AUGUSTA, Maine — Fred Horch thinks that it’s way too late to ignore climate change and the problems that it will cause for people everywhere, including Maine.
That’s one big reason why he was disappointed that state government leaders did not seem to make a priority of the expo and summit on climate change he helped to organize Wednesday at the Augusta Civic Center.
“We wanted to hold it in Augusta, to direct attention to the issue. There seems to be a disconnect. The political leadership seems to be missing a piece of the puzzle,” Horch, a Green Independent party member from Brunswick who is running for the Maine Senate, said at a news conference held during the event. “People care about this issue. They want change — but it’s not happening at the leadership level. We need more people who rise to those levels of leadership.”
House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, were expected to take part in a conversation about climate solutions at the summit later in the afternoon, Horch said, but he had hoped that more lawmakers would take part in the event. Legislators were in session for much of the time that expo sessions were scheduled.
The expo took place two days after U.S. Senate Democrats and independent Sen. Angus King staged an all-night talking session to draw attention to climate change as Congress moved into an election year with no plans to address the issue through legislation or policy.
Horch was echoed by Unity College President Stephen Mulkey, who called for more institutes of higher learning to halt their investments in fossil fuels. He said that more and more students want their colleges and universities to do that, but the desire hasn’t often spread to trustees or administrators.
He singled out Harvard University, where President Drew Faust said last fall she did not think it “warranted or wise” to remove investments in fossil fuel companies from Harvard’s $30 billion endowment. By contrast, Unity College, the first in the nation to divest, has a $15 million endowment.
“The Harvard president said, ‘We use fossil fuels. Therefore, divestment doesn’t seem consistent to us,’” Mulkey said. “The divestment issue is simply a means of aligning your ethics. It is an unethical stance. Once you see the ethical imperative — once you see the scientific imperative — you must take action.”
But in other presentations at the expo, this kind of political oration was replaced by practical tips, as attendees — including 300 high school students — learned ways to make changes in their own homes and communities.
During a session on energy efficiency, a panel that included Shawn Moody of Moody’s Collision Centers, Frank Mundo of the Window Dressers nonprofit organization and Heather Deese of the Island Institute talked about large and small ways to cut costs and keep heat from escaping leaky homes.
Mundo told the room that students from Oceanside High School in Rockland made about 250 window inserts for their school during a community service project. That effort will translate to $150,000 in fuel savings over the next decade, he said.
Deese said that of 2,400 year-round homes on Maine’s offshore island communities, at least 10 percent have had efficiency work done. On Monhegan, a group of islanders banded together to hire a barge that brought an insulation installer from the mainland for a week.
“That truck left that island with not a single ounce of insulation on it. It was incredible,” she said. “It’s been really wonderful to see what community can do — opposed to what you can do on your own.”
A group of students from Gorham High School’s Green Team listened intently to the panelists. Junior Elizabeth Kane said that club members are working on a zero-waste program that will lead to composting food scraps from the cafeteria and using silverware instead of disposable plastic utensils.
“Everyone’s super on board with composting right now,” she said. “But it’s at a small stalemate because of the budget.”
Horch said that he and other volunteer organizers wanted the day-long event to be political, but not partisan, and that they hoped to give lots of people good ideas about small and large changes they can make to help solve the problem.
“The problem is actually pretty simple. We’re burning too much fossil fuel,” he said. “The fascinating part is the solutions part.”