Today, Princeton is not waking up to flooded roads, downed trees, and widespread blackouts (phew!). The much-discussed ‘Hurricane Joaquin’ is somewhere far out in the Atlantic Ocean. Our compatriots in South Carolina are not so lucky. Lashed by rain last week, the state is now in a full-flung state of emergency, having sustained billions of dollars in damages. The SC weather event was “exactly the type of supercharged storm system climate scientists have been warning about for years as a likely consequence of global warming.” West Windsor has woken up to the challenge, and is developing a ‘Climate Action Plan’ to guide the municipality on a meaningful response to the danger posed by climate change. It’s time for Princeton to follow the lead of our neighbors to the south, and develop our own plan.
West Windsor’s draft ‘Climate Action Plan’ sets targets for greenhouse gas reductions, and aims to develop a discussion about planning and adapting to climate change. It’s a strong document. Instead of vague aspirations, the plan sets a goal of reducing township greenhouse gas emissions by 96,000 metric tons by 2020. This would be followed by an 80% reduction by 2050. According to this timeline, West Windsor would be well on the way to carbon neutrality within a generation. These are significant actions, and it comes not a moment too soon. For those of us who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, the inaction of our elected leaders in the face of global climate change is absolutely astounding. The scientific consensus that action was needed was clear by 1988. But even today, there is a flight from responsibility when it comes to taking that action.
We might have hoped that our federal government would lead the way, but the politicians in Washington DC are playing games instead. We can’t wait for somebody else to fix this problem. To preserve and protect the quality of life of the next generation, Princeton should take action now, at the municipal level. Princeton cannot solve climate change alone, but solving climate change will certainly require towns like Princeton to act. It is already embarrassing enough that we are being left behind by officials in West Windsor. Princeton is supposed to be a leader in sustainability, but we are lagging when it comes to facing the biggest sustainability challenge.
Addressing climate change is going to require tough decisions. Long-standing municipal policies such as subsidizing car use might have to be challenged. New technologies will play a part, but we will also have to seriously prioritize transit use, active transportation, and energy-efficient land use. We shouldn’t wait for the next ‘Joaquin’ to focus our minds.