May 27, 2019
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In absence of national leadership, climate action turns local

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Hundreds of students rally outside Portland City Hall on March 15 as part of a worldwide rally to draw attention to climate change.

President Donald Trump may have disbanded a national climate change oversight committee, but many of the scientists on the panel felt their work was so important that they continued to do it.

Last week, they released a report on local responses to the changing climate. The report offers a sad recognition that the United States, under the current president and Congress, will not be taking needed steps to ease climate change. It therefore calls upon local leaders, at the state, tribal and municipal level, as well as business leaders to take up this needed work, with an emphasis on responses and adaptation to changing climate conditions.

The first task for these leaders is to share evidence-based information about climate change with the public. Keeping the public informed will help them understand the risks and costs involved with responding to damage that is already being done by storms, for example, which are becoming stronger and more frequent as the planet warms. It will also help build support for the planning and expenses that come with preparing for changes that are anticipated in coming years.

Maine is behind in this work after years of inaction.

In 2013, former Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill that called for a study of what Maine could do to protect itself from the effects of climate change. The veto was sustained. This left the state behind in preparing for the consequences of climate change, both positive — such as longer growing and tourist seasons — and negative, such as an increase in diseases transmitted by ticks and other insects, and rising ocean temperatures, which could hurt lobster and other valuable seafood harvests.

The administration of Gov. Janet Mills is now playing catch up. Maine has joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of 23 states and Puerto Rico that have committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and to creating policies to develop cleaner energy.

More substantially, Mills announced last month that she would present legislation to form a state-level climate council to develop a plan for Maine to meet carbon reduction goals, which she pegged at achieving 80 percent renewable energy in the electricity industry by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. That legislation should be finalized in coming weeks.

The group would also develop plans to ensure that Maine’s communities and economy are aware of and resilient to the effects of climate change. It will include commissioners, science and technical experts, nonprofit leaders, and representatives of climate-impacted industries.

This is the type of work that the Science for Climate Action Network, the re-formed panel of American climate experts, called for. It notes in its report that while attention is generally focused on large events such as hurricanes and fires, more subtle climate change effects —such as higher nighttime temperatures and more frequent smaller floods — are taking a larger, more widespread toll on American communities. They also point out that these events disproportionately impact disadvantaged communities, which have fewer resources to handle them. The group is funded by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the American Meteorological Society and the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

“‘Now what?’ is the pressing question that many are asking,” the report said. “How can we avoid the worst damages? What can be done to prepare for the impacts we can no longer avoid? And when we do incur damages, how can we recover more quickly and rebuild better?”

With Maine again engaged in this conversation, needed planning and policy and law changes can be discussed and implemented. The state can also be an important partner in helping communities understand the local impacts of climate change as well as how to take its impacts into account when planning development, infrastructure investments and community service programs.



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