A southern New Jersey mayor plans to help lead an expedition to the Arctic next year to have a first-hand look at the early effects of climate change.
The trip to the far reaches of northern Norway, planned for June 2016, promises to show participants how the feeding habits of the local reindeer population have been impacted by frequent flooding, among other burgeoning environmental issues there, which are all believed to be the result of global warming.
Toms River Mayor Thomas F. Kelaher told the Asbury Park Press that he plans to take a team from the town with him. The group will be made up of 15 area residents and professionals, who will be selected based on their credentials and differing views on the issue. The trip is expected to be paid for with grants and other privately-raised funds, Kelaher said.
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A documentary film crew for the acclaimed PBS series NOVA is expected to chronicle the trip, which will include other representatives from different geographic regions throughout the United States. Each of those regions faces a unique dilemma if the predictions about climate change are borne out.
Kelaher was tapped because of the catastrophic impact superstorm Sandy had on coastal neighborhoods in his town. Nevertheless, the 82-year-old mayor, who is a conservative Republican, remains skeptical of the assertion that climate change is the result of modern human civilization.
"It is obvious that there are changes, you can see the water rising ... ice caps are melting," Kelaher said. "But you can say there's climate change without taking a position that it's man-made, that it's from (man-made carbon) emissions."
Kelaher said global warming could be a consequence of natural environmental changes — but he explained it's important for climate change skeptics to keep an open mind.
"A senator from West Virginia may be totally convinced that emissions from coal-fired power plants are bad for you, but he'll never say that because that is his state's bread and butter," Kelaher said. "The only way you can ever get anything done is through a ground swell from the public. Then it makes it easier for elected officials to jump on the bandwagon."
Last September, the U.S. State Department paid for Kelaher to travel to Oslo, the Norwegian capital, to learn more about the issue. The mayor went as part of a delegation from the Institute on Science for Global Policy. The public policy think tank, with offices in Tucson, Arizona, and Washington, D.C., is organizing the 2016 Arctic project.
The institute was founded by scientist George H. Atkinson, who served as science and technology adviser to Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, when they each served as secretary of state in the administration of President George W. Bush.
Atkinson decided to meet with Kelaher after some media outlets had dubbed Toms River the "ground zero" of the Oct. 29, 2012 disaster. He later convinced the mayor to join them on the trip to Norway.
"I'm probably the only guy in the building (Town Hall) now who's had a reindeer burger," Kelaher quipped.