Experts discuss greenhouse gas emissions, goals
New Jersey is on track to implement greenhouse gas emission reductions over the next five years.
The New Jersey Global Warming Response Act in 2007 required the state to limit its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels within the next five years and to 80 percent below 2006 levels in 2050, said Jeanne Herb, associate director of the Environmental Analysis and Communications Group in an email.
This means New Jersey must not emit more greenhouse gases in 2020 than it did in 1990, and by 2050, should not emit more than about 20 percent of what was released into the atmosphere in 2006.
“(The state) is on its way (to) meeting its 2020 levels due in large part to programs that promote energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Herb said. “Federal standards on vehicle fuel efficiency … (and) a switch in New Jersey towards natural gas contributes to emissions reductions as well.”
Meeting the 2050 goal would require “significant changes” in how the state emits gases, she said. It is not definite that New Jersey will meet this goal.
At present, motor vehicles are the largest contributor to volatile organic compounds and nitrogen compounds in the state, said Annmarie Carlton, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Science in an email. These compounds can combine to form ozone.
The amount of ozone in the atmosphere exceeds the National Ambient Air Quality Standards set by the Clean Air Act, she said.
Motor vehicles are tied with household heating as the largest contributors to fine particles in the air in New Jersey, she said.
“A good rule of thumb is that ozone makes you sick,” she said. “(But) particles kill you.”
Reducing fuel’s carbon intensity along with the number of vehicles on the road and improving vehicle efficiency are all steps that could reduce emissions, Herb said.
Carbon intensity is a measure of how much carbon is released for every unit of energy used, said Marjorie Kaplan, the associate director of the Rutgers Climate Institute. British thermal units are often used to measure energy.
“When there is only one fossil fuel under consideration, the carbon intensity and the emissions coefficient are identical,” she said. “When there are several fuels, carbon intensity is based on their combined emissions coefficients weighted by their energy consumption levels.”
Having increased levels of unwelcome gases in the atmosphere have a noticeable effect on climate change, Kaplan said. Recently, New Jersey has seen heavy floods caused by storms. Climate change will contribute to and exacerbate the effects of these storms and subsequent floods.
Carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide are the most significant contributors to climate change, Carlton said. While it is difficult to quickly determine exactly how much University buses contribute to these gases, buses are a much better form of transportation than other forms of motorized vehicles.
New Jersey does have lower greenhouse gas emission rates than nearby states for a few reasons, Kaplan said. Most of the nearby states are larger and have coal as a significant source of power.
This state sees half its power come from nuclear plants while most of the remainder comes from natural gas. Only about 2 percent of its power comes from burning coal.
In comparison, Pennsylvania sees over 30 percent of its power come from coal, though New York also only has about 2 percent of its power come from coal, she said.
Natural gas is cleaner than coal in terms of emissions, she said.
“(Overall), New Jersey is just under 2 percent of U.S. emissions, while New York and Pennsylvania are just under 4 percent,” she said. “Each state's levels are based on various factors (such as) the mix of fossil fuels used for transportation and electricity, as well as releases of greenhouse gases from (other) sources”
Beyond affecting climate change, air pollution has a direct impact on human health, Carlton said. Poor air quality has been linked to increasing rates of certain respiratory conditions and premature death, along with autism.
Though climate change will need to be addressed on a global level to see any real change in its potential dangers, individuals can have an impact in New Jersey, Kaplan said.
People could conserve energy by using efficient appliances, recycling and using LED lights, as well as by using mass transit or carpooling, she said. Planting trees and buying from local stores would also help reduce the amount of energy expended.
“In addition, emissions are offset by the carbon sequestration capacity of forests,” she said.
Riding bicycles or walking rather than driving or taking buses are actions University staff and students can take, Carlton said. At the very least, taking a bus rather than individually driving to class would help reduce pollution a little.
If the state were to impose a gasoline tax to pay for roads rather than using property taxes, it would also help reduce air pollution, she said. Though this would increase gas prices, it would correspond with a reduction in property taxes.
“Reducing emissions is a collective effort that will reap cumulative benefits from individual actions,” Kaplan said. “(It also requires) initiatives from large emitters of greenhouse gases.”