Even as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Jose command the news headlines and the people in their paths occupy our thoughts, it’s critical to understand that these storms represent a wake-up call for our nation.
Fortunately, there are clear steps that Mainers can take to address the crisis of climate change and mitigate our impact on the environment, all while creating new “green” jobs that will drive our future economy.
First, a penny saved is a penny earned applies to energy. We can increase our investment in energy efficiency, the most cost-effective way to lower emissions. Simply put, the cheapest, cleanest energy is the oil, gas and electricity we don’t use. In order to reach meaningful carbon reduction, there must be energy renovations to most of the buildings in the country. This will dramatically reduce the energy costs for homeowners and businesses. It will also create a huge number of good-paying jobs in the construction industry in Maine and the country.
Second, we need to grow our own energy. The more renewable energy we produce here the better. Locally owned distributed energy production creates a more resilient power grid, eliminates dependency on foreign oil, increases our national security, keeps our energy dollars in Maine, and reduces our carbon footprint. Rooftop solar, municipal solar and industrial solar farms will be the foundation of the new energy system, creating living-wage jobs throughout Maine.
Third, as the most forested state in the nation, Maine must play a leadership role in the mitigation of climate change through carbon capture and sequestration. Maine’s forests store an estimated 1.48 billion metric tons of carbon, much of which is released into the environment as corporations clearcut and overcut the land. Sustainable harvesting, new bio-based chemicals and sales of carbon credits suggest ways in which the forest products industry can preserve and leverage Maine’s forests as renewable energy resources.
Fourth, Maine can grow more food. Maine is a part of the world that is going to be less severely affected by climate change than most areas, our capacity to meet the projected increase in demand for food production is both an opportunity and a responsibility. Right now, corporate agriculture influences the Farm Bill in Congress to favor large Midwest corporate farms that are more vulnerable to climate disruption. Maine’s traditional family farms are better able to adapt to change with our creative Yankee problem-solving and hard work ethic.
We will need all of that and more if we are to become the breadbasket of New England. Maine has the potential to be the primary producer of New England’s whole diet needs; we could increase our productive acreage by more than fourfold by some estimates. We can also use our farming practices to sequester carbon in our soils.
In all four cases, these actions provide the additional advantage of creating new jobs in Maine that will stay in Maine. Growth in Maine’s clean technology sector far outpaces the growth of the state’s overall economy. Solar industry jobs rocketed up 73 percent between 2015 and 2016. And clean energy jobs pay, on average, 24 percent more than Maine’s per capita income.
For struggling rural communities, all of these good-paying jobs will be a lifeline, helping our families to prosper, our children to stay in Maine, and future generations to look forward to renewed economic opportunity and a healthy planet.
Jonathan Fulford is running for the Democratic nomination for the 2nd Congressional District race. He has been a builder and farmer in Maine for 30 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.