March 19, 2013

Our View: State should plan for climate changes

Ending efforts to prepare for rising sea levels and stronger storms is no way to save money.

Climate change should be the least controversial issue in American politics. The science of heat-trapping greenhouse gases is observable and easy to document.

click image to enlarge

A waves crashes into a house along the shore in Kennebunk earlier this month. Rising sea levels and other impacts of climate change could find Maine without any safeguards or response plans in place.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Unfortunately, it has become a political dogfight pitting the people who want to slow global warming by releasing less carbon into the atmosphere against those who argue that climate change is natural and that humankind couldn't stop it if it tried.

But usually, there is at least one point of agreement – the climate is changing. The Earth is getting warmer, the polar ice is receding and the sea levels are rising. That is contributing to changing weather patterns like droughts and severe storms. While no one event can be attributed to a changing climate, trends can, and they suggest that we should be ready for more.

That's why creating climate change adaptation plans should be the least controversial part of the whole dispute, but even this has broken down along party lines in Maine.

In 2010, the Democratic-controlled Maine Legislature directed the Department of Environmental Protection to come up with a detailed plan to address climate issues by January 2012. But when control of the Legislature and the department both shifted into Republican hands, the report never materialized and no one seemed to mind.

After watching the devastation of the New Jersey shore and lower Manhattan last fall, it's easy to see why Maine should be concerned about climate change.

There are infrastructure improvements that could protect our low-lying structures. There may be places where that would be too expensive and relocation might be more cost-effective. This is the kind of information that would be useful to land use planners and developers.

Maine can't afford to ignore the facts and pretend that climate change is not happening. Dropping the climate change adaptation work may be an effective political statement, but it could prove to be an expensive one if a string of superstorms rakes the coast.

Money is tight for state government, so lawmakers should spend wisely. Cutting funds for this kind of planning is a bad way to save money.

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