $1 billion has been invested in programs including energy efficiency, clean and renewable energy, greenhouse gas abatement, and direct bill assistance. If that’s a gimmick, sign me up!
Like His Friend Bobby Jindal
Like Bobby Jindal, you’d think Christie might know better when it comes to climate action. After witnessing Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, you’d think Christie would be eager to act. You’d be wrong. Christie has denied a link between climate change and the hurricane, and New Jersey is the only state on the eastern seaboard without a statewide climate plan.
One might think that, as a Catholic, Christie would respond to Pope Francis’s recent encyclical calling for action on climate change as a moral imperative. So far, Christie is still denying the need to act. I’m hoping that he’ll change his tune and tell the “truth” about the need for urgent action as the campaign (and the globe) heats up.
Koch Brothers Influence
For those wondering why Christie is so opposed to climate action, and the RGGI program in particular, some people have an answer: the Koch Brothers despise climate action.
In a New York Times profile of Christie’s refusal to participate in RGGI, a representative from the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity said, “We were exceedingly pleased that the governor got New Jersey out of the R.G.G.I. boondoggle. […] It’s something that A.F.P. in New Jersey worked hard on.” According to the Times, the AFP representative “said the move would be sure to help Mr. Christie’s efforts in the Republican primaries, should he run.”
In March this year, Christie reportedly visited David Koch’s Palm Beach mansion.
Time to Tell The Truth
It’s time for Christie to live up to his self-proclaimed mantra of truth-telling.
Sometimes he says things that are like a breath of fresh air. In 2012, he said, “Having renewable energy in our state, having it be a larger part of our portfolio, creating jobs, is not a Republican issue or Democratic issue. It’s an issue that the people of our state demand we work on together.” I read that and I think, “So true.” But then I read that Christie has cut more than $1 billion from the state’s Clean Energy Fund in order to balance budgets in recent years and I’m reminded that telling the truth isn’t enough. Telling the truth is essential, but acting on that truth is what really matters.
“Here’s the one thing you’ll get with me: You never have to wonder where I stand,” said Christie. Actually, Chris, until your action matches your rhetoric, I have no clue where you stand.
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A century ago Virginia's coastal lagoons were a natural paradise. Fishing boats bobbed on the waves as geese flocked overhead. Beneath the surface, miles of seagrass gently swayed in the surf, making the seabed look like a vast underwater prairie.
Why Didn’t Seagrasses Recover Naturally?<p>Development, nutrient runoff and other human impacts have damaged marshes, mangroves, coral reefs and seagrasses in many bays and estuaries worldwide. Loss or shrinkage of these key habitats has reduced commercial fisheries, increased erosion, made coastlines more vulnerable to floods and storms and harmed many types of aquatic life. Rapid climate change has compounded these effects through <a href="https://theconversation.com/ocean-warming-has-fisheries-on-the-move-helping-some-but-hurting-more-116248" target="_blank">rising global temperatures</a>, more <a href="https://theconversation.com/more-frequent-and-intense-tropical-storms-mean-less-recovery-time-for-the-worlds-coastlines-123335" target="_blank">frequent and severe storms</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/as-climate-change-alters-the-oceans-what-will-happen-to-dungeness-crabs-61501" target="_blank">ocean acidification</a>.</p><p>In the late 1990s, local residents told two of us who are longtime students of seagrasses (Robert "JJ" Orth and Karen McGlathery) that they had spotted small patches of eelgrass in shallow waters off Virginia's eastern shore. For years the conventional view had been that seagrasses in this area had not recovered from the events of the 1930s because human activities had <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aquabot.2005.07.007" target="_blank">made the area inhospitable for them</a>.</p><p>But studies showed that water quality in these coastal bays was <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02782971" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">comparatively good</a>. This led us to explore a different explanation: Seeds from healthy seagrass populations elsewhere along the Atlantic coast simply weren't reaching these isolated bays. Seagrasses are underwater flowering plants, so seeds are among the main ways they reproduce and spread to new environments.</p>
Eelgrass beds were restored in four bays at the southern tip of Virginia's eastern shore on the Atlantic coast. David J. Wilcox/VIMS, CC BY-ND
