Our nation has made dramatic societal transformations in short periods of time when a dire situation, like global warming, has called for it.
By Joe Hardy of Wells, a retired environmental educator, consultant and mediator
Portland Press Herald op-ed
WELLS — The recent report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was stunning in its findings and implications. The media have used the words “dire” and “grim.” But is anybody listening?
In the late 1970s, scientists began warning us about global warming, and how it would affect our world if it went unchecked. The terms “greenhouse gas” and “climate change” entered our vocabulary. In the ensuing years, states and municipalities enacted legislation to encourage the transition to renewable energy, and we’ve witnessed the emergence of many large-scale wind and solar farms, as well as residential and rooftop solar installations.
Unfortunately, these modest accomplishments have not been sufficient to suppress the onset of human-induced climate change. Our greenhouse-gas emissions have so warmed the global biosphere that we are now subject to a wide array of devastating climate impacts. Evidence is clear that in spite of the growing contribution of renewables to the world’s energy mix, we are not on pace to stop the average global air temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the limit scientists warn must not be exceeded if we are to prevent catastrophic changes to the planet.
The IPCC tells us that “pathways limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius … require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, infrastructure (including transport and buildings) and industrial systems … and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors.” We hear, in unequivocal language, that we must achieve a 45 percent cut in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030, and net zero emissions by 2050.
The climate crisis is the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced, demanding that individuals, governments and business entities the world over do their part to meet the ensuing challenges. The United States is well positioned to assume a leadership position, but is severely handicapped by having a climate change denier in the White House. Accordingly, it falls to states and municipalities to provide the leadership.
From our legislators, we need a wholesale change in approach to solar energy. Recently, I accompanied my town manager to Boston for a conference designed to get solar developers together with landowners to explore possibilities for solar installations. Both of us were taken aback to realize that these developers are reluctant even to consider investments in Maine, given the state’s failure to provide incentives across the spectrum of solar development (residential, business, utility). This failure has to be rectified in the next legislative session.
We also need changes in the state’s uniform building code to phase in requirements for solar energy and enhanced energy efficiency, along with a new Public Utilities Commission and a dismantling of its punitive energy policies. Within a decade or so, solar arrays should be visible on every south-facing and flat rooftop in Maine, and in any other location, such as unused landfills, that can reasonably accommodate them. And lest we forget, our legislators should demand increased support for the University of Maine’s leadership in developing offshore wind turbines.
From our new governor, we need bold leadership of and cooperation with the Legislature on this path to renewable energy and energy efficiency, willingness to challenge the utility companies to better accommodate renewables in the grid, and the ability to work with and learn from other New England states, which have moved far beyond us in adopting creative responses to the impacts of climate change.
From our citizens, we need a willingness to phase in lifestyle changes: consuming less meat, driving fuel-efficient vehicles, divesting fossil fuel companies from retirement accounts and portfolios, composting food wastes and replacing fossil fuel-based heating and electrical systems with those powered by renewable energy.
This nation has made dramatic societal transformations in short periods of time when the situation called for it – as a response to two world wars and the Great Depression. Responding to the world’s climate crisis requires such a transformation. But we can do it because, as my state legislator, Patty Hymanson, likes to say, “we are all in this together.”