At the end of another challenging year, it’s safe to say none of us has made it through 2021 unscathed. But here we are, finally able to look back on a year unlike any other. As we do, we have a chance to take stock of some of its lessons, take a deep breath and start to build our hopes for the year ahead.

There are certainly plenty of lessons to choose from. “Zoom is no substitute for being able to hug our loved ones” is a personal favorite. “We’re luckier than we ever knew that Maine has so many places for us to be outside together” is another. Perhaps our most important lesson is one we’re still struggling to learn: “We must act together if we hope to make a meaningful difference in the face of global challenges.”

The pandemic is one example of this reality; climate change offers another. Here in Maine, it’s clear and present: during just the past two years, we’ve experienced the driest summer, the hottest June and the highest daily average ocean surface temperatures in recorded history. These changes threaten our growing seasons, our recreation, our economy, our health – our way of life.

This problem is too complex and multifaceted to be addressed by any one person or group. We have to join together and join Maine in pursuit of a bright, sustainable future. Fortunately, we have a diverse and dedicated community working hard to make the needed headway for our state and our planet. Here are just a few of the climate-focused initiatives I’ve been inspired by this year.

Earlier this fall, Mount Desert Island High School unveiled Maine’s first electric school bus. Hopefully it’s the first of many! With the transportation sector generating over half of our carbon emissions, this is a meaningful and trailblazing project. It was championed by A Climate to Thrive, a regional nonprofit leading the way on climate action on MDI and beyond.

Meanwhile, in Aroostook County, the Houlton Band of Maliseets’ vision for recovering miles of stream habitat is leading to the restoration of a road-stream crossing over Moose Brook. Replacing the undersized culvert with a bridge will lessen the danger of increased flooding from climate change (which restricts emergency services’ access to the community), while also opening up habitat for brook trout and other native fish.

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Over in Millinocket, a partnership between the town library and the Outdoor Sport Institute, Maine Community Foundation, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Bicycle Coalition of Maine and private donors created the Katahdin Gear Library, which makes bikes and other outdoor equipment available to anyone with a library card. This is a pioneering approach to making carbon-free transportation available to more residents and visitors.

Maine’s conservation community is doing its part, too. Whether it’s Maine Audubon’s innovative work to identify the best locations for siting new solar arrays, the transformational reopening of the Bagaduce River led by Maine Coast Heritage Trust or the Island Institute’s deep partnerships with coastal communities to support climate resilience, Maine organizations are leading the way. The Nature Conservancy is honored to partner with these excellent groups, and many more.

One of the efforts I am most inspired by is the work of Just ME for Just US, a project of Maine Environmental Changemakers in collaboration with Campaign Earth, which is developing a statewide, youth-led civic engagement and climate justice network. More than just tomorrow’s leaders, these young people are leading today. The next Rachel Carson may already be on the scene!

It’s natural this time of year to reflect on our own work, share our own messages and celebrate our own accomplishments. This year, I’m finding it helpful to pick my head up and look around Maine. As I do, I am struck by how fortunate we are to be a part of this community. We have stepped up in 2021, and we have a lot to be excited about in 2022. Here’s to building a bright future, together.


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