Poll: Jerseyans support climate-related policies — but not who should pay for them

10th anniversary of Superstorm Sandy is Saturday

As the 10-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy approaches (it’s Saturday), a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll shows the vast majority of residents are firm in their beliefs about climate change.

  • They believe the Earth’s climate is changing;
  • They see it as a serious threat to the state;
  • They are concerned about the effects of changing climate conditions on various aspects of life;
  • They are supportive of the state enacting various policies related to changing climate conditions;
  • They agree the state should commit to reducing carbon emissions to as close to net-zero as possible by the middle of this century.

The only thing they disagree about: Who is going to pay for the cost of change?

In terms of who should pay a “major share” of the added costs to make New Jersey more resilient to climate change, 68% said the federal government, 59% said companies that generate power using fossil fuels, 58% said fossil fuel companies and producers, 55% said the state government, 23% said companies that generate power without using fossil fuels and 22% said their local government.

This latest poll was conducted in partnership with the New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center, the New Jersey State Policy Lab, the Rutgers Climate Institute and the Rutgers Coastal Climate Risk and Resilience Program. Read the full report here.

Ashley Koning, an assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers in New Brunswick, said the findings clearly show the view of the state.

“The 10th anniversary of Sandy is a reminder for New Jerseyans of how far the state has progressed when it comes to climate resiliency and preparedness and — as they notice an uptick in extreme weather-related events — how much further it has to go,” she said.

“New Jerseyans believe climate change is happening and even consider it important to their vote in November, but the paradox of the past decade remains: Residents wholeheartedly want to see more climate-related action, but do not want to be personally burdened with the responsibility.”

According to the poll:

  • New Jerseyans are more positive than negative about the state’s level of preparedness for extreme weather events: 14% said the state will be “very” prepared and 62% said “somewhat” prepared for storms like Sandy and Ida in the next five to 10 years.
  • Two-thirds say extreme flooding is happening more often (65%), and half perceive a greater frequency in storms like Sandy and Ida (52%) and non-storm-related coastal flooding because of high tides and winds (50%).
  • Seventy-eight percent believe the Earth’s climate is changing; almost the same number see changing climate conditions as a serious threat to New Jersey (45% said “very serious,” 27% said “somewhat serious”).

Here’s what Jerseyans want to lead their effort to combat climate change:

  • Requiring real estate transactions to disclose flood vulnerability to potential buyers (91%);
  • Reinforcing infrastructure to withstand the effects of climate change (89%);
  • Investing in natural systems to buffer climate impacts (88%);
  • Requiring towns and cities to develop local plans for future climate-related events (86%);
  • Creating regulatory standards for development and redevelopment in flood-prone areas (84%);
  • Strengthening building codes to require resilience for new construction or major renovation (78%);
  • Requiring homeowners and business owners in risky areas to buy insurance that will pay for future flood damage (68%);
  • Requiring investments using state and federal dollars to take into account resiliency measures to address changing climate conditions (66%);
  • Using public funds to replenish and widen beaches (63%);
  • Requiring buildings be elevated (60%).

Marjorie Kaplan and Jeanne Herb, the co-directors of the New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center, said the poll affirms that New Jersey residents understand that climate change affects them now, and they overwhelmingly support state action to keep them out of harm’s way.

It’s just the paying for it part. Not surprisingly, residents feel the wealthiest should pay the most.

Forty-five percent said upper-income residents living in risky areas such as flood zones should pay a “major share.” Only 11% said the same about those using gasoline-powered cars, 9% about lower- and middle-income residents who live in risky areas like flood zones, and 8% about all residents.

But, while 54% of residents preferred to continue funding roads, bridges, and government buildings at the current cost, 39% were willing to pay a little more in taxes to make these structures better able to withstand severe weather events.

Because of the impact of changing climate conditions, 76% said it is likely they will have to pay more for consumer goods and services, 75% that they will have to pay more in utility bills and 70% that they will have to pay more in property taxes. Seventy-five percent think the state will need to increase funding for disaster relief to pay for disasters and extreme weather events.

Jessica Roman, a research associate at the Eagleton Center, said residents do not want any more bills.

“New Jerseyans are largely supportive of climate resiliency measures, but, unsurprisingly, they don’t want the funding coming out of their own pockets, especially in a time of rising inflation,” she said.

“Aside from the federal government, residents think more of the financial onus should be on larger, more obvious emissions producers like companies using and producing fossil fuels, rather than individual people. And they are dissatisfied with the work these entities are doing thus far in response to changing climate conditions.”

The results are from a statewide poll of 1,002 adults contacted by live interviewers on landlines and cell phones from Oct. 14-Oct. 22. The full sample has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.