The next president of the United States has long denied that climate change is happening, let alone is a problem caused by humans. For people who have dedicated their lives to studying climate change, reducing its impact or adapting to its effects – or for anyone who cares about these issues – that is a scary statement. Source asked leaders within Maine’s sustainability movement how they and their organizations plan to respond to a Donald Trump presidency.
None were celebrating, but we found a thread of hope in their answers, largely because they say much can be done on a local and state level to combat climate change.
The national outlook is dark. Trump has called climate change “pseudoscience” and a Chinese plot (he later claimed he was joking) and, in the midst of the frigid, snowy winter of 2014, tweeted the question, “Is our country still spending money on the GLOBAL WARMING HOAX?” Just last week he seemed to soften his stance, telling the New York Times “right now … well I think there is some connectivity” between climate change and human activity, but he said the nation’s response “depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies.”
Meanwhile, the planet is on track to have experienced the hottest year recorded in human history. For the third year in a row. The vast majority of the world’s climate scientists – more than 97 percent – agree the planet is warming and the cause is human activity. The majority of the people Trump will be governing also disagree with him. About 70 percent of Americans believe in climate change, according to one 2016 poll, and a March Gallup poll put concern about it at an all-time high in the United States, with 64 percent of those surveyed saying they worry “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about global warming.
Trump’s plans for his administration include tearing apart the Environmental Protection Agency (the transition is being led by climate change-denier Myron Ebell) and he has repeatedly said he would pull out of the historic 2015 Paris agreement to set targets for carbon emissions, though he told the Times last week that he has “an open mind” about it. One hundred and ninety-five nations participated in the December 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, agreeing to develop plans to combat climate change, a show of unity that was celebrated worldwide.
Maine sustainability leaders did not mince words in responding to our questions, starting with the critical one: How do you, and the collective we, move ahead with a president-elect who denies that climate change exists? To borrow a line from Kate McKinnon, playing Hillary Clinton, in the first “Saturday Night Live” episode to air after the election, they’re not giving up and they hope you don’t either.
Their insights, shared with us by email, are edited for length and clarity below:
Ole Amundsen III, executive director, Maine Audubon
The work we and other conservation organizations are doing has never been more critical. We move ahead by doubling down on our efforts.
One thing no one can deny is that we are experiencing increasingly severe weather events. Elected officials have to respond to these events, and communities have to anticipate, plan for, and recover from them. These weather events have significant implications for infrastructure, which may in fact be a priority area for the new administration.
This is a potential opportunity to find common ground. Maine Audubon works actively to support installation of Stream Smart road crossings, which replace old culverts and provide safe passage for wildlife under roadways. These crossings also dramatically reduce road flooding during severe storms, which lessens both the hazard of flooded roads to citizens and the cost of repair to communities.
This is also an opportunity to focus on building our rural communities’ capacity to act as effective stewards of Maine’s environment. Conservation and stewardship are primarily local efforts; if we want to protect special habitats like the Maine woods, we need strong rural communities. Growing entrepreneurship in rural Maine is critical.
Even amidst discouraging signs at the federal level, we continue to make progress in our communities. In this same election, Topsham passed ordinances addressing plastic bags and Styrofoam containers. They join a growing number of communities in Maine and around the world taking proactive steps to protect wildlife and the environment.
Progress is slow. Look at how many people wear seatbelts today, or wear helmets while playing sports. Look at the changes in how society views cigarette smoking compared to previous generations. These changes didn’t happen overnight, and each experienced major setbacks. The fight goes on.
Glen Brand, director, Sierra Club Maine
Sierra Club is preparing with our allies an unprecedented effort to stop Trump’s administration from undoing the progress we’ve made on addressing climate disruption and other issues. Despite the election results, we know that the vast majority of Mainers and Americans still want to move away from dirty fossil fuel dependence towards 100-percent clean, renewable energy in the next generation, and they also want to preserve our nation’s clean air and water safeguards.
