Is it my imagination or has the global-warming-is-just-a-liberal-hoax crowd entered a cooling-off period? We just don’t seem to hear them scoffing at the idea of climate change as cheerily as in the past.
Oh sure, if you check the usual right-wing blog sites you’ll still find plenty of ridicule larding the issue, with the very mention of Al Gore enough to inflate a gaseous release of sarcastic merriment and where the Kyoto Accord is dismissed as “just another way for socialists to separate the working class from their money.”>/p>
But one gets the impression that these are mostly good ole boys kidding around among themselves over a six-pack, not serious ideologues bent on mounting a public debate over some questionable scientific theory.
Most of us are in the situation of not knowing for sure but are willing to accept the word of the vast majority of the world’s scientists that there is something to this business of global warming and if we’re going to rescue the planet as we know it we’d better get cracking.
That some scientists have expressed doubts about the threat of global warming is not particularly convincing. Many of us remember a time not long ago when plenty of doctors and medical researchers were willing to testify that there was no scientifically provable connection between smoking and cancer.
Too many of us subsequently came to mourn the passing of relatives and friends who accepted such expert testimony as proving the negative and went on quite literally to smoke themselves to death.
Today, we’re not quite as willing to believe that if there is the slightest doubt about a warned-against danger it doesn’t exist. Today we are more likely to say: “But what if it does…?”
In addition to its many failures, the Bush administration has allowed the United States to fall behind the rest of the world in planning steps to preserve the planet against looming environmental catastrophe. Rather, it is being left up to the individual states to fill this national political vacuum.
Maine, typically, is in the forefront of that effort.
I say “typically” because this state has a long history of leading the country, beginning with landmark state legislation a half-century ago that led to the cleanup of our rivers to recently joining with other states in lawsuits aimed at forcing strict enforcement of hard-won federal clean air laws originally penned by the late Sen. Edmund S. Muskie.
This month, Maine joined 13 states in another lawsuit aimed at establishing the authority to impose emission restrictions — the so-called California standards — on new vehicles.
Closer to home, Maine has established a policy ensuring that all electric power bought and used by state government must come exclusively from renewable resources.
The search for clean energy sources has now fully engaged both public and private interests, especially wind power.
Several windmill projects have been approved, the latest being a 57-megawatt facility to be built in Stetson, not only providing electricity to 27,000 homes but creating several hundred jobs in economically deprived Washington County.
The first wind farm to be approved, at Mars Hill in Aroostook County, is already up and running. When fully operational, it will produce enough power to service about 45,000 Maine homes. More significantly, it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions — the driving fuel of global warming — by about 65,000 tons annually.
Former Gov. Angus King and longtime environmental activist Rob Gardiner have become partners in a firm aimed at developing wind farms throughout New England. Their first project, unveiled a couple of weeks ago, calls for the installation of up to 29 towers on a mountain ridge at Roxbury in Oxford County.
Even President Bush is going to get an up-close look soon at how wind can serve individual families; his parents recently had a 33-foot-tall windmill installed at the family compound in Kennebunkport.
Solar panels are becoming increasingly popular in construction of new homes and businesses to supplement energy demands. And experiments with underwater turbines along the Maine coast could revive a version of the old Passamaquoddy Tidal Power Project conceived during the New Deal era back in the 1930s but never built.
Whether or not you believe the most dismal scenarios of global warming, taking steps now to protect and improve the environment is something we all should be pursuing collectively, imaginatively and with the zeal of a planetary preservation mission.
Maine is in a good position to help map the way.
Jim Brunelle is a weekly columnist and has been commenting on Maine issues for more than 40 years.