For the past week, this newspaper has run articles as part of the Covering Climate Now project, an international effort by more than 220 news outlets to highlight the issues surrounding climate change in advance of Monday’s United Nations Climate Summit.

Taken together, they show what climate change will cost us in the near future if there is no significant response, and how it is affecting us already today – in Maine and around the world. They show what that response could look like.

But most of all, the stories from the Covering Climate Now project show us that the situation is not hopeless – that despite the shortcomings of the response so far, and despite the roadblocks put in place by cynicism and ignorance, there is a clear path forward against the threat of climate change.

As part of the project, reporters from the Portland Press Herald contributed pieces focused on Maine, a bellwether of sorts on climate change. The Gulf of Maine, stretching from Cape Cod to the southern tip of Cape Sable in Nova Scotia, is the second fastest-warming area of the world ocean, giving scientists a look at how other areas will react as climate change intensifies.

As staff writer Colin Woodard reported, a heat wave six years ago in the Gulf of Maine brought hordes of invasive green crabs, killing off mussels and soft-shell clams. Puffin chicks and right whales lost their food supply. Lobsters shed early, causing turmoil in the markets.

It’s clear already that rising water temperatures and increasing ocean acidification caused by climate change are disrupting the ecosystem of the Gulf of Maine, affecting seabirds, whales, shellfish and plant life. The heart of the lobster industry is moving north. Maine’s island and coastal communities are already feeling the effect of the changes, and more severe consequences are yet to come. Inland, the increase in tick-borne disease is just one way climate change is making its presence felt.

The certainty that these sort of effects will be seen around the world – indeed, they are already apparent in many places – should be enough to spur action. Rising temperatures and other effects from climate change will bring droughts and change regional agriculture, causing famine, upending traditions and forcing mass migrations. They will make people sicker through increases in heart and lung disease and the spread of infectious disease.

At Monday’s U.N. climate summit, countries will be presenting plans aimed at meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which is focused on keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, a generally agreed-upon, but by no means perfect, tipping point.

President  Trump announced in 2017 he would pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement in 2020, the earliest possible date that could be accomplished. Trump also is fighting the strict auto emissions standards put in place in California and followed by other states.

In short, he has shown no interest in the addressing the issue, and in fact has buried climate science across federal government.

However, Maine Gov. Janet Mills has shown what is possible when you have a chief executive and legislators committed to taking on climate change. In her first legislative session, after eight years of inaction under Gov. Paul LePage, Mills passed a bill committing the state to sharply reducing the carbon emissions responsible for climate change. She recently named a 35-member climate council that will develop plans to meet those goals, and monitor rising water temperatures and ocean acidification.

On Monday, Mills is scheduled to address the U.N. conference in New York City.

That is the kind of leadership that the youngest generations are seeking as they make climate change a central issue. In Maine and around the world, young people, frustrated by inaction, are demanding that leaders take climate change seriously. On Friday, students from elementary age up to college organized “climate strikes” throughout the country, including here in Maine, that drew hundreds of thousands of participants.

These youths are sending a message that they won’t be brushed off. With any luck, such activism will force world leaders to respond in the way necessary to meet this critical threat.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: