Maine alone cannot solve the very real and daunting challenges presented by global climate change. But as the impacts of warming seas, strengthening storms and other climate-driven trends become clearer, we face an environmental and economic imperative to act — not only to protect our natural resources, but to safeguard our industries that depend on them as well.
This action does not have to upend our economy. It can and should start by bringing government, researchers, businesses and other stakeholders together for an honest and meaningful assessment of where we are today, where we are going, what challenges we will face, what opportunities will arise and what policies we should pursue.
That is why Gov. Janet Mills’ proposal to create a 27-member Maine Climate Council is so encouraging.
The council’s charge to move Maine toward 80 percent renewable electricity use by 2030 is admirable and seems achievable, though a 100 percent requirement by 2050 may prove unworkable. What is clear, however, is the need for this collaborative group of diverse stakeholders.
Under Mills’ proposal, the council would include representatives from the Maine House and Senate; governor’s office; various state agencies; the business community; fishing, forestry and farming sectors; academia; tribal communities; labor; and energy experts. It’s a comprehensive cast fitting of the large task at hand, which includes assessment and planning so that Maine can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate the effects of climate change and prepare our communities to be more resilient to those effects.
Just as local and state governments across the country must collaborate in a time of diminished federal climate leadership, so too must a wide range of stakeholders in Maine come together in the name of research, planning and action. This council would provide a much-needed forum for that work.
“Today, we take another step in combating this threat, expanding our clean energy economy, and investing in our future by creating the Maine Climate Council and marshaling experts across the state to take urgent action,” Mills said in a news release after officially unveiling the bill on Tuesday.
The legislation, interestingly and significantly, is bipartisan. Sen. David Woodsome, a Republican from York County, agreed to be the bill’s lead sponsor. Woodsome is encouragingly able to separate any differences he may have with Mills from the very real need for action.
“We may not agree on everything,” Woodsome said of Mills in the press release from her office, “but I think this something people across Maine and the country need to work on together.”
Again, that collaboration must be focused not merely on protecting the environment — but also on safeguarding our state’s economic engines, including our fisheries, forests and farms, along with creating new opportunities.
“In my time in Augusta I’ve worked to encourage renewable energy jobs, and I believe we need to do much more on weatherization,” Woodsome said. “I believe this council and its work can encourage the creation of new jobs for our state and help Maine homeowners.”
Several Maine business owners also joined Mills to welcome the bill’s introduction, while also highlighting the challenges of a changing climate coming both by land and by sea.
“The future of Maine’s food systems depends on the adaptability and resilience of farms in the face of changing weather patterns and more extreme growing conditions,” said Melissa Law, owner of Bumbleroot Farms in Windham.
“Climate change threatens the future of Maine’s seafood industry and our coastal communities,” warned Bill Mook, who owns Mook Sea Farm in Walpole.
Mook called the bill to create the climate commission a “crucial first step on a path that leads to dramatically lower carbon emissions, new economic opportunities, and avoids the worst of the forecasted climate scenarios for the sake of our children and their children.”
He’s right, this council is an important first step. It won’t solve things overnight or make up for the lost time when Maine should have already been having these discussions. But by bringing together different interests with an eye toward the future, the council offers a proactive approach to climate change that our state government has been missing for years.