I couldn’t help but notice the ads by Maine Audubon, the Sierra Club of Maine and the Natural Resources Council of Maine, all admonishing Sen. Susan Collins for voting in favor of a tax bill that was partially funded by opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. I was more than a little surprised to see no reference to climate change in any of those ads. Have we forgotten that we humans are very much a species in need of protection from the ravages of incessant fossil fuel extraction and combustion?

Deaths from heart attacks and stroke, chronic lung disease, asthma attacks, premature births, impaired brain development in infants and infant mortality have all been linked to air pollution from fossil fuels. And the carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal, oil, gasoline and methane are all fueling the climate change that is causing increased sea-level rise and flooding, wildfires, extreme weather events, vector-borne diseases like Lyme and Zika, heat illness, starvation, mass migration — and the list goes on. The Department of Defense refers to climate change as “a threat multiplier.

And of course there is the negative economic impact of climate change. The Congressional Budget Office recently released a report requested by Sen. Collins that shows that climate change is already costing us hundreds of billions of dollars;, and will most surely become more expensive. That doesn’t include the cost of the health effects, or consideration of some concerns specific to Maine. The lobster industry is being threatened by warming ocean waters, and the shrimp fishery is now closed for the fifth year in a row. Climate scientists predict that many ski areas in Maine will be forced to close by 2050, which would devastate the economy and property values in those areas.

It is alarming to see the conversation shifting from how to prevent climate change to how to adapt to, prepare for and retreat from its ravages, the beginnings of which we are already experiencing. In the process, we must not neglect to do something to lessen its ultimate severity – and that means keeping the fossil fuels that are causing it in the ground. Making public lands available for further exploration and extraction is harmful not just for the landscape, wildlife and local inhabitants, but for all of humanity as well.

Susan Collins has been a supporter of action to address climate change, and she was the only Republican senator to vote against opening up the Arctic Refuge to drilling in both the budget reconciliation package and the tax bill. So it was both surprising and disappointing to see her concerns regarding the refuge overridden by all the other politics around this tax bill. The fact remains that there is no issue that is more urgent or important than climate change, because of its potential for devastation. Encouraging drilling in the refuge is reflective and symbolic of our government’s reluctance to acknowledge its importance. We must not allow it!

2nd District Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, for that matter, has recognized that ocean acidification from carbon dioxide is a potential problem that will have a major impact on our shellfish industries. He is co-sponsoring 1st District Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree’s Ocean Acidification Act, and he voted to allow the Department of Defense to spend money on climate change. In response to the president’s threat to withdraw from the Paris accord, Rep. Poliquin stated that we should stay at the table on an international level to protect our planet.

A group of Republicans in the House of Representatives is asking that the Arctic Refuge drilling be removed from the tax bill. It is time for Rep. Poliquin to get on board and evolve his energy policy away from fossil fuels and join the effort.

The House and Senate tax bills have to be reconciled over the next few days. There is still time to ask both Bruce Poliquin and Susan Collins to insist that the tax cuts not be funded by fossil fuel development and that the provision for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling be removed from the bill. So, please do so — humans and the habitat that we need in order to live and raise healthy children are ultimately at stake.

Paul Potvin, M.D., of Hampden is a member of the Public Health Committee of the Maine Medical Association and the Climate Committee of the Maine chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.


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