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Climate Decisions

Paul Kando

The climate is changing and we have but two choices: (1) Do all we can to mitigate global warming while we still may, creating new economic opportunities; or (2) ignore the issue, hoping it will go away, and be stuck with a Sisyphean effort trying to adapt to whatever no longer avoidable extreme conditions may result. Having to rebuild after frequent mega-storms, trying to protect coastal cities from sea level rise, and living with dead coral reefs, decimated fisheries, drought-savaged agriculture, the spread of warm-climate diseases, and massive forest fires come to mind.

Global temperatures spiralling out of control
photo credit: Ed Hawkins

The root cause of planetary warming is, of course, the emission of greenhouse gases that result from burning fossil fuels. The scientific consensus is clear on this score and those who disagree can be handily dealt with by considering who pays them. Ignorance is unbecoming of a civilized people; deliberate denial of scientific findings and observable truths is the domain of self-deluding fools. For the rest of us there is but one rational choice: do what we can to minimize the prospects of catastrophic climate change.

In rough numbers, 50% of the energy used in Maine is consumed by transportation, 40% by houses and buildings and much of the remainder by electric power generation. In all three sectors Americans burn more than twice the petroleum and natural gas to achieve the same result as other developed nations. At a great cost, too:. We Mainers collectively spend about $6 billion per year on imported fossil fuels, and all of that money leaves our economy. That’s $4,444 each Maine woman, man and child personally wastes every year. This is good news because we are clearly in complete charge of dealing with our own share of this massive energy waste. In other words, you and I are the sole decision makers regarding 90% of the emissions problem in Maine. Misguided leaders can withdraw from international accords, but you and I and our communities don’t have to. It is my house, my car, my energy use. No one can prevent me from dealing with my share of Maine’s carbon emissions, nor force me to deal with it. I am in charge of how I heat my home, and how I get around.

The technology is available. We know how to build 90% more energy-efficient buildings. We can even upgrade older houses to the Passivhaus standard. We know how to renewably produce electricity. We also know how to reduce transportation energy use to a similar extent by switching to electric vehicles and revitalizing railways to move both freight and people more cheaply and efficiently. No rocket science here. And we could use what we annually save in fuel bills to pay for it all.

Change is ongoing. Making the best of it begins with imagination. Imagine our aging rural population served inexpensively by fleets of self-driving electric cars and light rail service along existing tracks connecting Portland, Brunswick, Rockland, Augusta and Waterville. Revitalizing the rails between Ellsworth, Calais and Eastport may even revitalize the economy of those “too-distant-to-ship-from” Downeast locations.