Eight years of denial have only made it harder to prevent catastrophic loss.
Back in 2010, the state Department of Environmental Protection completed a report on the kind of risks Maine faced as a result of climate change.
Although it contained 60 recommendations, it was not a climate response plan. It was more like directions on how to make a plan – but that never happened.
Eight years of Paul LePage’s stewardship of Maine government meant there was no response contemplated to the predictable results of a warming ocean and rising sea levels, which include flooding, severe storms and disruption of the forestry and fishing industries.
EVIDENCE IS MOUNTING
We are already starting to see the result of the policy of climate denial. Columbia University researchers have used computer modeling to measure the potential value lost to coastal properties with anticipated sea level rise. Not surprisingly Maine, with its long coastline developed with expensive homes and resorts, is expected to be one of the biggest losers. The study has a public database, Floodiq, where satellite images are overlaid with flood maps, assessing the potential impact on individual properties.
The figures are speculative – the authors don’t measure an actual drop in property values but a loss of potential growth. But it’s helpful to put a price on what’s at stake when houses, roads and other infrastructure end up underwater.
Other studies have identified potential risk to health and safety as well as property, and not just along the seacoast.
According to the National Climate Assessment, a report issued in November by top scientists working for a range of federal agencies, New England faces unique threats because of its history of industrial development along rivers.
Increased frequency and severity of floods could inundate landfills, spreading industrial waste into soils and waterways, threatening the health of ecosystems, animals and people – “a set of phenomena well-documented following Super Storm Sandy (in 2012),” the authors reported.
‘THE TIME TO ACT’
When the new governor, Janet Mills, said now was “the time to act” on climate change, most people assumed she was talking about the transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy. While that is important, especially on the national and international levels, there is little impact that Maine’s energy mix can have on global warming.
The state government should also focus on mitigation, assuming that the sea level is going to rise and the floods will follow.
Cities and towns need good data about the kind of infrastructure they should invest in to better weather the changes. They need to know what interventions are the most effective and where should they spend.
The good news is that the state intends to meet its responsibilities after nearly a decade of inaction. The bad news is that there is a lot of work to do, and not much time.