May 14, 2013

Last week, as news circulated of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s weight-loss surgery, so did a video in which Christie parodied his own brand — and the fleece he wore day and night during the Hurricane Sandy crisis. In the video, he asks everybody from Morning Joe to Jon Bon Jovi if they’ve seen his now-missing fleece, without which he is powerless, like Iron Man without his suit.

The governor may be able to poke fun at the absurdity of, among other things, his rising star, rumored ambitions and “relentless” fleece, but his real shortcomings are no laughing matter.

It was, after all, while wearing that infamous fleece that he raced across his state, doling out no-nonsense quips about recovering from the storm. And who can forget the iconic images of Christie and President Obama surveying the wreckage together, finding love, it seemed, in a hopeless place?

Christie seemed genuinely consumed by the unprecedented destruction caused by what the environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben called a “Frankenstorm . . . stitched together from some spooky combination of the natural and the unnatural.”

And yet, when asked the obvious question — how Christie would address the climate change challenges that contributed to the superstorm and will, undoubtedly, create more in the future — the famously blunt governor said, “Now maybe, in the subsequent months and years, after I get done with trying to rebuild the state and put people back in their homes, I will have the opportunity to ponder the esoteric question of the cause of this storm.”

What’s “esoteric” about looking into the causes of the extreme — and extremely destructive — weather of the past few years? What’s “esoteric” about doing everything possible to prevent another Sandy-like storm? There are lessons to be learned — and we ought to learn them.

Christie’s refusal to engage on climate change is all the more surprising because of the significant environmental commitments he made while campaigning for his first term — commitments that garnered him the coveted endorsement of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

This time around, the NJEF is supporting his gubernatorial opponent, New Jersey state Sen. Barbara Buono. Why? Because since entering the governor’s mansion, Christie has failed to deliver on his promises, while reversing and even dismantling crucial components of New Jersey’s environmental framework. He reduced the state Energy Management Plan’s renewable and efficiency goals. He diverted $700 million from the Clean Energy Fund to other purposes.

Christie also unilaterally pulled New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) — a successful collaboration between nine northeastern and mid-Atlantic states that seeks to address climate change by capping carbon emissions.

Christie’s actions confound. This is the same person, after all, who once admitted, “Climate change is real… [and] impacting our state. Human activity plays a role in these changes.”

He may not be engaging in climate denial talk — but he’s embracing climate denial policies.

And yet, what’s a 2016 GOP presidential hopeful to do? It takes a bit of trickery to appease the blue state he governs while courting the anti-science zealots who make up the loudest branch of the Republican Party.

Christie stands in stark contrast to a number of local and regional leaders who are showing real initiative on this issue. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, also ubiquitous during Sandy, threw his support behind President Obama’s re-election, saying that the risk that climate change is related to the increase in extreme weather “should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

Immediate isn’t soon enough. Our environmental challenges have only gotten worse. Extreme weather events are only the most palpable and tragic symptoms of a changing climate. But in recent weeks, scientists have grown increasingly alarmed that, for the first time in human history, concentrations of CO2 will exceed 400 parts per million in much of the Northern Hemisphere. It’s a marker that has gone under the radar, but is another critical milestone of environmental destruction that mankind is surpassing. “Stronger storms, droughts, rising seas. We are already seeing the impacts of increased CO2 in the atmosphere,” says James Butler, director of global monitoring at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory. “How much further can we really go?”

Fortunately, many people believe we’ve gone far enough; they are standing up, taking notice and taking action. We see it in a growing movement, here and around the world, and in organizations like McKibben’s international climate campaign 350.org, which has been gaining global momentum.

Now, more than ever, we need to hold politicians’ feet to the fire on what is fundamentally an existential crisis. For all the talk of whether Christie’s radical change on the outside will help him get elected president, voters ought to be much more concerned about his radical change on the inside. He promised his beloved state that he would stand up for the environment. He broke his promise.

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