Sierra Club Maine is scaling up our Climate Action Team (or CAT) program. The CAT program – active now in 10 communities including Kezar Falls, Dover-Foxcroft, Brunswick, Portland and Bangor – supports citizens to organize with their neighbors around town-based climate solutions, like community and municipal solar projects, energy efficiency, waste reduction and much more. These efforts demonstrate that when people come together, they not only improve their communities, but they also provide models for other towns and build public support for statewide solutions.
The election results cannot stop the clean energy revolution, which is underway everywhere, and Trump cannot prevent states and cities from advancing the clean energy economy and sustainable policies. But it’s true that we are in uncharted territory. I take strength from the fact that we successfully stood up to George W. Bush’s anti-environmental agenda and, with our supporters’ help and by building broad, diverse coalitions, we are going to stand up to Trump.
Kate Dempsey, state director, The Nature Conservancy Maine
We are at a critical moment in the evolution of America’s energy infrastructure where we can seize the opportunities created by innovation to advance cleaner, more reliable energy. I am still hopeful that President-elect Trump’s position on climate change can evolve, but Mainers should take heart that, regardless of what happens at the federal level, states will continue moving the ball forward.
We’ll be focusing this legislative session on polices to incentivize wider adoption of solar power. We’re also working with partners to scale up energy-efficiency programs for Maine cities and towns to benefit more people at lower costs, and we’re taking part in collaborative efforts to diversify our forest economy, which serves to keep forests as forests and ensure an important carbon sink remains intact.
I really do believe there is so much momentum behind clean energy and climate change mitigation that our state and nation will continue making progress on that front despite the increased potential for destructive policies. At the same time, we must continue working hard to defend the progress we’ve made, including defending our longstanding laws and regulations governing clean air, clean water, wetlands, endangered species, etc. The good thing is, there are many groups that will continue working toward solutions in the next four years, including The Nature Conservancy.
Drew Dumsch, executive director, The Ecology School
The best way forward is to fully embrace the idea of community resilience, that no matter what climate changes happen, all of us in Maine can work together to anticipate and prepare for those changes to keep our economy strong and our society vibrant and healthy.
The Ecology School has already been completely focused on teaching the science of ecology and the practice of sustainability for the past 20 years. We will continue to work with thousands of children and adults in our program to study local ecosystems and use that important knowledge to provide the inspiration needed to create sustainable food systems and land use.
The amazing thing about the science of ecology is that it gives us a clear picture of how everything is connected. Using ecology as a lenses to view the world can give us the hope and the help we need to make deeper connections to the environment, through both knowledge and emotions, and then act on that as engaged citizens.
Andrew LaVogue, campaign organizer, Environment Maine
We organize. We engage our friends, family, local elected officials and community groups to pressure our local, state and federal senators and representatives so they know how the state of Maine feels about a climate denier taking office. It is amazing what people can do when they come together on an issue. Organize local town halls, lobby visits and always write your concerns to your local paper in the form of letters to the editors and opinion pieces – your opinions are valuable and you hold incredible power.
Along with the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Maine Conservation Voters, we hosted a “Post Election Thought Leader Forum” in Bangor on Nov. 16. We discussed what Maine can do about renewable energy jobs, and what Maine has do to combat climate change from here on out.
All across the country there have been demonstrations, of the kind not seen since the ’60s, and they are going to continue. So although there are very real challenges ahead with a Trump presidency, people are already voicing their opposition. That includes opposition to what he means for the issues we care about, like climate change.
Don Perkins, chief executive, Gulf of Maine Research Institute
GMRI is non-partisan. We believe policy discussions should be based on evidence, and in the case of climate change, the science is clear. As carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen, the temperature of the earth has gone up, exactly as predicted by scientists in the early 1980s. Science institutions like GMRI play an important role in helping educate citizens about climate change – and that work will continue no matter who is in the White House over the decade to come.
Our scientists and their colleagues have shown that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than almost any other ocean region, so we have a tremendous opportunity to develop local solutions to a global challenge. With that in mind, we’re focused on working with fishermen and fishery managers to increase the resiliency of fisheries in the face of climate change. We are also working with coastal communities to help them adapt to these changing fisheries, as well as rising sea level.
