By Sen. Angus King
Maine has a long and proud tradition of environmental stewardship. Our lakes, forests, mountains, oceans, and streams are not only a resource for outdoor recreation, but also the foundation of our state economy. Unfortunately, our failure to respond to global climate change has jeopardized the integrity of our natural environment and the sustainability of countless small businesses across the state.
To underscore the gravity of the situation, earlier this week I joined my colleagues on the Senate Climate Action Task Force in an all-night series of speeches highlighting the consequences of climate change — many of which we are already experiencing.
I know there are some who still argue that global climate change is a hoax, that it is not real. But the scientific evidence is telling a different story. There is an overwhelming amount of data showing that climate change is happening and that people are the cause. Since the 1860s, during the Industrial Revolution, the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has almost doubled to levels our planet hadn’t seen in three million years. And what the data tells us is that, as the level of carbon dioxide began to rise in the past, so did the temperature. And as temperatures rose, artic ice began to melt, and today it is already melting at an alarmingly abrupt rate.
So why do we care? First, we care because these changes pose a grave risk to our economy. In 1970, the hot spot for lobsters was south of Massachusetts, south of Rhode Island, and off of the end of Long Island. Now, in 2008, our fishermen are trapping lobsters along the downeast coast of Maine in greater and greater numbers, and they are heading for Nova Scotia where the water is colder. This northeastern migration of the lobster population has shifted the lobstering industry and in doing so, has eroded longstanding fishing communities in southern New England. We don’t want this to happen in Maine.
Another serious impact of carbon pollution is ocean acidification; Maine is also already suffering from its effects. As carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean, it makes the waters more acidic and inhibits shellfish from developing their shells. Our oyster farmers are already very concerned about this. These are small business-people — people who are afraid that they may not be able to pass their businesses down to their children.
Climate change is also affecting hunting and fishing in Maine. Sportsmen and women in New England have already noticed reduced moose populations in New Hampshire and warmer streams are threatening Maine’s native brook trout.
We also care because climate change poses a risk to our national security. In the 21st century water is going to be an incredibly valuable — and increasingly scarce — commodity. As one of the most basic life necessities, it is going to become something people fight about, something people go to war over, and climate change intensifies this problem by jeopardizing our global water reserves. We have to look no further than the drought in Southern California, and the decreasing snowpack and glaciers that no longer deliver water downstream.
Finally, we care because climate change also represents a moral risk. We don’t own the planet, we have it on loan — and we have a moral obligation to pass it on to our children and grandchildren in as good or better shape than we received. Climate change is not the next generation’s problem, it is our problem and we need to address it. Do you want to be the person who tells your grandchildren, we saw this coming, but decided not to do anything because it would be too expensive and might disrupt some of our industries? I don’t want to be that person and I don’t think that attitude reflects the Maine approach to problem solving.
In 1972, former Maine Senator Ed Muskie fought tirelessly to pass the Clean Water Act, which established federal regulations governing water pollution. This groundbreaking legislation made significant strides in our nation’s environmental policy, and guess what, it passed unanimously! So I don’t understand how working to protect the future integrity of our environment has become so bitterly partisan — it just doesn’t make sense.
I recognize that the challenges posed by climate change are daunting and that the solutions are going to involve risk. But we cannot let our fear of change outweigh the imperative to take action. Neither Maine, nor the country, nor the international community can afford the immeasurable costs of continuing to ignore the facts.