April 23, 2018
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Why the global climate talks matter to Maine

By Dan MacLeod, BDN Staff
Updated:

The leaders from the world’s nations this week convened in France for the 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference. The goal is to reach some kind of agreement about how they can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to slow the warming of the planet, which a consensus of scientists agree is likely caused by people.

It’s the 21st year they’ve met. But this time, it looks like there’s actually a will to come to an agreement.

It comes after Obama in August released his tough and controversial domestic plan, which would close hundreds of coal-fired powered plants. It faces significant political opposition.

Here’s a breakdown of how these big issues play out in Maine.

First of all, it’s getting warmer

From 1895 to 2014, the average annual temperature in Maine rose by around 3 degrees, according to the 2015 Maine’s Climate Future report by the University of Maine.

Here’s what the report says that looks like:

Which means that the warm season is expected to start in March and end in late November:

That could impact our fisheries

Even though the lobster catch is booming in Maine, the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of all the world’s oceans. There’s also evidence showing that lobsters in general are being pushed north. Catches plummeted in southern New England. Right now, that’s good news for Maine. But it’s hard to say how long the boom will last, or whether lobsters will move further up the coast.

Warmer waters mean that fishermen are hauling in more lobsters with diseases, the Boston Globe reported last year:

State biologists last year reported that the number of lobsters with the mottled, lesioned shells caught in Maine increased fivefold from 2010 to 2012.

Warmer waters promote the bacteria that cause the disease. Moreover, the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is absorbed by the warming ocean has produced more carbonic acid, making it harder for lobsters to build their shells and increasing their vulnerability to the bacteria, scientists say.

Rising water temperatures also welcome predators, like the black sea bass, which fishermen have increasingly found in traps along the coast.

The guys from O’Chang comics put together this video that explains how climate change is affecting lobsters:

Rising sea temperatures also mean that it could be more difficult for Maine’s cod population to bounce back after years of overfishing, as BDN reporter Bill Trotter pointed out last month on his blog:

Scientists who have spoken publicly about the phenomenon said the increased water temperature also has been making the Gulf of Maine less hospitable to cod, an iconic fish whose presence off the New England coast has been credited with luring thousands of Europeans across the Atlantic. In short, they have said (as the Science article has strongly reiterated) that climate change in the gulf is stacking the odds against the species rebounding to its former abundance.

There are a lot more cases of Lyme disease

According to the University of Maine report, cases of Lyme disease have skyrocketed in recent years — likely caused in part by warmer temperatures, which ticks need to thrive.

In 2013, there were 1,377 reported cases, compared with 108 in 2001. The most vulnerable population is children aged 5 to 14.

“The spread of Lyme disease has been linked to temperatures that make habitat more suitable for deer ticks and their hosts, ” the report said.

That’s something that the BDN’s Jackie Farwell reported in 2012, noting that by 2050, ticks will be able to grow to maturation across the whole state:

Maine’s climate prevents ticks from completing their two-year life cycle in the colder northern parts of the state, [said researcher Susan Elias]. But by 2050, warmer temperatures will mean ticks can progress from eggs to adults in all regions of Maine, according to research by the Vector-borne Disease Laboratory that’s based on models created by the University of Maine Climate Change Institute.

“It’s not this huge dramatic shift by 2050, it’s not like we’re going to be Virginia,” [Susan] Elias said. “We’re going to be Massachusetts, which doesn’t seem like a huge change, but it is.”

The lab, which works to control tick-borne diseases, also identifies ticks sent in by the public. (It does not test ticks for disease.)

More ticks were submitted to the lab in March 2012 than in March of any prior year, Elias said.

“We got off to an early start because of the very mild winter where we had so little snow,” she said. “We started having tick submissions to our lab in mid-March, so that’s early.”

Oh, and rising sea levels could put parts of the coast underwater

As the world warms, the ice caps melt, and the sea rises.

The degree to how much it will rise, has been debated, as the BDN’s Seth Koenig this year reported:

On one end of the spectrum are researchers like James Hansen, a former lead climate scientist for NASA who estimates sea levels will rise by as much as 10 feet in as little as 50 years.

In contrast, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted a sea-level rise of between 1-3 feet by 2100, depending on the degree to which carbon emissions are curbed.

Maine — with its 3,478-miles of coastline — is especially vulnerable.

In another post, Koenig shares some maps from the Natural Resources Council of Maine that show how rising sea levels could re-draw parts of the state.

Here’s Bath, for instance:

And here’s Portland:

Featured article photo by Reuters


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