I used to associate Maine winters with porridge. Specifically, overcooked Quaker Oats that my mother made to “stick to my ribs” all day. Although I tried to be grateful for the calories that kept me energized, I had nightmares of my rib cage dripping with half-mixed wallpaper paste.

Terry Ingalls of Portland climbs Cutter Street on roller skis Jan. 18, performing 15 laps, something he does every three days or so. Last month was our warmest January since records began in 1895. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Since learning that the ribs are not part of the digestive system, I have had another fear associated with winters in Maine: I’m scared we’re losing them. Rapidly.

According to Sean Birkel, the state climatologist, Maine’s winter is nearly two weeks shorter than it was a century ago, and we’re projected to lose a similar number of days within the next 30 years. This current winter is not an anomaly. In late December, swollen buds grew on the pear trees by my house, polar bear dips in Casco Bay didn’t fetch abnormal looks and I was picking ticks off my golden retriever. I’m a skier, so the lack of snow in my town was the icing (or lack thereof) on the cake.  

In early January, I was preparing to leave for the World Economic Forum in Switzerland when images of the closed, grassy ski slopes of the European Alps catapulted into the global media. As a polar scientist, I had been invited to the forum to connect the dots between the escalating climate crisis and the world’s many attention-grabbing global disasters. Could a green Davos finally be what spurred the world into honest climate action?   

The surroundings were still eerily green-brown when my train pulled into the station in Davos, and I saw several rowers on the nearby lake as I navigated my way off the platform. On a mountainside overlooking the forum, I pitched a tent. At night, the shelter provided me with a cozy (cozy for a polar researcher, anyway) spot to sleep. During the day, however, it became my stage. There, I met with global leaders to take them on a multi-sensory, digital voyage into the latest climate research specifically tailored to their countries and industries. 

According to Greenpeace, private jets at last year’s World Economic Forum led to 9,700 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. This number may seem hard to quantify, but it translates to the loss of 29,100 square meters of Arctic sea ice at the peak of the annual melt season.


This number wore on me as I departed the town on a 34-hour train journey to central Sweden. With just a moderate amount of planetary warming, the continued loss of Arctic sea ice alone will trigger $70 trillion in global damages by the end of the century. It’s not negotiable that the warming poles are already responsible for food insecurity, heat waves and cyclones around the world. At what time do we decide the climate is not an issue for today?   

As the forum began, snow blanketed the alpine resort, erasing both the ominous bare peaks and my hopes in their power to alarm. Overnight, the small ski town was again just that. For the rest of the week, the lack of season-appropriate snow barely registered, as many of the 2,700 executives and decision-makers eagerly clicked into skis to catch some late-afternoon runs. 

Just as it was in Europe’s highest city (above sea level, that is), snow has been aberrant in Maine. Now that it is here, we also cannot be blinded by a return of apparent winter norms. While the inability to ski may be what triggered news stories about record temperatures in Europe, sport and recreation is only the tip of the grassy mountain.    

Glaciated mountains and snowpack are integral to planetary and human health. Major economies (and emitters) like China and India are banking on these glaciers to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 and 2070 respectively. Thoughts on hydropower as a clean energy source aside, these two countries have built their carbon-neutral plans around glaciers that are unlikely to be reliable sources of energy by the time the plans are realized.

With their environmental merits already in question, the failure of China and India to cut fossil fuels is globally cataclysmic. Nearly 2 billion people from 10 countries rely on the water from the Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers alone. In the immediate future, not only does the rapid warming risk mass flooding for 15 million people, but the loss of this water security alone is primed to trigger civil conflict, migration and economic catastrophe that would transpire around the world. 

Glaciers in Maine may only be directly associated with the state’s jagged rocks and sculpted lakes. However, we too rely on snowpack. As winters retreat, it’s not just our winter recreation that suffers either (although it serves as a foundation for our billion-dollar tourist economy). Warm winters cascade into springs and summers with changes in our biodiversity – from ticks that latch on to deer and moose to mass die-offs in brook trout. Reduced snowpack in our mountains yields reduced springtime river flow, which leads to smaller – and thus warmer and more polluted – bodies of water for our marine ecosystems.  

Just as one does not need to identify as an ardent environmentalist to have a stake in the future of Maine’s climate, one doesn’t need to be a skier to care about our snow. Last month was our warmest January, 11.2°F above average since records began in 1895. Even with this month’s frost-quaking windchill, February is following suit. Whether it’s a desire to bag a first moose, preserve our white pines, have stable borders or maintain supply chains, pay attention to our winters. And mind the porridge.  

Susana Hancock is an international climate scientist and polar explorer living in Maine. 

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