How many times in a month do you turn on the news and find that a climate-related catastrophe has laid waste to another swath of land, claiming dozens of lives and billions of dollars in damages? The horror stories are, unfortunately, nothing new; climate change seldom fails to show its teeth. Every year, numerous climate-related disasters demonstrate a credible and developing threat.
Directly, or indirectly, we have all paid the price. And we will continue to.
Last year, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria demonstrated what extreme weather is capable of. The Associated Press estimates that the 17 storms during the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season killed around 441 people and caused around $369 billion in damage. Although this is no small figure, it is a mild forecast of what might be needed to cover the cost of future damages.
Mainers are also directly experiencing the effects of climate change. In 2015, the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute produced a second report on how climate change will affect the lives of Mainers in the coming decades. It estimates that the average temperature in Maine has risen by around 3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895. Using the same numerical models as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the institute predicted that temperatures in Maine will rise by an additional 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050.
If the trend continues, the residents of our state will be affected in several ways.
Many of us are already well aware of the first way that climate change has taken effect — the number of ticks are rising with the temperature. Lyme, among several other diseases, poses an increasingly serious threat to our children and loved ones — both physically and monetarily.
For those who cannot afford health insurance, medical expenses can devastate the budgets of low- and middle-income families. Even for those who are fortunate enough to have insurance, Powassan — another disease carried by ticks — is incurable and can be fatal.
Irregular patterns of precipitation are another effect of climate change. The Climate Change Institute reports that Maine’s annual rainfall has increased 13 percent since 1895, and that annual precipitation will continue to increase an additional 5 percent to 10 percent by 2050. Over time, these storms weigh on our infrastructure, requiring governments to spend more tax dollars on repairs.
In 2014 alone, the city of Brunswick was forced to spend $200,000 to repair roads damaged in flooding caused by heavy rain. Farmers also suffer from changes in erratic weather patterns. In effect, so do consumers.
The dangers are many, but as we go about our daily lives, it is easy to take for granted the periods of time when we are not directly affected. Indeed, living in fear is an unhealthy and cyclical pattern that has its own costs.
But we should educate ourselves fully on the climate change effects that others have already experienced — and continue to experience — across the globe. Climate change is an international concern — a concern that is of such a magnitude that it will take the efforts of us all to address it.
As we continue to notice the compounding decay in climate stability around the world, Mainers have largely avoided the catastrophic effects of climate change. But we are already beginning to notice the toll it has taken on our economy and on our own wallets. It is imperative that we remember the cost associated with consumptive lifestyles, but it is equally important that we harness our unique position as members of a free society.
We have the privilege of standing up to certain pollutive agendas that, while intended to boost economic growth, inevitably damage infrastructure, contribute to disease, and drain our bank accounts.
J. William Somes is studying economics and political science at the University of Maine in Orono. Somes is also a member of UMaine’s Honors College.
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