When many of you see a newspaper headline about climate change, I’ll bet you move on to another story. Climate change is boring. Yes, it affected us already — deer ticks and Lyme disease come to mind, along with erratic weather patterns — but most of the worst consequences will not occur in our lifetimes. It’s our grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will suffer the most, and perhaps they’ll figure out how to deal with it.
Hope springs eternal. At least when it comes to this topic. You already may have stopped reading by now. But if you haven’t, let me tell you about a very exciting event that I attended, another in a series of meetings under the umbrella topic of Conversations on Maine’s Future, organized by Alan Caron and Envision Maine.
This event was called “Maine’s Economy & Climate Change — Challenges and Opportunities,” and attendees filled a huge conference room at Bowdoin College. This event was really the second in a series of “big conversations” about Maine that will continue at Envision’s summit in late September, Caron said. Three others — Rural Maine’s Future Economy, Reinventing Education, Wiring Maine for Tomorrow — are planned after that.
“What is interesting about this event is that for the first time, really, major business organizations are in the same room with environmentalists and renewable energy people to have a rational, non-political discussion about climate, looking at both its challenges and opportunities for Maine,” Caron said. “People generally like to focus on one side of that conversation, but not both. This event gets to both.”
Indeed it did. While I saw many folks I know from the environmental community, it was all the business owners and leaders that impressed me the most. They are just the folks we need to bring the urgency of addressing climate change to every Maine home.
I am particularly impressed with how Caron is able to sponsor and organize what he calls these “big conversations about the future (that) aren’t really happening in Augusta in the way that they did in the past. So more and more they’re needing to happen outside of government, in a kind of ‘bottom-up’ way.” He is certainly right about that.
I took voluminous notes, so there’s no way I can tell you about everything I learned at the event, and I certainly don’t want to bore you — but you do need to be alarmed. As is Cathy Lee, who works around the world on climate change with her business, Lee International, which has pulled together 60 organizations that are trying to educate and help Mainers understand how to have a conversation about climate change. And yes, if you are wondering, she is Adam Lee’s sister.
The keynote speaker was Don Reicher, executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University. I sure wish you could have heard Reicher’s speech. In California, which is suffering from a very long drought, children now rush into the street when it rains. In China, where he had gone for a morning run recently, he had to stop after 10 minutes because his lungs were burning from the heavily polluted air. Using these and other anecdotes, Reicher scared the you know what out of us.
But he also had plenty of good news. LED lights have gone from $50 to one cent per lumen. “We want cold beer and hot showers,” he noted, so “we’re always inventing energy efficiencies,” the easiest response to climate change.
Reicher is particularly enthusiastic about solar power: “This is what we can do in Maine, today.” He also noted that the costs of wind power have declined sharply, leading to rapid deployment all over the world. He said the Maine coast is the best opportunity we have, and “offshore wind is coming.” He also said natural gas is “part of the mix,” while citing problems of erratic pricing and leaks.
Reicher said we “must have better policies,” including “tax credits, which are here one day and gone tomorrow. Unreliability is a big problem.
“We need to invest a clean trillion dollars a year, but are only investing $250 million a year right now.” But with 10,000 firms in the clean energy race — including some in this state — we’re “on the right track here in Maine,” Reicher said.
That was good news indeed. And the conference got even better as the day progressed, when two dozen Mainers shared information about a range of topics from what they’re seeing in the field to some big ideas for the future. I will share some of that with you next week. And I promise, it won’t be boring.