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Sarah Leighton is the chapter director of Sierra Club Maine.
Each morning, I walk the shores of Penobscot Bay with my dog. Along my walk I get to enjoy the sound of loons, the feel of the salty, dewy air and the sight of seals and eagles hunting for their breakfast.
Growing up in Maine, I’ve also noticed some changes over the years. Rarely do I see star fish on our rocky shores any more. My view is increasingly polluted by oil tankers delivering oil to the Searsport terminal. And the beaches are littered with trash. Recently, I was able to collect an entire garbage bag’s worth of trash in less than a one-mile walk.
Maine is not immune to the detrimental effects of climate change. This past July was the hottest month on record in Portland. Winter Harbor’s water supply is at dangerously low levels due to the current drought. And the Maine Forest Service recently announced that Maine has had a 170 percent increase in wildfires so far this year over 2019, resulting in the highest fire count in 10 years.
If we continue on this trajectory, what will Maine look like in 2050, 2040 or even 2030? The University of Maine report on Maine’s Climate Future concluded that Maine’s sea level will rise 2 to 3 feet by 2050 and 8 to 11 feet by 2100. University of Colorado environmental sciences chief Waleed Abdalati, NASA’s former chief scientist, recently stated, “I strongly believe we’re going to look back in 10 years, certainly 20 and definitely 50 and say, ‘Wow, 2020 was a crazy year, but I miss it.’”
As Mainers, we owe it to our home, which includes some of the most beautiful places in the world, to preserve it and protect it from the disastrous effects of climate change.
Maine has a unique opportunity to be a leader in the fight against climate change. On June 26, 2019, the governor and Legislature created the Maine Climate Council, an assembly of scientists, industry leaders, bipartisan local and state officials, and engaged citizens to develop a four-year plan to put Maine on a trajectory to reduce emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and at least 80 percent by 2050. Gov. Janet Mills also signed an executive order to ensure the state must achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.
On Sept. 9, the Maine Climate Council reconvened after months of receiving public comments on its proposed recommendations to review their climate change strategies. Unfortunately, these strategies do not get us to our goal achieving carbon neutrality by 2045. In fact the first draft of the strategic framework states that by 2050, Maine’s total emissions will be 7.3 million metric tons, 3 million metric tons higher than the 2050 target. This is unacceptable.
We have a moral obligation to act now. For decades, policymakers have put forth piecemeal, incremental suggestions that fail to make the necessary changes to truly decarbonize. We owe it not just to ourselves, but to future generations, to ensure that they are able to live and enjoy this incredible state. We know that shifting to a green economy will create jobs, ameliorate inequality, and advance a more just society. The choice is ours — will we act, or will we let this opportunity slip away?