On February 9th, the New Jersey Interagency Council on Climate Resilience hosted a public webinar introducing its first statewide Climate Resilience Action Plan (RAP) to address extreme heat. In an instance of apt timing, the webinar came after New Jersey’s warmest January in over 125 years of record-keeping, tying with only one previous year for the record.
“The RAP on extreme heat is the first of several multi-year plans that the council plans to formulate, coordinate and implement statewide. [Extreme heat] is one of our deadliest climate impacts we’re already facing today,” said New Jersey Deputy Chief Resilience Officer Nathaly Agosto Filion during the webinar, calling it “a silent killer.”
Filion cited studies that found an average of 444 New Jerseyans already die from excessive heat each year. Yet temperatures are rising in New Jersey more quickly than they are almost anywhere else in the country. While global temperature has risen by one and a half to two degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, temperatures in New Jersey have warmed by three and a half degrees. In 2018, the Associated Press found that New Jersey was the third-fastest warming state in the nation.
As climate change increases the number of days of extreme heat, especially in fast-warming New Jersey, some models predict a doubling of heat-related mortality in the state by 2050, predicting as many as 3,560 deaths per year by the end of the century.
Part of the risk is that events such as heat waves act as a “threat multiplier,” Filion explained. Extreme heat events lead to a cascade of public health risks. Higher temperatures lead to greater humidity, which increases the spread of infectious diseases. They also lead to greater smog formation, intensifying the severity of asthma attacks and other diseases that affect lung or pulmonary functions. The youth, elderly, individuals with chronic health conditions and people who work or practice sports outside are especially vulnerable.
The webinar kicks off the first phase of the council’s Extreme Heat Resilience Action Plan. In this first phase, the council will seek input from their advisory council as well as the public to learn the state’s most pressing concerns and identify actions that can effectively address these problems.
The council’s website hosts the scoping document for this first RAP as well as a Stakeholder Feedback Form for the public to add their input. The council will also host a second public webinar on March 2 to invite comments and suggestions. By the summer, the council hopes to make a near-final draft of the extreme heat RAP available to the public for comment. By the fall, the final RAP will be released and each agency within the council will determine the action needed to meet the plan’s goals.
New Jersey’s Interagency Council on Climate Resilience began in October 2019, when Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order 89 mandating its creation. Originally consisting of 17 state agencies, the council now includes 22 entities representing virtually every major department and agency in New Jersey.
“Meaningful climate action requires intentional and strategic coordination and collaboration across those traditional boundaries of each state agency and the executive branch,” Filion said. She later added that the state’s model of interagency collaboration appears to be unique, allowing the council to adopt and implement select climate strategies from other states around the country.
The Interagency Council worked with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to release New Jersey’s Climate Resilience Strategy in 2021. Covering “policy, regulatory and operational changes,” the strategy includes 127 recommendations categorized by six main priorities. As the first RAP, the extreme heat plan will also act as a pilot program for the council to test processes and procedures for developing action plans in the future.
The council hopes to receive feedback from as many demographics and groups as possible to gain a fuller picture of extreme heat’s impact across the state. Additionally, it may be possible to begin incorporating groups such as faith communities and volunteer organizations into the finished action plan, as one webinar participant asked.
As Nick Angarone, vice chair of the Interagency Council said, in order to address a problem on the scale of climate change, “Everybody and everything has got to be the answer.”
To read the Extreme Heat Resilience Action Plan scoping document and contribute your input, visit https://nj.gov/dep/climatechange/resilience-action-plans.html.
Chip O'Chang, Contributing Writer
Chip O'Chang is an educator, fiction writer, and lifelong resident of New Jersey. He has also written for My Life Publications and NJ Indy. He lives in the NJ Skylands with his partner, two cats, and and a bearded dragon.