In his Jan. 14 letter to the editor, Paul Potvin describes effects of climate change on the Maine salmon and trout fishery. That’s the kind of tangible observation we need to realize climate change is not just about the weather. And it goes way beyond fishing. It is about nothing less than the viability of human civilization.
Our planet will be here regardless of what we do to the climate, and cockroaches have lived through radical climate shifts in the past. It is our own future we need to defend. Climate change increasingly will disturb arenas as diverse yet interrelated as natural resources, food production, mass migration, political instability and national security.
While climate science may seem complex, at least the multiple lines of evidence all point to a shared conclusion. We are heading for trouble if we don’t reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. The political world seems less prone to consensus.
If we must defend ourselves from climate change, who are we defending ourselves from? The answer, of course, is ourselves. That seems to be the hard part. If ISIS were changing our climate, you can be sure political candidates would have no trouble declaring their intention for bold action. It takes more honesty and courage to address self-inflicted wounds.
A recent article by University of Washington climatologist Cliff Mass describes why the “left” and the “right” have reason to come out from behind their ideological barriers to agree on a common-sense approach to reducing risk from climate change. The carbon-fee and dividend, or CF&D, approach is palatable to reasonable people across the political spectrum, with endorsements by leading Republican and business figures, as well as by environmentalists, climate scientists such as James Hansen, and many other people alarmed by the impacts of climate change.
Mass’ article demonstrates why we need leaders with vision and political skill to get things done across party lines. It also raises the question, if Washington state can have a statewide CF&D initiative, why not Maine? Remember, “Dirigo” means “I lead.” And why not Washington, D.C.?
The need could not be greater. Because of a roughly 30-year lag in climate response to elevated CO2, we have to take serious action between now and 2030 to avoid committing to changes no responsible person would inflict on ourselves and the next generation. Even if some of the more dramatic consequences in the next few decades are for locations beyond Maine, our prosperity is inextricably connected to conditions and events well beyond Kittery. Guess whose taxes will help pay for the recovery from the next inundation of New York City, Norfolk, Charleston or Miami?
You guessed it, yours and mine.
Because of that 30-year lag, the impacts we are seeing only reflect the CO2 emissions accumulated by about 1985. As of 2015, we are passing the halfway point on the way toward the arbitrary and inherently risky threshold of 2 degrees Celsius over the preindustrial average global temperature.
Disturbing the climate has been compared to poking an angry dragon. We don’t know exactly where all the tipping points are, and we may have crossed some already, but exceeding the 2 degrees Celsius threshold is widely recognized as possibly launching self-perpetuating processes for accelerated and destructive warming, rain pattern changes, ice melt, ocean acidification and sea level rise beyond human control. The best way to “manage” a car wreck is to not let it happen.
From Margaret Chase Smith to George Mitchell and beyond, Maine rightfully prides itself on a history of political leaders with the foresight and strength of character to realize true leadership requires taking a stand for doing the right thing, even if doing so requires standing apart.
Those who provide true leadership eventually are recognized for their courage. But even without waiting for the judgement of history, current polls show that a majority of Republican, Democratic and independent voters support government action to combat climate change. Informed and committed political leaders who lead from the front will find that they have tapped into a powerful force for progress toward a better, safer and prosperous future and for keeping Maine the way life should be.
I encourage Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, Reps. Bruce Poliquin and Chellie Pingree, our state legislators, our governor and the presidential candidates to live up to the challenge and opportunity for creating a new energy economy by looking into the benefits of a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend.
Glen Koehler of Orono has lived in Maine since 1981 and worked as a farm adviser since 1988, tracking weather to estimate crop and pest development.