Sandy was called the “Frankenstorm,” the “storm of a generation” and “unprecedented.” We all mourn the loss of life and chaos it has caused people to our south and west. Unfortunately, it is more likely that superstorms will become the new normal.
Global warming is changing our weather. Stronger hurricanes are one result. Right now, the ocean temperatures are 5 degrees above normal in the Northeast region. Warmer water pumps energy and moisture into storms. Sandy got even bigger because a cold jet stream dipped southward from Canada. The likely cause of this was the rapid melting of the Arctic ice caps caused, yes, by global warming. Finally, sea levels in the Northeast have risen four times faster than the global average, also due to global warming. Higher sea levels fuel bigger storm surges and flooding like what was seen in New York City and New Jersey.
Climate experts now agree that global warming is virtually the only explanation for recent extreme weather events, such as recent heat waves, droughts and stronger hurricanes. The insurance giant Munich Re has taken global warming seriously for years, as it watched claims from these unprecedented weather events rise sharply, particularly in North America.
While some may like the warmer winters and longer growing seasons that global warming has brought already, there will be many more changes that will be life threatening and expensive: destructive floods, droughts, ice storms, ticks, Lyme disease, an acidic ocean less hospitable to marine life and a disappearing northern forest. The majority of the world’s scientists have warned us of this for years, but the coal, oil and gas industries have funded just enough climate deniers to cast just enough doubt to confuse the public and prevent meaningful action to stem the warming.
Maine faces many important decisions in the coming weeks and months that will have an important impact on our state’s contribution and vulnerability to global warming. Efficiency Maine Trust and the Maine Public Utilities Commission will soon be deciding whether to invest more in cleaner and cheaper energy efficiency resources that reduce purchases of more expensive energy from polluting power plants. Energy savings from more efficient lighting, appliances and motors will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but will save residential electric ratepayers at least $60 per year. Keeping this money in the local economy creates more than 16,600 additional jobs and increases the gross state product by $1.4 billion by 2025, according to an analysis recently done by Environment Northeast.
Before the end of the year, Maine and other Northeast states will decide how to strengthen the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the successful, first-in-the-nation program to reduce global warming carbon pollution from power plants. RGGI is a “two-fer” in Maine: The market-based emission reduction program itself reduces global warming pollution, and the revenues collected from the polluters are then used to save energy, which also reduces emissions. Maine should build on this effective design and support efforts to increase RGGI’s pollution reduction targets.
Lastly, Maine may soon be facing a decision about whether to allow oil derived from Canada’s tar sands to flow through pipelines to Portland. Oil derived from tar sands can produce up to 35-percent more global warming pollution than conventional oil. The corrosiveness of tar sands oil also increases the likelihood of pipeline ruptures, posing serious risks to ground and surface waters. Investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy to power electric vehicles and efficient electric heat pumps is better for the planet and better for our economy over the long term.
In all of these cases, and more, Environment Northeast will be urging state decision-makers to vote for the clean energy alternative. Climate change is real, and its consequences are becoming more apparent by the day. Fortunately, we have tools that can reduce emissions in pocketbook-friendly ways. We should use them.
Beth A. Nagusky is the Maine director of Environment Northeast.