AUGUSTA, Maine — The figures presented to the Maine Climate Council on Wednesday were familiar. Over half of the state’s emissions come from transportation. Warming waters will harm the lobster population. Maine may meet medium-term reduction goals, but it will take further action.
In a different conference room at the Augusta Civic Center, a group of young Mainers were having a different conversation filled with frustration growing among a new generation of climate activists: A sense that those in power didn’t act to prevent the current climate situation and are uninterested in making big changes to address the issues.
The council met Wednesday for its second meeting, part of a multi-year process aiming to build consensus across interests and party lines about what the state should do to become more green. It plans to release its four-year action plan in December and has contracted with the Eastern Research Group to advise it on the potential costs associated with proposed actions.
Members of the Maine Youth for Climate Justice want Maine to aim bigger. At a time when young activists including Sweden’s Greta Thunberg are pushing sweeping climate action, they want the state to strive for zero emissions by 2030, which would go far past a state goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.
“It is one thing to write, ‘Listen to the children’ on a cardboard sign and take it with you to the March for Science,” said Anna Seigal, 13, of Yarmouth. “It is quite another to hear us, consider our ideas and turn that into legislative action.”
Members also want the council to look beyond its borders when considering action. Sirohi Kumar, 15, of Bar Harbor said visiting India with her family drove home to her the disproportionate impact climate change can have on the poor and people of color. She worries that a predominantly white and older council won’t see that.
“It’s hard to talk to people [on the council] and feel like they don’t understand you,” she said.
Hannah Pingree, the director of Mills’ policy office and the council’s co-chair, said she believes it is important for the state to reach beyond its goals, but noted moving towards its 2030 goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent below 1990 levels will require significant challenges.
She pointed specifically to the transportation sector in a rural state. While emissions dropped in Maine by 30 percent between 2004 and 2015, transportation emissions were largely flat. The automotive industry plans to move aggressively toward electric vehicles by 2030, but only 1,300 Mainers owned them in 2018 — making it unlikely they could phase in so soon.
Pingree also noted the politics of Maine’s climate efforts. Democrats and Republicans have long debated the short-term and long-term costs of both energy and climate action. She said there are factions that believe the state is moving too fast, or doesn’t need to act so aggressively.
The council’s job, she said, is to find a balance that works for all. “Will everybody be happy? I don’t know,” Pingree told a group of reporters.
“But obviously our intent is to at least meet, if not go beyond, the Legislature’s emission reductions and make a plan that we actually believe could grow jobs and be good for our state,” she said.