At the best of times, the life I live with my husband and our 6-year-old daughter on the island of North Haven off midcoast Maine feels like a dream. We’ve lived here for 15 years. I teach music and theater in the island’s only school, and I’m part of a punk band with two of my closest friends. But when the king tides roll in, I can’t help but see the hints of disaster.

We keep a close eye on the tides. Recreationally, we pay attention because of access to the different beaches to swim on or to launch a kayak from. In the past few years, we’ve noticed more and more of the highest tides – known as “king tides” – that exceed the normal rise and fall of the ocean. While historically we would only have three to four king tides to worry about each year, we’ve definitely noticed more of these extremely-high tides than in past years.

Long before we noticed the changing tides, though, we saw the other impacts of a changing climate. It started with a lobster boom; local lobstermen had a few great years as the lobster population moved north from Massachusetts. That quickly faded, though, as the lobsters have continued shifting to the colder waters of Nova Scotia. And then the boat launch parking lot started to flood on a regular basis. Shoring up the area where cars park and the gas pumps operate cannot stop the rise of the sea.

My home itself is not in danger of being swept away by the rising tides. We’re high enough to stay safe. But if the summer residents with homes closer to sea level are forced to leave or the businesses located on the shore close up shop, it could collapse the tax base that supports our small school, forcing students to take an hour-long ferry ride to and from the mainland. If the tide swells higher, it could permeate the aquifer that supplies fresh water to our island, ruining it forever and requiring us to truck in freshwater. These changes would threaten our way of life.

I am heartened by the diversification happening in our local aquaculture right now – helping people who had depended on lobstering make the transition to scallop, kelp or oyster farming. Some of these practices can also help reduce the impacts of climate change. The sugar kelp that’s grown on our island can metabolize the carbon dioxide in the area where it grows, reducing the acidification that threatens oyster and scallop farms and raising the pH of the ocean around it. The harvested kelp can be used in anything from body wash to fermented kraut to bouillon cubes. But local aquaculture cannot reverse climate change. We need a federal government that approaches this challenge with the same ingenuity as we’re using locally.

Without that leadership, I am anxious for the long term health of our community. I worry that we’ll lose our access to freshwater. I worry that our fishing communities will collapse if they don’t diversify enough in time. I want to live here as long as I can; I want my daughter to grow up on this island, but  it’s communities like ours  that will be impacted immediately by our changing climate.

But the way that people have been willing to change their lives during the coronavirus pandemic makes me hopeful. During these past few months, we have shown that we can radically alter our lifestyle if need be. Now, we need to reduce our carbon dioxide pollution to stave off the temperature rise we’re looking at to protect our communities from the worst effects of the climate crisis.

I want to see us approach climate change the same way we have approached this pandemic. People are desperate to know how they can help. With climate change as with COVID-19, we need structures in place to support businesses that take a hit and help them rebuild for a sustainable economy. We need a government that sweetens the deal and helps draw a roadmap to a future that preserves our way of life.

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