May 27, 2018
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Maine is not as vulnerable as Florida, but the toll of climate change still will be high

Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
A lone fishing boat bobs on the waves near the Bar Harbor docks off Mount Desert Island.
By William C. Eacho, Special to the BDN

We may not be as vulnerable as our friends in Florida, but Mainers are likely to pay a heavy toll as the climate continues to change. A recent climate assessment by federal scientists concluded that the largest increase in intensity and frequency of heavy precipitation will be in the Northeast.

Sea levels already have risen 7 to 8 inches globally since 1900, with 3 inches of that probably since 1993. That is a rate not seen in any century for at least 2,800 years. The Northeast has and will experience sea level rise greater than the global average, scientists say.

Oceans are absorbing more than 25 percent of the carbon dioxide from human activities, making them more acidic, with potential damage to marine ecosystems. Higher-latitude systems have less buffering capacity against changing acidity because carbon dioxide dissolves more easily in colder seawater. The rate of acidity is unparalleled for the past 66 million years. Overall, acidity probably will increase 100 percent to 150 percent by the end of this century. This is a threat to crustaceans because increased acidity inhibits their ability to form shells.

In the Gulf of Maine, warming is forcing lobster populations north, which is good for our lobstermen now but won’t be good in another decade or two. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute reports that lobster larvae near Portland are having difficulty forming shells.

[Opinion: Climate change is burning a hole in our pocketbooks]

The gulf’s lobster population is likely to plunge by 40 percent to 62 percent over the next 30 years, according to a new report that the institute published with the University of Maine and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In short, our shellfish industry and all the jobs and livelihoods it supports is threatened.

The need for strong action is crystal-clear. Unfortunately, those leading our federal government are hostile to science. We can’t count on the Environmental Protection Agency or other agencies to help. Maine has been forward-looking enough to join the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is reducing power plants’ CO2 emissions, but we need national action.

Sixty-nine percent of Mainers believe global warming is occurring, and a majority believe that humans are contributing to it, according the Yale University Program on Climate Change Communication. That survey also found that only 14 percent of Mainers do not believe we are experiencing global warming.

As we have learned from high tobacco taxes and related efforts, if a commodity becomes more expensive, we use less of it. So if Congress enacted a royalty on carbon emissions, Americans would consume less coal and other fossil fuels. That would speed up the vital transition to wind energy and other clean sources.

[Susan Collins: Ignoring climate change is ‘simply not a solution’]

Congress has an immediate opportunity to put the free market to work in this way. The president is preparing to issue a plan to improve the nation’s infrastructure. No one disputes the need for such a program; the big question is how to pay for this work. Congress should turn to a carbon royalty, also called a “fee” or “tax.”

A $49-per-ton fee, increasing by 2 percent per year, would produce $2.2 trillion over 10 years, according to the U.S. Treasury. If you rebated half of it to low- and middle-income households, on a per capita or per household basis, you could cover any increase in energy costs for those families, which would be important in Maine with our reliance on home heating oil. That would leave more than $1 trillion to invest in infrastructure.

If Congress opts to use another source of funds, the carbon fee proceeds could go instead to make up for revenue lost from recent tax cuts.

Maine is fortunate to have a pair of U.S. senators who believe in a bipartisan approach to legislation and in common-sense solutions. I hope Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King will help lead the fight against climate change by urging their colleagues to put a price on carbon now.

William C. Eacho of Seal Harbor is co-founder of the Partnership for Responsible Growth and a former U.S. ambassador to Austria.

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