By Huck Fairman
For those thirsty for knowledge in the Sciences, Triumph Brewery served up another evening of information about our physical world, as part of its monthly series “Science on Tap.”
This time Christine Symington , Program Director of Sustainable Princeton, and Will Atkinson, Princeton ’18, SP Research Coordinator, and also with Climate Central, provided an update on the town’s Climate Action Plan as well as the latest research on where the town and region are in reducing emissions and formulating resiliency in the face of the record rain of the last two years and storms predicted for our future.
Regional temperatures have already risen over the last century 3 to 4 degrees. Rain totals this year and last are at record levels. Triumph Brewery may suffer more than many, as heavy rain is bad for growing barley and hops. Triumph may need to find a resiliency strategy even more than most.
Princeton is not the first town in the region to begin to formulate such a plan. New York City and Bedford, NY, along with a few others, have done so. But in our region, it is among the leaders.
What this means is that it has organized local residents into a steering committee and then working groups, with each focusing on: reducing emissions, preparing responses to extreme weather (resiliency,) taking baseline emissions inventories, and then determining goals for the various emissions sources, whether commercial electricity usage, transportation (contributing 1/3,) land and home usage, natural resources and materials (waste) management. The goal is to reduce emissions 80% by 2050, just as the Paris Climate Accord aims to do. In contrast, Princeton University’s goal is to reach 0 emissions by 2046.
One additional challenge the town faces is that if its yearly population growth rate continues at its current 1.5%, the town’s population will be 55,000 in 30 years.
And, estimates nationally of the number of electric vehicles on the road in 2050 will only be, at the current rate of increase, 11%. Clearly the nation and the town face serious challenges. Another speaker at another talk warned that even if all emissions world-wide were stopped today, there is enough carbon and heating in the global systems to continue the warming for another 100 years.
Does this daunting prediction mobilize people into action, or cause them to throw up their hands in despair? One astute audience member, Adam Bierman, Town Council candidate, concluded, after listening to the list of climate challenges and the many partial solutions, that there is no single, or even several sufficient strategies. Instead, many different ideas and efforts are needed in order to save the world as we’ve known it. As one of those solutions, Princeton’s Climate Action Plan is a thoughtful, comprehensive local response, whose ideas can be widely replicated, much as it has drawn on neighboring and distant communities and ideas.
Among the number of innovations mentioned at the talk were Energy Aggregation, where energy is purchased in bulk, so to speak, by states or communities for more efficient and less costly usage. Also, green power generation can now out-compete traditional sources. But that transition is needed urgently. Fortunately, selling green power to the public can be more successful if the ‘co-benefits’ are explained. That is, if green power can be shown to be cheaper, cleaner, more healthy, and value-enhancing. At the same time, Mr. Atkinson reminded the audience that the cheapest and cleanest energy is that which is not used. Thus all sorts of transportation alternatives – shuttles, ride-sharing, bicycles, walking, etc, can save energy and costs. Similarly, improvements in building insulations, efficient energy systems, and neighborhood planning can also save energy. Community solar is legal in a number of other states, and has just been legislated to be so in New Jersey, allowing residents to benefit from accessible green power at affordable costs. And for a community to be optimally green, these technologies must be available to lower and middle income earners. At the same time, micro-grids must be installed so that the impacts of storms or flooding are not as widely destructive.
In short, the changing climate undeniably calls upon us to change our habits and technologies, and to widen our views of community as we come to recognize that our future depends on the ability of all to participate and contribute.