TCNJ Magazine - Spring 2016

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16 SPRING 2016 If that makes us shore habitués worried about our beloved patch of sand, there's good reason: "Sea level rise rates are 'three to four times higher than the global average,' along a large stretch of the U.S. East Coast, which researchers dubbed a sea level rise 'hotspot,'" according to the Washington Post in early February of this year. Why did New Jersey go straight to reconstruction after Sandy? We basically decided not to devote time, energy, and money—both in the public and private sectors—to make public policy on a very complicated problem. But I don't think it was a conscious decision. Decision-making in modern society involves complex abstract systems we're not in control of, and that makes us anxious. interest. A lot of people have a financial interest in making sure that tourism stays healthy. While money is probably the fundamental thing driving our need for the shore, I would also argue—this is the sociologist in me—that it culturally ties New Jersey together in a way that nothing else does. We're divided in terms of our urban focus—New York or Philadelphia—and the teams we pull for [I make a little comment in the book about having the Devils, but Jersey isn't really a hockey state]. But talk to people in New Jersey of all generations, of all age groups, of different races and ethnicities, North Jersey, South Jersey, and they all have shore stories. The shore is uniquely New Jersey and an important cultural anchor for the state. Is it relevant to even rank the need the state has to retain the shore as an economic engine and our social and cultural need for it? I don't think they're mutually exclusive. One of the important things about the Jersey Shore is that the people who love it don't want the whole thing to be Island Beach State Park. Most of us have accepted the Jersey Shore as a very socialized environment, which is to say that we don't expect it to be environmentally pristine. We accept the boardwalks, we accept that you have to pay for beach badges, we accept the fact that the beaches are crowded. We want the sausage sand- wiches and the ice cream. We expect all the social and economic components attached to it. But most people would also fight tooth-and-nail to preserve places like Sandy Hook and Island Beach State Park. We want that, as well. Soon after Superstorm Sandy made landfall along the Jersey Shore in 2012, scientists were projecting that by 2050, sea levels would rise 1.5 feet, and by 2100, 3 feet. On March 31, 2016, researchers in Nature upped those 2100 projections—based on unchanged greenhouse gas emissions and a melting Antarctic ice sheet—to 6 feet. The shore "culturally ties New Jersey together in a way that nothing else does." Yet even as cleanup crews cleared the substantial debris Sandy left behind, rebuilding took off, relegating any other scenario to some distant future. "These are decisions that we make as a society," says Diane Bates, professor of sociology and author of Superstorm Sandy: The Inevitable Destruction and Reconstruction of the Jersey Shore (Rutgers, 2016). "Part of my problem is that we really don't think through them carefully." A summer shore baby herself, Bates has strong family and emotional ties to the region, which shape her attitude toward the pull of the shore: Love it, but understand how social factors play an outsize role when it is threatened. Bates spoke to TCNJ Magazine about looking at Sandy through a social lens. What else makes us shy away from reassessing the shore's future? Making decisions would require a complete re-evaluation of the way that we use [the shore], and since we're not at a crisis point, there's basically no rational reason for us to deal with that right now. We can put it off and put it off until we get Katrina—and then we'll have to do something. For now, the idea of actually doing what we need to do to face the really troubling aspects of climate change is just more than we can handle politically. Why do we need the Jersey Shore? Tourism is one of the most important factors in the state's economy. It also creates a lot of employment, private- sector economic activity, and investment in real estate. The shore is one of the fastest-growing parts of the state in terms of single-family home ownership and second-home ownership, so it's not just big-business

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