When I arrived early for the Pine Tree Power rally at the First Parish Church in Portland last Saturday afternoon, Bill McKibben’s warming smile and twinkly eyes radiated energy from across the pews in the belly of the high-ceilinged space. Two musicians from McKibben’s organization, Third Act, were rehearsing call and response songs for later in the event. Former legislator Seth Berry was getting out his guitar for a song he and his dad would later sing. There, off to the side greeting people, was the man whose hand I had come to shake – finally.

I’ve followed Bill McKibben’s writings and activism since 1989 when he was among the first to write about the consequences to our planet of burning fossil fuels, “The End of Nature.”

Since then, he has written extensively on the climate crisis, stood on picket lines, led demonstrations, formed 350.org and now Third Act for people over 60. Hands down, McKibben is one of the smartest, most dedicated, well-informed persons in the world on the topic of the climate emergency. He comes to this work with a background in science, the heart of an activist and the soul of a poet.

When McKibben stands to speak, my heart rests, my fears for the future of life on the planet calm as I am enveloped by his spirit and his brilliant mind. He was full-throated in his support for Question 3 on Saturday, which he called democratic power. “In our efforts to save our climate, the hour is late and the need is urgent. Maine’s proposal for a consumer-owned utility offers a model for transforming a nation and a world seeking solutions to the crisis of our era,” he said.

McKibben believes the Pine Tree Power question is the most important question on the ballot anywhere in the country. We have the unique opportunity to put decisions about how fast we build out infrastructure to support solar and wind conversion – not in the hands of rich executives but in the hands of the people.

Just why would Central Maine Power and Versant be spending more than $35 million to defeat this bill, McKibben asked. Because they care about our service? The people who can’t afford their electricity bills? The climate? No. They care about their profit, that’s the bottom line. And spending money and time on getting solar and other projects hooked up to their poles and wires costs them money they don’t want to spend.

And we all know about their dismal record for service, for cost. It’s the trees, they tell us. Simply too many trees.

I have listened to the pros and cons of both sides. I have heard the dire predictions of both sides. I have watched numbers get thrown around like baseballs. I know there is risk on both sides of this question. I am not an economist, I am not a lawyer. But I am a student of human nature and when it comes to decisions like this, I rely on trust in good people to point me toward the best decision.

Who do you trust? Corporate executives from far, far away who have profit as their motive and have already shown us their dismal response to our needs? Or the people of Maine who get to vote on their priorities – and that man whose hand I finally got to shake, Bill McKibben?

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