PORTLAND, Maine — Climate change is real, human activity is causing it, and its effects will leave Maine — and the planet — “fundamentally degraded.”
That was the message delivered by renowned climatologist Michael Mann, who spoke to a packed auditorium at the University of Southern Maine on Wednesday. The event was hosted by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a statewide environmentalist group.
Mann, a professor of meteorology and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, is most famous for establishing the “hockey stick graph,” which showed relatively stable historical temperatures shooting dramatically upward around the time of the Industrial Revolution and into the foreseeable future.
He is also an ardent opponent of “climate change deniers,” who he took to task during his presentation. He said the idea that climate change is not an accepted scientific consensus is the result of a “misinformation campaign” akin to the one spurred by the tobacco industry in the mid-20th century.
“The science is actually quite straightforward, despite what you may have heard from several talking heads and cable news networks,” he said.
In 2005, Mann was the target of a congressional subpoena for publishing scientific reports that linked human activity to climate change. He lamented the politicization of science: “Science has become a political football to be abused by people who don’t like the conclusions of all the major scientific organizations in the world.”
Mann said all he had to do was open up Tuesday’s edition of the New York Times to see the impact of climate change in Maine. A story in the Times reported declining moose populations in temperate regions of North America, outlining several likely factors, all of which are caused by climate change.
The article didn’t specifically mention Maine — it did mention New Hampshire — but Mann said it wouldn’t take much of an imagination to picture what a declining moose population would mean for the Pine Tree State.
“This hits very close to home,” Mann said. “In whatever state I could be talking in today, there would be a story about how climate change is fundamentally likely to affect that state.”
That point was hammered home by another speaker, Jon Ready, co-owner of Ready Seafood Company in Portland, which distributes about one-tenth of Maine’s annual lobster harvest, which topped 126 million pounds in 2012.
Ready works with lobstermen every day in his business, and said the difference in the fishery caused by the warming ocean is obvious. The lobster are moving farther out to sea, and farther north, to escape warmer water, he said.
He cited Lookout Point in Harpswell as an example. Five years ago, tons of lobster were caught at Lookout Point in June and July, as lobsters came inland to the relative safety of the cove to molt. That’s all changed, he said. This year, he noted barely any lobster were caught there in June.
Ready said that as the lobster move farther out to sea, lobstermen will have to change the way they harvest, which will come at a financial cost.
“This will affect real Maine people in small, sheltered communities,” he said.
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, was scheduled to appear at the USM event, but was unable to attend due to the political crisis in Washington. However, King recently discussed climate change on the floor of the U.S. Senate, where he made an impassioned plea for action.
“This isn’t something where we can just say oh, well, we’ll do a few little things now and maybe it will be OK, and 100 years from now or 500 years from now somebody else will worry about it,” said King. “There could be a catastrophic event within years, certainly within decades.”