In his own corner of the world, columnist Tom Atwell, shown here outside his Cape Elizabeth home, can work to combat climate change by steps like avoiding leaf blowers and switching from gas to electric for lawn equipment. So can you. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

I resolved many years ago to give up on New Year’s resolutions. But in late December (and other times), I still let myself consider changes in my life and attitude.

For the coming year, I intend to stop fretting about things I can’t control – like the weather. I can deal with drought on our little piece of earth just fine. I drag hose and spend money sprinkling water from Sebago Lake on our vegetable garden, our ornamental gardens and the little bit of lawn we have left.

Anyway, drought wasn’t a problem this year. Far from it. The problem was finding time to work in our gardens when it wasn’t raining or the grounds weren’t too wet.

The rain and cloudy weather also meant we got fewer warm-weather vegetables like tomatoes and peppers. I spent too much time this past summer looking at the sun-starved plants and worrying. For what? There are several farms in our neighborhood where we can buy whatever I fail to grow, and we are fortunate to have the money to pay for local fruits and vegetables.

But as a citizen of the world, I still have reason for concern.

A flooded Kennebec River submerged parts of Front Street and Waterfront Park in Augusta after a mid-December storm. Take action in your own home and garden to help prevent climate change-caused disasters like this one. Aryan Rai/Kennebec Journal

Some of our weather problems can be traced to the much more serious and widespread problem of the changing climate. Unless you have been living under a rock, you’re aware that overall the weather is getting much more severe. While some people are moving to Maine to escape climate change–caused heat waves and wildfires, our state is not immune. A warm-weather wind storm earlier this month caused extensive damage: power outages throughout the state — including at our house — catastrophic flooding and a few deaths.


In our neighborhood alone, one tree was uprooted by wind and fell on a nearby house. Part of a huge white pine on a neighbor’s property broke off and fell onto our vegetable garden, taking out our pea fencing and the supports for our raspberry canes. Fortunately the damage in our garden is easily fixable.

But while my plan for 2024 is to worry less about little problems in our garden, it’s also to do more in a global sense. If you add my small environmental actions to those of other gardeners around the world, they would add up: We could help change the world. Part of my aim in writing this weekly column is to try to persuade you to also take environmental action.

That said, sometimes the best thing is to do nothing, or almost nothing. For instance, most of the year we leave the small wooded section in our garden alone. Come fall, after all the trees except for the invasive Norway maple have shed their leaves, I go through the area and cut down any Norway maple seedlings that sprouted that year. That allows other species, natives like the red oak, red maple and black cherry, to flourish. They provide a small carbon sink, and give shelter and nourishment to native wildlife, including squirrels and chipmunks.

Other ways that my wife Nancy and I are trying to do our part:

We have stopped using gasoline-powered small engines to mow our lawn and remove snow. In addition to their environmental benefits, battery-powered electric mowers and snow blowers are lighter to move in and out of storage, and cause me fewer mechanical headaches.

We no longer rake all our leaves, and we avoid leaf blowers.


We use fertilizer from New England, specifically Pro Gro from Vermont, which we buy from local nurseries. Likewise we buy our seeds and seedlings from local seed companies and nurseries.

And while it isn’t related to our garden, we drive a hybrid vehicle. Bonus: It gets great mileage. We also hoped to put solar panels on our house. When the solar panel expert told us we don’t have enough sun, we got a heat pump instead.

I hope I succeed in my new don’t-sweat-the-small-stuff attitude. With a presidential election year ahead of us, we are going to have a lot more to worry about than getting ripe tomatoes and growing large peppers.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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