Student Story: Climate Change Is Real And Right Here In South Jersey

Commentary By: Jennifer Duran, Camden Academy Charter High School, Camden

Ghost forest along South Jersey’s Mullica River watershed. Photo credit: Jennifer Walker. Courtesy of Rutgers University.

Climate has been an ongoing issue for years now. Yet, people are just starting to react to the consequences climate change is imposing on our neighborhoods and communities. 

The climate crisis, also known as global warming, is a long-term pattern of rising global average temperatures brought on by activities such as burning fossil fuels, logging forests, and raising livestock. These activities add a considerable amount of greenhouse gases to those already present in the atmosphere, amplifying the greenhouse effect. This phenomenon has a significant impact on the environment.

In a 2020 New Jersey Scientific Report, the potential list of impacts included rising temperatures, increased precipitation, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, decreased water quality, extreme weather, drought, and decreased air quality. With this in mind, what does the climate crisis specifically mean for South Jersey? 

With increased precipitation and rising sea levels, South Jersey becomes more susceptible to flooding, especially being a coastal area. This rise in sea levels could ultimately cause coastal flooding to extend further into low-lying forests and progressively destroy neighboring trees, creating what is referred to as “ghost forests.” As our once-thriving forests become engulfed by saltwater intrusion and start to die off, much of the carbon stored by these trees is released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas driving climate change. Moreover, this isn’t the only threat being imposed by climate change.

Just recently, climate change was blamed for more fire-risk days in New Jersey following a wildfire that broke out on Monday, May 29th, in Gloucester County. Fortunately, 100% containment is approaching as firefighters continue to battle the fire, but this issue is undoubtedly linked to the climate crisis. Air quality alerts have been sent out as smoke from the fire is increasing air pollution concentrations that may be dangerous for vulnerable populations including children and the elderly, as well as persons with heart disease, asthma, or other diseases. 

On a better note, although climate change has been its strongest now than ever, action can still be taken to win this race. Human activity is one of the leading causes of the climate crisis but there are solutions that we can partake in. 

An example is how people came together to plant trees as part of this year’s Earth Day celebration to combat the consequences of climate change. People gathered along Dudley Road and Westfield Avenue in Camden to plant trees all around the area. Several organizations took part in the planting, including PowerCorps Camden, a team of young people who work to address the region’s most critical environmental problems. The group’s program director, Darron Thompson, shared that planting trees benefits Camden with flooding issues, stating, “It brings more oxygen into the air, and it beautifies the area as well.”

As to organizational changes, operators of Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) made the decision to better understand the utility’s present and future vulnerabilities after learning that climate change is predicted to increase the frequency and intensity of storms. CCMUA, working with the EPA, formed a partnership called the Camden SMART Initiative. Its objective is to “restore and revitalize” our neighborhoods by participating in things like neighborhood green infrastructure projects, stormwater management policy development, and green infrastructure training programs. The initiative encourages residents to take part and help. In addition to the success of Camden SMART, the EPA joined forces with the City of Camden, CCMUA, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) to create the Camden Collaborative Initiative, which will employ the collective impact model to address issues with flooding, solid waste management, and air quality.

Furthermore, the NJ DEP urges people to act to combat climate change and outlines what we can do to support efforts. For instance, we can all make numerous easy adjustments in our homes to reduce emissions, like learning how to lower our carbon footprints, switching to energy-efficient light bulbs, buying the most energy-efficient vehicle that still fulfills our family’s needs, and more. We can ultimately improve our environment by doing our part. There is still time to save our world, but it requires a lot of work and cooperation.

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