Last Sunday’s Telegram Insight section had two terrific commentaries on Maine’s economy, both of which pointed to the need for a positive, visionary and pragmatic plan to move Maine forward.

The first was from Nate Bowditch, a former state commissioner of economic and community development and president of the Maine Development Foundation. After reviewing the litany of challenges we have in Maine – which I generally reduce to we’re cold, remote, expensive, old and disorganized – he went on to make the point that we need a business plan for Maine that recognizes our weaknesses without dwelling on them, and builds on our strengths.

Another commentary, by Tux Turkel, raised an issue that is long overdue for serious conversation: What are the economic effects of climate change on Maine’s economy and are they all bad? He pointed, in particular, to the expectation that while Maine will become warmer and wetter, we are not likely to suffer the major devastating hurricanes, coastal storms, tornados and droughts that many other parts of the country are confronting.

If that’s accurate, we’re likely to see increasing numbers of people following in the tracks of other animals and plants in a slow migration northward.

That might be good for us, but it would cause unforeseen stresses on our infrastructure and communities and elevate the importance of planning for smarter growth and public transportation.
Climate is a touchy issue with a lot of people. Many Republicans don’t talk about it, apparently because they’re not allowed to. An equal number of Democrats want to limit the conversation to stopping climate change rather than adapting to it, as though we can only do one or the other.Those restrictions have left a lot of people out of one of the most important conversations of our time.

Some people even get mad if you say anything positive about milder winters. A few weeks ago, I posted a Facebook comment expressing my delight in a shallow snowpack, which might mean I’ll be out gardening and hitting golf balls with my friends in March again. I got an earful from people who wanted to be sure I understood the inherent value of abundant snow and freezing cold winters.

Apparently, growing up in Waterville and living in Maine all my life hasn’t sufficiently acquainted me with idea of snow. But their response well illustrates how tender the climate conversation can be.

If you’re wondering why I’m not more skeptical about climate change, here’s why. First, I understand who funds most of the climate-change-isn’t-happening-and-if-it-is-we-didn’t-do-it skepticism (oil and coal interests). Second, I have eyes. I have seen Maine changing in my lifetime. I’ve seen possums in my yard and vultures overhead, red-bellied woodpeckers and plants that have no place being here.

I’ve seen southern insects attacking our hemlocks, deer tick populations explode and Lyme disease grow 10-fold in the past decade. Last year, I played a golf tournament with 80 others in Brunswick – on Jan. 1. None of that was happening when I was a boy. None of it.

Now I see the clammers in my neighborhood fighting to hold back a tide of green crabs brought on by warmer water and loggers in the north struggling with shorter winters that are shrinking the harvesting season. And I see lobstermen looking anxiously to the collapse of lobster populations in southern New England, caused in part by warm-water diseases. Many are now wondering if lobsters will also migrate to colder waters to the north, taking with them centuries of tradition along the Maine coast.

In some ways the public is getting ahead of the political world on this issue. They know, at a gut level, that something big and different is happening. Maybe now we can begin to have an adult conversation about climate and the economy and what it all means for us.

We need a new plan of action for Maine’s future and for the economy. It has to be a plan that isn’t consumed with anger and hand-wringing about what’s wrong with Maine. It has to include climate, but mostly it has to focus on the assets we have to work with, including our terrific communities, beautiful rural areas and forests, hard workers and a knack for building quality products.

Fortunately, many good people in Maine are working on that issue. I’m trying to help, in some small way, by writing Growing Maine’s Next Economy, which will be out later this year. If you’d like to be part of that conversation, go to envisionmaine.org and sign yourself in.

Alan Caron is a principal of the Caron & Egan Consulting Group, which works with companies, governments and nonprofits to plan and achieve goals and to more effectively collaborate. He also serves as the president of Envision Maine, a nonpartisan organization that promotes Maine’s next economy.

He can be reached at; [email protected]