The debate about the tar sands pipelines in Maine and the Midwest has centered on the potential for oil spills.

While spills are a significant risk, the impact on the climate is the overriding concern.

The change in the climate that already has occurred is obvious to anyone who spends time outdoors. Frost comes in mid-October instead of mid-September. Apple trees blossom in April. Lake ice is unsafe well into January. Insects such as ticks that were once frozen out of Maine are migrating north with the diseases they carry.

The United States and Canada are among the top per capita energy consumers in the developed world. In the United States, it is commonly accepted that cheap energy is a pre-requisite for a healthy economy. If so, why is Germany, where gas sells at $8.56 per gallon, the economic juggernaut of Europe?

In Maine, the long-term economic risks from a warming climate are lost in our focus on the short-term economy. Consider these risks:

* The ski and snowmobiling industries will suffer from less snow and shorter winters.

* The maple sugar industry will decline as maple trees die off.

* The shellfish industry will decline with warmer ocean water and carbon induced acidification.

* Coastal communities will experience more frequent and severe flooding.

We need to wean ourselves from fossil fuels, not add new sources with energy intensive extraction requirements. Climate scientists overwhelmingly recognize that the planet is warming dramatically and that the risks are daunting. A handful of bogus studies funded by ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel interests have perpetuated uncertainty.

We need President Barack Obama to require environmental impact assessments for pipelines carrying tar sands in Maine and elsewhere, and for Maine’s congressional delegation to lead on federal climate policy.

Tony Marple

Whitefield

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