Over the last 30 years, the majority of meaningful action on climate change has come from states, municipalities and citizens – not the federal government. Regardless of who is president, the same group of dedicated organizations and individuals will continue to approach the challenge of climate change head on. We know a warming ocean has both ecological and economic impacts, and we expect that the solutions we develop will continue to come from thoughtful citizens of all political persuasions.
Ted Quaday, executive director, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
We must up the political ante in the face of climate change deniers like Donald Trump. That means our voices must rise stronger tomorrow than they do today. Already business and environmental leaders across the country are sounding the alarm about Trump’s vow to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Strong voices at every level are needed to prevent steps backward in the crucial effort to build a low-carbon economy.
Our work in support of organic farming is part of the climate solution. We continue to bring new organic farmers into the production system. We also support federal research to identify organic production methods that will sequester more carbon in woodlands and in soil.
In the past MOFGA has highlighted climate change challenges in workshops and public gatherings. We intend to continue talking about the challenges all farmers face as unstable climate intensifies weather events here at home and across the globe.
While reassurance is difficult as we contemplate leaders who refuse to accept clear scientific evidence, we continue to believe that ultimately, a populace united to push for positive action to slow greenhouse gas emissions will make a difference.
Cathy Ramsdell, executive director, Friends of Casco Bay
Whether we have a president who denies climate change or not, science is science. We are seeing changes and climate chaos already on both the global and local scale. Have you noticed how we are having fewer rain storms but when it does rain, we are being inundated by more intense storms? Our data show that the chemistry of Casco Bay is changing – there has been a downward trend in pH over the past 15 years and an uptick in temperature locally. We must work together in our local communities to tackle these issues.
(Friends of Casco Bay is) working with other research institutions and policymakers to move forward on addressing ocean acidification, sea level rise and Portland’s stormwater management plan. We offer a course for teachers on the local impacts of climate change in our estuary and in the Gulf of Maine. Education is critical, not just to our members who are pretty familiar with the threats of climate change, but for those who haven’t given it much thought.
If you are deeply concerned, get deeply involved – and locally involved. There are ways everyone at every level can help have an impact on mitigating and adapting to this looming issue.
Rob Snyder, president, Island Institute
Climate change remains an issue regardless of what the president-elect thinks. Our fisheries leaders believe in it, and many of our community leaders do, too. Denial will not slow down a warming ocean, sea level rise, or increasing ocean acidification. We move ahead by continuing to educate ourselves about the impacts on our communities, and getting to work so we’re ready for what is coming.
We don’t need the President to move our agenda. On islands, people are forced to live within environmental boundaries and have always relied on each other to get by. This way of thinking and living is an example for the nation. We will continue to support local leaders along the coast and on the islands that embody these commitments.
People should be deeply concerned and focus on working in communities and with the private sector. We can still get a lot done.
Dylan Voorhees, climate and clean energy project director, Natural Resources Council of Maine.
The Natural Resource Council of Maine is completely prepared to do what is has always done: stand up to politicians or special interests who threaten our environment. Donald Trump can’t change the fact that Americans and Mainers want clean energy solutions and action to deal with climate change. Here in Maine, 60 percent of voters say climate change is already negatively affecting the state.
In terms of federal policies and rollbacks on climate, we’re fortunate that we have two U.S. senators – including one from the president-elect’s party – who accept that climate change is a problem that we should address. We expect Maine people and businesses will stand firm in expecting and supporting their continued defense of sensible action on climate and clean energy, whether that is the Clean Power Plan, renewable energy tax credits or international cooperation.
We won’t be waiting around for the federal government to move forward. Maine and the Northeast have long been leaders on clean energy and talking climate, and we will redouble our efforts to extend that leadership. It is past time for Maine to adopt effective policies for solar power and the region can continue to lower power plant carbon emissions.
State legislators in Maine remain extremely accessible and responsive to the ideas and opinions of people in their districts. Your voice matters most when it is exerted locally.