Sowing a New Crop<p>From our <a href="https://doi.org/10.2307/1941597" target="_blank">earlier research</a>, we knew that when eelgrass seeds fall from the parent plant, they sink to the sea bottom quickly and don't move far from where they land. We also knew that these seeds don't germinate until late fall or early winter. This meant that if we collected the seeds in spring, when eelgrass flowers, we could hold them until the fall, helping them survive over the months in between.</p><p>We decided to try reseeding eelgrass in the areas where they were missing. Starting in 1999, we collected seeds by hand from underwater meadows in nearby Chesapeake Bay – plucking the long reproductive shoots, bringing them back to our laboratory and holding them in large outdoor seawater tanks until they released their seeds naturally. After about 10 years we started gathering the grasses using a custom-built underwater "lawn mower" to collect many more of the reproductive shoots than we could by hand.</p><p>In 2001 we sowed our first round by simply tossing seeds from a boat. Our first test plots covered 28 acres of mud flats in waters 2 to 3 feet deep. Returning the following year, we saw new seedlings sprouting up.</p><p>Each year since then, the <a href="https://www.vims.edu/" target="_blank">Virginia Institute of Marine Science</a> and the <a href="https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/virginia/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nature Conservancy's Virginia Coast Reserve</a>, along with staff and students from the <a href="https://www.vcrlter.virginia.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Virginia</a>, have led a team of scientists and citizens to collect and seed a combined 536 acres of bare bottom in several coastal bays.</p><p>These initial plots took off and rapidly expanded. By 2020 they covered 9,600 acres across four bays. Several factors helped them flourish. These bays are naturally flushed with cool, clean water from the Atlantic Ocean. And they lie off the tip of Virginia's eastern shore, where there is little coastal development.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a482c2146febd6782c99960c2b55feb8"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K9NyfPLINtk?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Sheltering Marine Life and Storing Carbon<p>Since eelgrass disappeared from these bays in the 1930s, human understanding of seagrass ecosystems has evolved. Today people don't pack their walls full of seagrass insulation but instead value different services they provide, such as habitat for fish and shellfish – including many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12645" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">commercially and recreationally important species</a>.</p><p>Scientists and government agencies also have recognized the importance of coastal systems in capturing and storing so-called "<a href="https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/bluecarbon.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">blue carbon</a>." In fact, we now know that seagrasses constitute a globally significant <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1477" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon sink</a>. They are a key tool for reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-64094-1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">slowing climate change</a></p><p>We are working to understand the valuable services that our restored seagrass beds provide. To our surprise, fish and invertebrates returned within only a few years as the meadows expanded. These organisms have established extensive food webs that include species ranging from tiny seahorses to 6-foot-long sandbar sharks.<br></p><p>Other benefits were equally dramatic. Water in the bays become clearer as the seagrass canopy trapped floating particles and deposited them onto the bottom, burying significant stocks of carbon and nitrogen in sediments bound by the grasses' roots. Our research is the first to verify the overall net carbon captured by seagrass, and is now being used to issue carbon offset credits that in turn <a href="https://vaseagrant.org/eelgrass-carbon-credits/" target="_blank">create more funds for restoration</a>.</p><p>One big question was whether restoring seagrasses could make it possible to bring back bay scallops, which once generated millions of dollars for the local economy. Since bay scallops no longer existed in Virginia, we obtained broodstock from North Carolina, which we have <a href="https://chesapeakebaymagazine.com/return-of-the-bay-scallop/" target="_blank">reared and released annually</a> since 2013. Regular surveys now reveal a growing population of bay scallops in the restored eelgrass, although there is still some way to go before they reach levels seen in the 1930s.</p>
Restored seagrass beds (dark areas) along Virginia's Atlantic coast, with sunlight reflecting from a small island. Jonathan Lefcheck, CC BY-ND
A Model for Coastal Restoration<p>Repairing damaged ecosystems is such an urgent mission worldwide that the United Nations has designated 2021-2030 as the <a href="https://www.decadeonrestoration.org/" target="_blank">U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration</a>. We see the success we have achieved with eelgrass restoration as a prime model for similar efforts in coastal areas around the world.</p><p>Our project focused not only on reviving this essential habitat, but also on charting how restoring seagrasses affected the ecosystem and on the co-restoration of bay scallops. It provides a road map for involving scholars, nonprofits organizations, citizens and government agencies in an ecological mission where they can see the results of their work.</p><p>Recent assessments show that the restored zone only covers about 30% of the total habitable bottom in our project area. With continued support, eelgrass – and the many benefits it provides – may continue to thrive and expand well into the 21st century.</p>
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