There is a disconnect going on in our nature-rich state – a tragic disconnect – between Mainers concerned and worried about the global climate disruption now fully underway and what to do about it.  

Most Mainers are choosing to head in ineffective directions.   

Many focus on home: How can I lower my carbon footprint? That’s what the gas and oil producers want us to do. They produce the goods whose burning is warming the atmosphere, prompting the hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding wildfires, rising seas and acidifying oceans that terrify us. These giant corporations created the very idea of the carbon footprint to divert us from them as the cause.  

Others among us are acting only in our hometowns. Sierra Club Maine has encouraged this, organizing Climate Action Teams town by town in the past few years.   

Then, there are those, the largest number of us Pine Tree staters, who have supported statewide action and celebrated the aspirations and actions of Janet Mills’ governance. 

But – dare I be blunt? – all of these actions miss the obvious point: Maine causes almost none of the carbon emissions of the United States.


If all U.S. annual emissions were hurled into the air in 24 hours, Maine’s emissions would be done in less than five minutes. If Maine stopped all our emissions tomorrow – went to carbon zero not in 2050 or 2035 but by March 1, 2023 – nobody would notice. Our state’s success would be lost in the statistical noise of everyday emissions’ variability. 

Thus, the only place we can affect any meaningful change on climate is at the national level, with governmental action at the federal level. That would affect 100% of U.S. emissions, instead of Maine’s mere 0.3%. 

People in the street know this. When I’ve tabled in public, put out a plate of beans and four jars labeled “Personal,” “Town” “State,” “Federal” and asked passers-by to put one bean in the jar where the most effective climate action can be taken, the “Federal” jar wins hands down, every time. And rightfully so.  

But I’ve also talked to a slew of our state’s green groups – Natural Resources Council of Maine, Maine Conservation Voters, Environmental Priorities Coalition, Acadia Center, Cathy Lee’s Climate Table, Friends of Casco Bay, Alan Caron’s ClimateWork Maine group, Maine Audubon – and asked them to advocate for an effective federal policy to lower carbon emissions directly. What do you think their response has been? 

Put another way, do you know what their advocacy is for reducing carbon emissions beyond the Piscataqua River? 

I know your answer because, however shocking it may be, they advocate for no federal policy to directly reduce carbon emissions. For dealing with the 99.7% of all U.S. emissions, they advocate nothing.  


When I’ve asked why this disconnect, their representatives say, that’s beyond their mission, past their bandwidth. They are siloed within the state of Maine.  

Why does this matter to us in Maine? 

It matters because Maine can be pivotal in the national politics of climate. That’s because ours is the only state with both U.S. senators on the Climate Solutions Caucus. That’s the group of 14 senators who will hammer out whatever policy will be voted on by the upper chamber. Thus, we have potentially twice as much influence over what the Senate will do – or not do – than any other state in the union. Indeed, Texas, California, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois – with one-third of the U.S. population – have no senators in that group

We Mainers could have outsized influence if we chose to exercise it; if we spent even a tenth of the time and money we devote to our own carbon footprint, or those of our towns or state.   

We’re also a purple state, a swing state, a state in play and a state with no oil or gas industries to subvert our will or divert us from our primary purpose. We can’t make our will on climate known in Washington, D.C., if we remain siloed within our state boundaries, just focusing on our own next-to-meaningless emissions. 

So how about tithing for a national climate policy. Let’s contribute one-tenth of the money and time we now devote to buying solar panels, electric cars, advocating with or working for green-leaning groups to getting a national policy that, by governmental regulation or market pricing, drives down U.S. emissions, undoes the power of the polluters and presses foreign countries to do the same.  

We have nothing to lose but our ineffectiveness.   

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