In order to make a meaningful difference on climate change, we’re going to need every shoulder to the wheel. Like any complex problem, the solution won’t be simple. It will take innovation in transportation, energy, conservation, planning — not to mention the boldness to make the changes this moment requires.
Fortunately, one of the most important things we can do to address climate change is to let the earth do what it does naturally: build and maintain healthy ecosystems. Did you know the carbon already stored in 100 acres of Maine forest is equal to the emissions from driving 6,500 vehicles for one year, or the annual energy use of 3,667 homes? Our salt marshes absorb increasing storm surges and provide a buffer against sea level rise. Stream crossings that allow fish and other animals to pass under roads also reduce the risk of flooding, which saves tax dollars and makes our communities safer.
Keeping nature intact — letting rivers flow, managing forests sustainably, leaving coastal marshes undeveloped — creates the “natural climate solutions” we need to weather the effects of climate change. In this struggle, conservation is one of the most powerful tools we have.
This is also why it makes so much sense for Maine, a state blessed with diverse, healthy ecosystems, to lead on climate change. With 89 percent of our land area covered in forests, we are the most forested state in the nation. We have 3,500 miles of tidal coastline, 32,000 miles of rivers and streams and nearly 6,000 lakes and ponds. Our natural resources don’t just make Maine a great place to live and visit — they make us strong.
As a member of the Maine Climate Council, I’ve been pleased and impressed by the attention that group is paying to the role of nature as we explore strategies to adapt to changing climate conditions and reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. Through this process, individuals from across Maine — scientists, farmers, students, business leaders, engineers, indigenous communities and local and state officials — are bringing their perspectives and expertise to bear on this urgent issue.
The focus of the Climate Council and its working groups is on finding solutions that will meet the state’s science-based emission reduction targets while creating jobs, fostering equity and taking advantage of the opportunities created by transitioning to a low-carbon future. Last month, we met in Augusta to take stock of the progress so far, and to chart our course toward a strong climate action plan for Maine. It is an inspiring process, and a potential model for other states ready to act.
Conservation is just a piece of the puzzle — but it’s an important one. Over 60 years, The Nature Conservancy has helped protect more than 1.7 million acres in Maine. Since climate change doesn’t adhere to borders, neither can we; globally, the conservancy has helped protect more than 125 million acres of land and 5,000 river miles. As the climate changes, these are the healthy, resilient ecosystems that will help save us.
Mainers should be enthusiastic about the work of the Climate Council. When it comes to acting on climate change, we can take pride in the fact that our state’s shoulder is firmly to the wheel.
Kate Dempsey is state director of The Nature Conservancy in Maine and a member of the Maine Climate Council.