Letter to Congressman Frelinghuysen: Time to step up your game on climate change

Banner whips in the wind as Hurricane Sandy blows through Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Banner whips in the wind as Hurricane Sandy blows through Morristown in 2012. Scientists warn that climate change may bring more intense storms. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Editor’s note: These opinions are the authors’, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.

March 27, 2017

Dear Congressman Frelinghuysen,

We were heartened to hear you state, during your most recent telephone town hall, “I believe in climate change.”

On your previous telephone town hall, you stated, “I’m not a denier.”

While we certainly support your position, we also feel compelled to say that, given that we are in the midst of a climate crisis and that we are terrifyingly short on time to be able to address it effectively, simply not being “a denier” is just not sufficient. The bar is much, much higher to earn commendation.

It was clear from your statements in the most recent telephone town hall that your understanding and articulation of the climate crisis and its solutions is lacking. In response to your caller’s question about climate change, you stated, “Something has happened.”

CLOSE CALL: Children sleeping in a nearby room were unharmed when tree hit this home at Sand Spring Road and Route 202 in Morris Township during Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Marie Pfeifer
CLOSE CALL: Children sleeping in a nearby room were unharmed when tree hit this home at Sand Spring Road and Route 202 in Morris Township during Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Marie Pfeifer

Yes, something has happened, and, as an elected leader, we believe that you have a responsibility to speak much more specifically to the dangers that climate change presents in terms of the ways that it impacts public health, national security, and the global economy — issues of grave concern for you and for your constituents.

You spoke passionately on Monday night about your support for the National Institutes of Health. We strongly encourage you to speak to doctors and nurses about the many terrible public health threats that we face as a result of climate change.

Vector borne diseases like Zika are on the rise due to warmer temperatures; our area is experiencing increased rates of Lyme Disease; the prevalence and severity of asthma has increased around the world as a result of air pollution; and expected changes to the start, duration, and intensity of the pollen season in response to a warmer climate stand to wreak havoc on the lives of allergy sufferers.

The American Public Health Association has declared 2017 “The Year of Climate Change and Health” because they understand what is at stake.

You also stated last Monday that, as the Constitution makes clear, you believe that national security is government’s highest responsibility.

We encourage you to speak to the Pentagon about the threats we face to our coastal military installations as a result of rising sea levels and about the political destabilization that will wrack significant parts of the world as a result of the effects of climate change.

In fact, the Pentagon has even recommended that the White House designate a cabinet position focused on climate change because they understand its significance as a threat to national security.

As you could plainly hear from many callers on Monday night, your constituents are concerned about economic security.

The repair to infrastructure in the wake of severe weather events, which have considerably increased as a result of climate change and are expected to increase in both frequency and severity over time if we don’t address climate change, will surely become a terrible economic burden to our state.

And, of course, our safety is also at risk from severe storms and the subsequent flooding that can result — many people here in the 11th District had traumatic experiences during Superstorm Sandy, so we understand the risks that severe weather events present.

We also believe that you have a responsibility to be able to speak to the solutions that we currently have available to us to address climate change effectively. Your responses in this telephone town hall reflected little knowledge about recent developments in the energy sector and the stunning growth, capacity, and affordability of renewable energy.

We currently have the technological solutions to address climate change, and these solutions are not only affordable but they are more affordable than traditional fossil fuels.

The unsubsidized, levelized cost of renewable energy is lower than fossil fuels, and it is absolutely necessary that the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee understands and articulates this reality in order to demonstrate that he will be able to make wise budgeting decisions regarding our nation’s energy needs.

Seventeen of your Republican colleagues in the House have signed the Republican Climate Resolution, and thirteen of your Republican colleagues in the House have joined the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus.

Since you have stated that you believe in climate change, we want to know why we don’t see you participating in these action steps to begin a serious discussion in Congress about how best to address climate change.

In your most recent telephone town hall, you stated, “I’m not an expert” in response to the caller’s question about climate change. No one is asking you to become an “expert” on climate change.

But it logically follows that if you believe in climate change, you are compelled to act to address it. We hope, for all of our sakes, that you believe in that logic and will govern your actions accordingly.


Shannon Falkner, Morristown
Meghan Marohn, Madison
Climate Reality Leaders, The Climate Reality Project

The authors will present on The Climate Crisis and Its Solutions at Morristown’s Episcopal Church of the Redeemer on Tuesday, April 4, 2017, at 7 pm. The event is open to the public.

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  1. Hi JT! I love your statement about the ways that climate change has been reduced to religious “believers” and “deniers” – I agree that this view is indeed such a terrible way to understand a scientific concept. In the case of climate change and weather, there is causation (not correlation). In order to understand the causal link between climate change and extreme weather, it’s useful to consider the difference between linear cause and effect and systemic cause and effect. We can’t say that any single storm is caused by climate change (linear cause and effect). There are just too many factors that occur in each unique weather event to suggest linear cause and effect. We can say, though, that warmer oceans provide more energy for storms (making them more powerful) and warmer air holds more water, which means bigger downpours (systemic cause and effect). A useful analogy is smoking – smoking is a systemic cause of lung cancer, though no one would suggest this or that individual cigarette “causes” lung cancer. I hope that helps to clarify the causation issue. Thank you for your thoughtful comments!

  2. W.C. Fields used to say ‘he didn’t trust the air he couldn’t see.’ Well, he’d be happy in Beijing, indeed, in a good portion of Southeast Asia. The burning of fossil fuels may be only correlated with increased air pollution, JT, but its impact is decidedly clear, well, actually, it’s smoggy. Correlation or causation, that determination doesn’t matter much to those who live and try to breathe in these areas.

    Trump’s effort to release the U.S. From its efforts to curb carbon use, moreover, will probably backfire because responsible companies are moving to clean energy sources no matter what Trump says or what the EPA can’t do. Furthermore, correlation or causation, insurance companies are writing policies, now, that reflect their recognition of the impact of climate change, particularly in coastal properties.

  3. The more we pollute co2, the warmer the earth gets. Its just that simple. There is now quite a bit of skill to get a good idea of how much that will be.


    Further warming will continue if emissions of greenhouse gases continue.
    The global surface temperature increase by the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5 °C relative to the 1850 to 1900 period for most scenarios, and is likely to exceed 2.0 °C for many scenarios
    The global water cycle will change, with increases in disparity between wet and dry regions, as well as wet and dry seasons, with some regional exceptions.
    The oceans will continue to warm, with heat extending to the deep ocean, affecting circulation patterns.
    Decreases are very likely in Arctic sea ice cover, Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover, and global glacier volume
    Global mean sea level will continue to rise at a rate very likely to exceed the rate of the past four decades
    Changes in climate will cause an increase in the rate of CO2 production. Increased uptake by the oceans will increase the acidification of the oceans.
    Future surface temperatures will be largely determined by cumulative CO2, which means climate change will continue even if CO2 emissions are stopped.

  4. The analysis or debate of climate change is not based on a religious doctrine of believers and deniers. One of the cardinal rules of scientific exploration and discovery is that correlation does not equal causation. Many of these claims are wildly speculative and unsupported through valid and rigorous scientific study.