Editor’s note: Sustainably Speaking is a new monthly column written by members of the Freeport Sustainability Advisory Board that addresses ways to combat climate change and other environmental challenges.

This time of year 15 years ago, my husband and I would have been suiting up in our snowshoes to walk out, across the bay, to our oyster lease. We’d leave from Winslow Park in Freeport and trudge on the salty ice to the mouth of the Cousins River in Yarmouth. Once there, we’d check the location of the buoys marking our lease and measure the thickness of the ice on our oyster beds.

We haven’t been able to hike on the bay’s ice for a decade now. Instead, these days we launch our boat at Winslow Park in the middle of the winter, with barely a smattering of ice floats around the boat ramp.

For our oysters, warming oceans mean more predators and more disease. Icy-cold water prevents invasive green crabs from proliferating and kills pathogens that can decimate entire oyster crops. We can no longer count on that environmental check. Crabs have become a major liability, and diseases that a few years ago could only spread in southern waters have now arrived in Maine – at great cost to our industry.

While we lament the loss of the intense winter cold in Maine, reports abound about wildfires in the West and intense storms in the South and East. In the U.K. and Europe, floods are a common occurrence now. The Middle East experiences extreme heatwaves regularly, and island nations in the Pacific region are gradually disappearing under rising seas. World temperatures are increasing because of human activity and climate change now threatens every aspect of human life. Left unchecked, scientists agree, humans and nature will experience catastrophic warming, with worsening droughts, mass extinction of species, irreversible destruction of farmland and millions losing their homes.

To prevent this “climate catastrophe,” the world must become “carbon neutral” by 2050, according to a report by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations’ body for assessing the science related to climate change. A weak or slow response would trigger the need to depend on technologies capable of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere on a large scale (carbon sequestration). These technologies are not scalable yet.


Though falling short of expectations, participating countries at the Conference of the Parties 26 last November in Glasgow re-upped their pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions, limit deforestation and increase money to help poor countries cope with the effects of climate change and make the switch to clean energy. The agreement they signed also phases out some subsidies for coal, oil or natural gas, and it commits financial organizations to back “clean technologies” such as renewable energy and to direct finance away from fossil fuel-burning industries.

Major changes need to come from governments and businesses, but scientists say some small changes in our lives are also necessary to limit our impact on the climate. Making sustainable choices can be complicated and confusing, but, according to sustainability expert David Bennell, there are steps individuals can take to lower greenhouse emissions, including:

• Improving conservation efforts.
• Reducing air travel and using public or shared modes of transport.
• Eliminating food waste and reducing the consumption of meat and animal products.
• Reducing the consumption of meat and animal products.
• Buying local, seasonal food products.
• Switching over to renewable energy sources for home use (solar and wind energy, geothermal power systems, heat pumps, etc.) and for transportation (hybrid and electric vehicles).
• Limiting purchases of products and goods, especially single-use plastic products.
• Supporting brands that practice sustainable practices.
• Investing in companies and funds with a focus on environmental, social and governance practices.
• Contacting elected officials and regulatory authorities to advocate for sustainable policies.

Every individual step, however small, will contribute to achieving the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, scientists agree.

Back on our oyster farm, we find comfort in the power of community. When storms hit, farmers band together to keep each other safe. We recover each other’s lost gear and bail each others’ boats so they’ll stay afloat.

Climate change is a huge, global storm. And yet, our experience as members of the farming community has taught us that by acting together we can overcome any challenge – even one as great as this one. Each one of us can contribute to making our footprint on planet Earth lighter, preserving it for future generations. Small individual steps can make a big collective impact.

As is often the case, many hands make light work. That is true for fighting climate change, too.

Valy Steverlynck is co-chairperson of the Freeport Sustainability Advisory Board and a member of the Regional School Unit 5 Sustainability Committee and Board of Directors. She has a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s of fine arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

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