The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
For those of us who were encouraged by the Maine Legislature’s bipartisan work in 2019 to create the Maine Climate Council, the resulting four-year climate action plan is an affirmation. It affirms that a broad group of people with different backgrounds and interests can build consensus around common goals of reducing carbon emissions and positioning Maine well for the future. And it affirms that climate action does not have to come at the expense of economic stability.
The more than 100-page plan presented on Dec. 1 provides a framework to meet state targets of reducing carbon emissions 45 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. It was produced by a wide range of researchers, industry and labor representatives, elected officials, state government officials, nonprofit leaders and others.
Its strategies include modernizing buildings to make them more energy efficient, developing clean energy to reduce emissions and create jobs, protecting Maine lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, and engaging directly with Maine people about climate impacts and resources in their communities.
This new plan is ambitious, but it is also detailed and actionable. In a state where plans and reports too often have been set aside to collect dust on a shelf somewhere, this effort can and should be a launching point for sustained action from state government. That’s critical, because inaction isn’t a responsible path forward for Maine’s communities, environment or economy.
“We have seen time and again that science-informed policy is cost effective for American society,” Ivan Fernandez, a professor at the University of Maine’s School of Forest Resources and Climate Change Institute, said during a virtual event to unveil the plan on Dec. 1. “It is not a matter of can we afford to act, but rather can we afford not to act, and to act now. The indicators of climate changes are accelerating, and so too must be our response.”
Fernandez, a member of the climate council, was also one of several researchers, business leaders and other stakeholders who joined the Bangor Daily News for a series of climate change events over the past four months. This remotely held series focused on the local impacts of climate change on Maine’s coastal communities, fisheries and marine economy, outdoor industries, and farms and forests.
Climate action often comes in the form of adaptation — when steps are taken to minimize the negative impacts of climate change or to seize new opportunities — and mitigation — when steps are taken to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that drive the underlying changes. We heard a lot about adaptation during our climate series, from the Millinocket recreation business that is retooling its outdoor offerings to reflect shifting and less consistent seasons, to the fourth-generation farmer that has experimented with new crops, to the towns that are creating climate committees and investing in more resilient downtown areas.
On the mitigation front, Maine has seen encouraging recent steps forward in offshore wind development and research, more sensible solar policies, an agreement for the state to access Candadian hydropower through the New England Clean Energy Connect project, and the continued expansion of heat pump use, among others.
As speakers during our climate series emphasized, and as this new plan demonstrates, the response to climate change is not a choice between adaptation and mitigation. Both strategies must be part of the process, and they can overlap.
“When I look at all this stuff, I don’t really separate, in many cases, adaptation from mitigation. One of the things I’m always looking for is, how can I reduce carbon emissions but also reduce my operating costs,” Mook Sea Farm owner Bill Mook, a member of the climate council’s coastal and marine working group, said during the BDN’s event in September focusing on the marine economy. “And there are many things that can be done to do that. I don’t think it’s one thing or the other.”
Mook stressed that acting to address climate change can also make sense for a business’ bottom line.
Climate action is not just about economics or the environment, but also about equity — a fact recognized by the creation of a climate council equity subcommittee. Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Dana will co-chair that group.
“Frontline communities, including tribal nations, new Mainers, those in poverty and people of color, are all disproportionately affected by the climate crisis,” Dana said during the Dec. 1 event. “If we overlook their needs and experiences, we are not only doing a disservice to them, but we are setting back all of our work, because a society is only as strong as its most vulnerable.”
Even as the federal government has floundered in addressing climate change over the past four years, Maine has stepped up to the plate. State action can’t possibly substitute for federal and international work on this global problem, but it does offer a successful roadmap for science-driven, bipartisan collaboration. Maine’s four-year plan provides a strong launching off point for future climate action here in the Pine Tree State, and should serve as a model for other states looking to lead on this pressing issue.