Six of us, three couples, went to see the movie “Alien” on opening night. We were expecting science fiction, like “Star Wars.” At the end, I was embarrassed because my arms were crossed over my chest, and I was holding hands with the two women on either side of me. I was less embarrassed when I realized that all of us were holding hands. Scary movie.

Nevertheless, one of us went back to see it four times. “I kept blinking,” he said. “It wasn’t until the fourth time that I could keep my eyes open when Parker was impaled, but even then my mind blinked.”

Climate change, once you begin to fully grasp its implications, is like the “Alien” movies. It’s full of surprises frightening enough to make anyone blink. Scientists from the Climate Change Institute delivered the bad news, and some good news, at the Climate Adaptation Facts: Briefing for Kennebec River Valley Communities meeting hosted recently by Kennebec Valley Community College. The briefing was a joint project of the Sustain Mid Maine Coalition and the Running Start Institute.

Dr. Paul Mayewski, director of Maine’s world-famous Climate Change Institute, observed that we actually are confronting “climate disruption.” We are at the beginning of the end of climate as we have known it for the last 11,000 years. He explained that in the 1960s scientists thought that climate change was a geologically slow, cyclical process too massively determined to be influenced by human activity. However, a huge, decades long, multi-national research effort has revolutionized our understanding.

Just the analysis of ice cores extracted from Greenland and Antarctica, a record so fine that scientists can examine a hundred thousand years storm by storm, has taught us that climate is driven by several factors, and that greenhouse gases are one of the strongest. Burning fossil fuels is destabilizing our climate system. We’ve also learned that when changes take place, they do so suddenly, often in a matter of years rather than centuries. It’s like heating water: It isn’t boiling, and then it is.

Dr. George Jacobson, state climatologist and professor emeritus at the University of Maine, focused on the impacts we can expect in Maine. For instance, in a few decades our climate will become more like Virginia’s. This will be immensely disruptive. For example, the state will be filled with “zombie forests”; established trees that can survive but not reproduce. Jacobson explained that if we want to have productive forests in Maine in 2070, we need to start working on that now.

Dr. Sean Birkel, also with the Climate Change Institute, demonstrated his Climate Reanalyzer, which gives anyone easy access to vast amounts of meteorological and climate data so that they can reach their own conclusions. It’s available at

In the afternoon, four speakers addressed local impacts on energy, business, public health and agriculture. Dana Doran, Kennebec Valley Community College energy programs director, pointed out how fortunate we are to have huge wind potential in the Gulf of Maine, in addition to forest resources and abundant solar potential.

Tim Downing, president of Duratherm Window Corp., described the economic potential of sustainability. He credited the cost savings from increased sustainability in his own business for enabling Duratherm to weather the Great Recession without laying off a single employee. He also reminded the audience that while shifting to renewable energy would make many jobs obsolete, it likely would replace them with more and better ones.

Paula Thomson, Maine’s liaison with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opened everyone’s eyes to the many ways in which climate disruption would imperil public health: introductions of unfamiliar diseases and pests, for a start.

Amanda Beal, a respected sustainable food research and policy consultant, gave an overview of the likely impact of a warming and increasingly chaotic climate on agriculture in the Kennebec Valley. She anticipates that food security and water management will become major issues.

In closing the briefing, Unity College President Stephen Mulkey characterized the event as a “watershed”; Mainers collaborating to face the challenges ahead. Unity is doing its part by preparing the next generation to live in our new world.

Clearly a lot of Mainers are determined not to blink.

Michael Thorne Kelly, Ph.D., is president of the non-profit Running Start Institute. RSI, formerly the Center for Consensual Democracy, has been working with Maine communities since the early 1990s. Its first major project was facilitating the rebuilding of Limestone after the closure of Loring AFB and establishing of the Maine School of Science and Mathematics. This column was distributed by Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition.

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