Mountaineering can be described pretty simply: there is a hill, and you climb it. But you have to pack before you even get there. Then you have to acclimate to the elevation at base camp, and plan your route. And then you and your crew begin the slow but steady trudge up.
As we face down the seemingly insurmountable challenge of climate change, no less daunting than Mount Everest itself, the same careful planning process is required. That is why I am so excited about the Green New Deal — for the first time, we have a real plan to get up the mountain before it comes crashing down around us.
And that is hardly hyperbole. Climate change is dramatically reshaping our landscapes. For example, a recent report found that glaciers have melted so much in the Canadian Arctic that landscapes are being revealed that haven’t been seen for 40,000 years. The recent abrupt warming of the Arctic is adding significantly to the new climate norm — increased and more intense droughts, floods, storms, heat and cold waves. This and other catastrophes will only continue if we do not combat rising emissions.
As someone who has spent many years in some of the remotest reaches of our planet recovering information that provides perspective for understanding changes in the climate, this is deeply troubling.
But we do not need to look to the future to see the troubles coming — many people are already feeling them. And the impacts are hardly all far-flung. In November, the Fourth National Climate Assessment explained how climate change is already affecting the U.S. A few weeks prior to this, I released a report with fellow University of Maine professor Sean Birkel looking specifically at the affect climate change is having on Maine’s coast.
Both reports show how Maine is being hurt by climate change. In the Northeast, ocean waters have warmed three times faster than the global average. In the Gulf of Maine specifically, the ocean is becoming more acidic and algal blooms are becoming more common and longer lasting. While warming temperatures have helped the lobster industry in Maine boom by pushing lobsters north, ocean waters are predicted to get so warm it threatens the industry, which is crucial to our state’s economy. By 2050, Maine could see more than a 60 percent drop in the lobster population.
There are also significant risks to human health. Algal blooms make paralytic shellfish poisoning more likely, and the oyster-borne Vibrio bacteria has moved north thanks to warmer ocean temperatures, likely increasing cases of food poisoning.
Despite all this bad news, there is hope. Recently, there were several House committee hearings held on climate change, including one about the effect it is having on our oceans. And, of course, a Green New Deal resolution was introduced in both the House and Senate. The plan is a true reflection of the speed and breadth at which the science tells us we need to act. It calls for a net zero carbon economy in 10 years, which matches what the IPCC 1.5, an international climate change panel report, called for.
The Green New Deal is designed to help mitigate future greenhouse gas emissions, increase air and water quality, and in the process boost our economy through new jobs and more efficient ways for us to sustain our quality of life. It is important to remember, however that the Green New Deal resolution is a basic map with a potential route outlined. That said there are other climate solutions that are not mentioned in the resolution, but that need to be considered. This is not a problem with the resolution, though. With the scope of this problem, there is a need for all kinds of action.
Included in that is subnational action. Gov. Janet Mills plans to expand wind and solar energy sources in Maine, and wants to us to achieve the goal of getting 50 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable energy.
While subnational action is very important, the federal government needs to re-engage on this issue if we have any hope of stopping the most severe effects of climate change. Hopefully this Green New Deal resolution can jump start a conversation with a detailed plan and give us a glimpse of what meaningful federal climate action could look like in the U.S.
Conquering the climate challenge will not be easy — it is a big hill to climb. But as long as we keep moving, we will get there eventually. The Green New Deal offers a major step forward. Finally, at long last, we have a plan that shows the way out of base camp, and now we need to go up the mountain.
Paul Mayewski is the director of the Climate Change Institute and a distinguished professor at the University of Maine in Orono.