I am the secretary for Maine’s Minerva Library Consortium. We met in December, and the topic of the late-October storm (the first one to undergo bombogenesis) came up.

It may seem unlikely, but this is a serious topic to librarians.

A public library is an essential service, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Some public libraries are official warming centers for their communities. Others simply opened their doors to anyone who needed heat, light and/or Wi-Fi. The librarians made coffee, offered snacks and, of course, kept on providing the usual services of checking out books, DVDs, and audiobooks.

The important role of the public library in providing computer and internet access to those who cannot afford their own was highlighted during this difficult time. Some owners of small businesses feared they would not be able to keep their enterprises afloat if the power outages were prolonged. They found an important ally at their local library.

I’m a school librarian, with a different role to play. I’m not bragging, though I’m proud (but not surprised by) the way my fellow Maine librarians responded to this crisis. The point I want to make is that we talked about the storm for probably half an hour. My secretarial report of this discussion alone was 484 words, and it could have been longer.

We heard, through story after story, of the impact the storm had on communities all over the state. We are used to blizzards, but an October rain and wind event that knocked out electricity for double the number of Central Maine Power Co. customers who went dark during the ice storm of 1998—that is something different.


Something that is undoubtedly a consequence of climate change.

I remember thinking last fall, as the rain pounded and the wind howled, “It was just a matter of time before we got hit with something like this.”

After all, as the Popular Science website notes, 2017 “was a historic year for weather and climate hazards, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with 16 severe weather events that each cost more than a billion dollars.” That’s a lot to recover from (or, in some cases, try to recover from).

Steve Curwood is the host of “Living on Earth,” a radio program that airs on Maine Public on Saturday mornings. Last weekend, he introduced the show by saying, “Extreme weather events are the most likely major threats in 2018, and second only to weapons of mass destruction as risks with the potential of catastrophic impacts. That’s according to a study by the World Economic Forum, released at this year’s conclave in Davos, Switzerland, which, by the way, was disrupted by a record-breaking blizzard.”

I was shuffling around the kitchen half-awake at the time, but that got my attention. Unfortunately, I knew what climate change deniers would say: “These things happen in cycles.”

That’s getting old. Curwood’s guest was atmospheric scientist Michael Mann, of Pennsylvania State University. He said, “We are seeing a taste of what’s in store, and there’s no question in my mind that in the unprecedented extreme weather that we’ve seen over the past year, we can see the fingerprint of human influence on our climate.”


Mann acknowledged that some people (including, unfortunately, our president) see the frigid weather we had at the end of December and the major snowstorm in early January as proof that the Earth isn’t heating up. (They are strangely silent when it’s 50 degrees in Maine in the middle of winter.) But Mann pointed out that such storms actually pick up moisture from the warmer-than-usual ocean, which leads to huge snowfalls.

The science is there. Not only that, but the economics are, too. These storms and other extreme weather events (droughts, wildfires, floods) cost a lot of money. And its not just municipalities and states that are affected. I have friends who discovered their homeowners’ insurance didn’t cover damage caused by the violent storms we’ve been experiencing.

At this point in time, Mann said, economists are saying that “the cost of inaction is already far greater than the cost of action,” such as putting a price on carbon emissions.

And yet here we sit, on the road to becoming the only country not signed on to the Paris Climate Accord.

The good news is that many Maine libraries are ready, should disaster strike. The bad news is that it is most assuredly going to strike again soon. We need to start listening more to the dire warnings we are hearing from scientists, and now economists. We’re running out of time.

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at [email protected]

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