Several Maine news items prompt me to write about climate change. One is an excellent Press Herald article (“Weatherization, heat pumps, EVs: State pushes energy cost solutions, but can you do them this year?” April 10) about climate-friendly home improvements and “Maine’s ongoing vulnerability and dependence on fossil fuels.” A second is Maine’s wildfire season worsening because of climate change. A third is the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, about the urgency of reducing carbon emissions to avoid permanent and irreversible damage.

UN Climate Report

Bruce McDougal watches embers fly over his property as the Bond Fire burned through the Silverado community in Orange County, Calif., on Dec. 3, 2020. The United Nations has found that “the area (of North America) burned in wildfires has increased dramatically over the past three decades.” Noah Berger/Associated Press, File

At least three dangerous, looming tipping points have obvious close connections to Maine: melting ice sheets; weakening water circulation in the Atlantic Ocean, and Northern forest destruction by bark beetles, heat and fire.

At the same time, Mainers can appreciate recent conservation successes (“Maine Voices: Rare bird reminds us of the ways in which conservation pays off,” April 10) and the work of climate-engaged citizens and dedicated players like the Island Institute, the Maine Climate Council and Efficiency Maine.

Vitally, scientists know what’s happening, why and solutions – the things we need to do. Contrary to years of misleading communication campaigns, scientists agree almost unanimously that climate change is here, it’s real, it will affect everything and its consequences will get worse until we take more decisive action.

We need a new climate psychology that inspires political will and more robust action.

Climate scientist Michael Mann highlights our need, locally and globally, for urgency and agency. Because psychology (including political will) is key to managing our climate futures, and “Urgency and Agency” is spot on, the phrase deserves iconic status like “I have not yet begun to fight.”


The meaning of urgency is clear, and we can quickly take a giant step toward avoiding dangerous tipping points by voting for climate-friendly politicians in November. “Agency” is less well understood, but it means believing “I and we can do what we need to do.”

Despite our abundant actual agency (understanding what’s happening and knowing the solutions), humanity is alarmingly short of psychological agency: belief in our climate-altering capacities. For example, more than half of young people ages 16-25 feel afraid, sad, anxious, angry, powerless and helpless about climate change and the future.

Most people do less to help the climate than they think. This overestimation plus other misperceptions and knowing what we need to do indicate untapped climate agency and potential that people – business leaders, elected officials and average citizens – don’t capitalize on.

Acts of personal agency, for instance, recycling and conserving energy, are only the first steps to bigger solutions. Collective agency involves collaborating with others and building on power in numbers. And proxy agency operates through politicians and other leaders via voting, pressure and persuasion, potentially creating local and global change.

Overall, agency generates motivational fuel and the actions that accomplish individual and societal goals. For climate change – or work, school, sports or life’s other challenges – you feel and exercise agency when you engage in the following:

• Forethought: “I am thinking about the future, what more I can do, strategically choosing how I can best contribute and making action plans.”


• Self-management: “As the challenge continues over time, I can keep making good choices, manage the stresses and take care of my health so I can maintain my effectiveness.”

• Reflection and growth: “As my efforts proceed, I can monitor progress and learn to increase my skills, influence and impact.”

Increasing your agency is easier said than done, but so is everything important. It’s a matter of taking some first steps, practicing and getting better at what we want and need to do.

Climate solutions will work in Maine and beyond when people in all sectors deploy their agency to create the best possible futures.

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