OTHER VOICES

Maine can’t ignore impact of rising seas

Posted Nov. 19, 2012, at 11:41 a.m.
Last modified Nov. 23, 2012, at 10:34 p.m.

Sun Journal, Lewiston (Nov. 18)

Gov. Paul LePage should re-examine his administration’s decision to shelve climate-change planning, a decision that leaves Maine increasingly vulnerable to the sort of devastation recently visited upon New York and New Jersey.

The climate change debate is complicated, and it is further complicated by special-interest politics.

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting explored the issue in a story recently.

But while we may debate the extent to which humans are causing global warming, some facts and trends are indisputable: the polar caps are melting and sea levels are rising. Meanwhile, our oceans are steadily warming.

This isn’t some fuzzy-headed theory. The measurements have been made, the records kept and the results are in.

We can go on arguing about how much of this change is attributable to oil, coal, carbon dioxide and gas-guzzlers.

But if we put that debate in a separate sound-proof room, we are still left with the obvious truth when we look out the window: The water is warm and it is rising.

It is wrong to say that global warming caused Hurricane Sandy, the super storm that killed more than 100 people and caused billions of dollars worth of damage in the New York City region.

Hurricanes form for a variety of reasons and there is no evidence that we are seeing more of them than usual.

But hurricanes are energized by warmer water, producing higher winds and higher tidal surges.

And it only stands to reason that if the ocean is already six, eight or 10 inches higher than it used to be, those surges will carry more water further inland and do more damage than before.

The National Weather Service estimated that every inch of increase in the tidal surge would flood an additional 6,000 homes in the New York region. It’s that predictable.

While Maine was spared the worst of Sandy’s wrath, we can prudently conclude that our 3,500 miles of coastline and dozens of communities should be planning for the future.

That conclusion, in fact, was reached in 2010 when an initial climate-change report was delivered to the Legislature.

According to the MPIRC story: “It was the work of 75 stakeholders, including Hannaford markets, the Maine Audubon Society, the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine and 13 state agencies.”

One of the most sensible ideas was that the state give towns and cities the support they need to make accurate predictions and come up with practical solutions, like changing zoning codes or even moving vital services such as water and sewage treatment plants.

That work was not only halted when the LePage administration took office, but the initial report was even removed from the state’s website.

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho explained why the original document is now unavailable: “We had to make a choice because we had thousands of documents and we needed to reduce our website.”

That explanation has bogus written all over it. If computer storage space was so tight, the state could have asked any of a dozen organizations to host the report and linked to it from the state’s site.

No, this was either a partisan signal that the LePage administration does not believe in a warming planet and rising sea levels, or it was done at the request of some out-of-state special-interest lobby.

We have found that the governor does not revisit his past decisions, even the bad ones.

So, it may fall to the incoming Legislature, made up, we hope, of sensible Republicans and Democrats, to revive this planning process.

That will be difficult without the cooperation of state agencies under the governor’s control. Perhaps the University of Maine can be funded to carry out this important work.

As the Republican mayor of New City, Michael Bloomberg, recently concluded, climate change is real and too important to ignore.

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