Maine parks and lakes invite Mainers and visitors into close connection with nature in peaceful observation of sacred plants and animals. During early-morning canoe paddles on Moosehead Lake, my husband and I watched a cooperative flock of mergansers drive fish into dense balls that they could more easily catch. We crossed paths with a fishing loon who came up three times near us, giving his eerie call, probably of alarm, as we continued towards him. The awe and beauty of these close encounters into the lives of wild animals delighted and humbled us students of animal behavior.

I write about energy to help you increase your understanding of your family’s impact on the planet, because I love the precious complexity and wholeness of the world that is under siege. Reading Kenneth Boulding’s 1964 book, “The Meaning of the Twentieth Century: the Great Transition,” started my understanding that human population soon would increase beyond the carrying capacity of Earth. Carrying capacity is the limit of human population that Earth’s systems can absorb and still continue in equilibrium of water, earth and air systems. Scientists agree that 3 billion people is about Earth’s carrying capacity, while the world has over 8 billion people. Since that equilibrium is now broken, we see increased intensity of storms, warming of ocean waters causing larger hurricanes and death of coral reefs worldwide, plus accelerating loss of insects and animal species of all kinds. The amount of beef cattle in the world is greater than all wild mammals combined.

Reading Paul Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb,” Dennis and Donella Meadows’ “Limits to Growth,” and Bill McKibben’s many books continued my concern about how humans are exacting irreversible consequences on Earth’s natural systems. Increasing numbers of affluent Europeans and Americans in the 20th century used coal, followed by oil, then natural gas to heat buildings, provide transportation and manufacture goods. As economic prosperity spread through the large urban population of China, the resulting increased heat-trapping gases from higher consumer lifestyles precipitated the process of huge and continuing climate changes.

Spreading drought across north Africa from Somalia to Sudan, Chad, Niger and Central African Republic that has driven herders elsewhere to find water for their animals has produced millions of refugees, including those arriving in Maine from Congo and Angola. Africans, who mostly use little fossil fuel, suffer from climate change caused by the developed world’s four times more intensive energy use. Americans are indeed responsible for giving refugees and asylees shelter and work opportunities, and I am proud of Brunswick, Portland and Developers Collaborative in rapidly building some of the affordable housing units needed.

How can we live ethically today to greatly reduce our use of energy, particularly fossil fuel energy, to minimize our impact on Earth? On our Labor Day camping trip to Moosehead Lake, we used an electric Hyundai Ioniq powered by all solar electricity, which included an electric hot plate for cooking, and slept in a tent. Many vehicles towed motorboats or carried rowing boats for similar experiences in Maine’s abundant waterways. Most vehicles used large amounts of fossil fuel at fast speeds to access this connection with nature. We can enjoy local parks and preserves run by many Maine land trusts closer to our homes, driving short distances at speeds of 55-60 mph that conserve gasoline.

Maine and New Hampshire have cultures of spending time at “camp” in forested, lake areas of the state, with the highest levels of seasonal second homes in the U.S. Quite a few of our fellow campers at Lilly Bay State Park had kayaks that they pulled up to their waterfront sites, sharing our quiet, peaceful connection with nature in exploring the coves of Moosehead Lake. The motorboats saw the same beauty and wild creatures as us, yet at such a speed and noise level that they missed the opportunity to slow down the hectic pace of American culture.


Since the oil embargo of 1973, when Americans first thought of oil as a limited resource, I have felt a responsibility to minimize my use of natural gas, propane, gasoline and heating oil to help extend oil resources for necessary uses for future generations. We built our homestead on the Phippsburg coast to use only wood and passive solar, with excess heat later stored in a rock floor for space and water heating. We put in a wood stove and two heat pumps in our current, small, well-insulated home, so we were prepared when the oil furnace soon started leaking. We discontinued the furnace use and siphoned out the full tank of oil to donate to someone who needed it.

Most of our former VW and Chevrolet Geo Metro cars got 40-50 mph, and we minimized our 13-mile trips to town. Unfortunately, these light-weight vehicles with motorcycle engines are no longer produced. My husband experimented with retrofitting several 90s-era Solectria electric cars 20 years ago, first with lead acid batteries and then lithium batteries. Now, we are almost transitioned to two electric vehicles and two bicycles for three drivers.

Car-sharing programs and Portland’s 200 city-run bicycle rentals as well as Uber and Lyft ride calling are reducing the need for personal vehicles. Midcoast Rail Service is offering scenic rail trips from Brunswick to Rockland this fall. Amtrak is considering an expansion of regular rail service from along this same route. Also needed is a jitney system, with a van on a fixed public route and schedule downeast connecting with this expanded rail service. Public transportation away from the Interstate 95 corridor is limited to Western Maine Transportation buses and Community Action programs scheduled ride services.

Recently, many more choices are available for minimizing gas use in transportation and home maintenance, with electric weedwhackers, mowers, leaf blowers, chainsaws, bicycles and scooters. The purchase costs of electric appliances are comparable to fossil fuel alternatives, and they are considerably quieter to use, more comfortable for the user and neighbors. Why pay to go to a gym for a workout when you can do real work hanging laundry, raking, pruning bushes, composting food waste and keep your body healthy?

Nancy Chandler studied Animal Behavior and Anthropology at Stanford University, then received her master’s in biology education in her home state of North Carolina at U.N.C. Chapel Hill. She is passionate about teaching energy conservation and hopes to get you thinking about how to use energy use efficiently to save both money and reduce greenhouse warming gases.

Comments are not available on this story.