If we don’t quickly get serious about climate change, our kids and grandkids are going to suffer. Indeed, the future of our planet is in doubt. It astonishes me that some people, including our president, deny this is a problem.

We can’t let that stop us from doing everything we can do to reduce this threat. Maine once took the lead, starting in 1995 with a statewide greenhouse gas inventory. In 2004 we created a statewide climate action plan, and we achieved those goals in 2010. We are now close to achieving our goals for 2020.

But that’s when our plan ends. It is time for a new plan.

There are things each of us can do, and lots of things we can (and must) do as a state and nation. Here’s what I’ve learned in just the last two weeks.

This year, heat-trapping carbon dioxide experienced its largest jump in seven years. This year, the world spewed 40.9 billion tons of carbon dioxide, up from 39.8 billion tons last year. We are falling far short of what we must do to save our planet.

And we can’t just point our fingers at other countries. For the first time since 2013, carbon emissions in the United States increased, 2.5 percent. And our president is pushing for more oil and coal, absolutely the wrong thing to do. I am appalled that he is opening our very special protected lands in Alaska to oil drilling.

And Congress should enact the carbon fee and dividend bill, which will raise the price of carbon-generating fuels and distribute the money to us.

Two recent reports — one from the University of Maine and one from the federal government — are truly frightening, predicting that those of us in the Northeast will be hit by climate changes both sooner and more severely than other areas. Already, we have suffered terrible losses and impacts in our coastal waters, and all of our major industries — fishing, forestry, agriculture and tourism will be damaged.

Here’s what I read in the federal report: Many of these changes are already affecting coastal and marine ecosystems, posing increasing risks to people, traditions, infrastructure and economies. These risks are exacerbated by increasing demands on these ecosystems to support human use and development. The Northeast has experienced some of the highest rates of sea-level rise and ocean warming in the United States, and these exceptional increases relative to other regions are projected to continue through the end of the century.

Just imagine the day when the rise in sea levels covers all of those expensive homes and cottages along our coast.

While the United States and China are the largest contributors to climate change, problems are worldwide. For example, huge dumps in Africa are burned, a key contributor to climate change. And nothing is being done about it.

You certainly know how much our weather has changed. And the Western states are seriously lacking water. They’re suffering their second drought in a decade and reservoirs have shrunk. Many have a small percentage of the water they once had. This is a serious challenge from them.

I remember being told, when I was surprised that the Rio Grande in southwest Texas was so low, that all the water that once flowed into the river from the United States was now used before it got to the Rio Grande.

Warming also poses severe threats of infectious diseases, and food production will be severely reduced in some countries. Tropical diseases are already moving in our direction. For example, leishmaniasis marks its victims with crusty skin lesions and disfiguring scars; it has already spread north from Mexico through southern Texas and into Oklahoma.

Other tropical diseases heading our way including elephantiasis, which causes a grotesque swelling of the limbs; Chagas, which can lead to severe heart problems; and the Zika virus, with fetal brain disorders. And you probably know about all the destructive and dangerous insects that have moved into our state.

In Maine we’ve noticed changes in our wildlife populations, with animals moving north. It will be a real shame if we have to travel to Quebec to see a moose.

I was impressed with efforts by Dirk Gratzel of Germany to reduce his own carbon emissions. Look him up. Yes, there is a lot you can do yourself, from paying attention to what you eat, limiting the amount of garbage you generate, getting rid of your SUV, and insulating your house. He even discovered that cheese causes a lot of environmental damage. Sorry, I’m not giving up cheese!

We do need to think about our vehicles. Maine’s more than 1.5 million vehicles account for a large percentage of our state’s greenhouse gas pollution. Yes, electric cars need to be in our future.

I’m also very pleased that our new governor, Janet Mills, is committed to addressing this problem. There is a lot we can do as a state and she has a plan to get it done. We all need to support and participate in her initiatives.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.


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