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This Earth Day, like those in recent years, can be a time of despair. The consequences of climate change – massive floods and droughts that have displaced millions of people around the globe, for example – are here and worsening. However, there are still glimmers of hope as the transition to cleaner energy sources accelerates and communities increasingly focus on climate resilience.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued yet another report last month warning that our rapidly changing climate poses dire risks to humanity and that big changes are needed – now. This follows last year’s “dire warning” and a “code red” warning the year before that.
“Humanity is on thin ice — and that ice is melting fast,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last month. “Our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once.”
These annual warnings come with proof that climate change is having disastrous consequences around the world. Last year, Europe and China were hit with devastating droughts, while 15,000 people died and 8 million were displaced by floods in Pakistan and large swaths of Australia were under water at the end of the year. In the U.S. Hurricane Ian devastated parts of Florida. It was the most costly natural disaster of 2022 in the world.
In Maine, a late December storm knocked out power to 300,000 homes and caused flooding and damaged buildings, including the iconic Portland Head Light. Climate change is making extreme weather events worse, scientists say.
Despite all of this bad news, members of the UN panel said there is still hope for a liveable planet, if significant changes are made. These include large and rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which requires a move away from the burning of fossil fuels.
“This … report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a liveable sustainable future for all,” Hoesung Lee, the chair of the UN climate group said last month.
Maine and other states have made significant progress.
In her state of the state address in February, the governor proposed to speed up the state’s transition to renewable energy. Gov. Janet Mills proposed that the state set a goal of transitioning to 100 percent renewable sources for the state’s electricity generation by 2040.
Earlier in her administration, Mills’ set climate goals that included moving Maine’s electricity supply to 80 percent renewables by 2030. By the end of this year, that figure is expected to be at 53 percent, up from 48 percent last year.
This goal is important as Maine also transitions away from fossil fuels to electricity for transportation, heating and other uses.
The state is well on track to exceed a goal of installing 100,000 new heat pumps between 2020 and 2025, with the 82,000 heat pumps in place as of late last year. And, the devices worked well during this winter’s bitter cold spell, defying the warnings of some skeptics.
Increasing the number of electric vehicles is also part of the state’s plan to combat climate change. New charging stations were recently installed in Bangor and Newport. More will come online next month.
The electricity generated in Maine is also getting greener. Maine has more than six times the solar capacity than it had in 2019. However, concerns over prices from some solar projects need to be resolved by lawmakers.
Maine is also moving forward with a large wind energy project in Aroostook County and, more tentatively, with offshore wind.
The scale and speed of climate change can be overwhelming. But we know that bold action taken now is the only way to avoid and mitigate the worst consequences.
Earth Day provides an opportunity to recognize our environmental challenges, but also to celebrate the work done to protect our land, water and air. It is also a reminder of the responsibility to continue safeguarding our planet for years to come.