A few weeks back this column offered nowhere near the first observation that Australia’s enormous wildfires are a wake-up call about climate change. About how bad it might get if we don’t do anything. Some people, of course, are sleeping through the alarm.

I want to do the opposite of discourage you, this week. But first you need to read an email message I received in response to that column about Australia. This is the whole message, exactly as written:

“Here’s a wake up call to you. The only reason for the term ‘climate change’ is because you crack pots couldn’t prove there was any validity behind ‘global warming.’ Climate change is natural. Mankind CANNOT kill the planet. Even the Exxon Valdez oil spill was absorbed by the ocean with NO lasting side effects. President Trump is right and you’d do well to listen to Consevative talk radio. It will lift the illusion.”

I have to tell you, the more I thought about this, the more I thought it might not be a central Maine news reader at all, but maybe a Russian troll spreading a little more fiction to enhance the nausea we all seem to be suffering. Hard to tell. I replied by sending a NOAA temperature graph and inviting any reply that did not simply spit back venom. No response.

NOAA graphic

One reason I think it’s possible the email came from a troll is that it seems, to me at least, like the tide has pretty much turned on climate change denial. I know Rush Limbaugh and the oil industry’s shills keep pushing, well, alternative facts (that are simply false — unless the quarter-million birds that died in the Valdez disaster do not count as a lasting side-effect), but I think fewer and fewer people are believing them.

In other words, more and more people are recognizing the reality right before their eyes. Even U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, whose moral instrumentation apparently got lost on or about Jan. 20, 2017, has joined the Senate’s Climate Solutions Caucus. Whether this is simply a gesture to gain back a few of the voters whom she’s also misplaced, or a genuine interest in the phenomena, none of us here in the peanut gallery really knows.

But either way, it’s still one hopeful sign among quite a few, actually, that a preponderance of us is awakening to (applying a phrase from 1990s science fiction to 2020s reality) fight the future.

It can be done:

• During the coronavirus outbreak that happened to coincide with the roughly three-week New Year holiday in China, oil refineries, steel production, airplane flights and other emission-producing activities were so drastically reduced compared to recent years that China alone has reduced global greenhouse emissions for 2020 by 100 million tons compared to what it would have been without the coronavirus. If it can be done by accident, IT CAN BE DONE deliberately.

• Bill McKibben, in chapter 20 of his book “Falter,” explains how solar energy is poised to play a major role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The technology is basically ready to go. If tiny villages in Africa can set up solar-powered electricity, so can bigger places: South Portland has a 34-acre municipal solar farm. “Every major nation on earth,” McKibben says, “could be supplying 80% of its power from renewables (e.g., solar and wind) by 2030, at prices far cheaper than paying for the damage from climate change.”

• IT CAN BE DONE: In June, Gov. Janet Mills signed the bipartisan LD 1711 bill into law, “to promote solar energy projects” in Maine.

• In response to the danger from rising sea level, some Maine communities, such as Damariscotta, Bath, Vinalhaven and Portland, are spending money to study ways of dealing with it. Damariscotta’s town manager told a Working Waterfront reporter that private donors have helped supplement scarce grant money to fund the studies. IT CAN BE DONE.

• The Citizens Climate Lobby, which has a chapter in Waterville, is one of the groups working for climate change legislation that includes a completely economically feasible and effective carbon tax plan. The basic idea, which is so obvious it hurts, is that warding off catastrophic climate change is a collective effort that has to involve individuals, businesses and governments together. IT CAN BE DONE.

• The U.S. Senate has a climate solutions club. Whether they are serious remains to be seen.

• And throwing yet more head-scratching irony at us, President Trump announced last month that the U.S. supports the One Trillion Trees Initiative, which proposes the world start planting trees to help offset carbon emissions. Planting trees is not a panacea, but it could be a major factor in mitigating the mess that’s coming. I wonder what the email writer quoted above thinks about this. The truth is out there.

In case you’re already feeling complacent:

• Read the first 19 chapters of McKibben’s book.

• Trump’s 2020 budget proposal calls for a 26% reduction in EPA funding and the elimination of 50 of its programs.

• Last month the EPA stripped regulations from the 2015 Clean Water Rule to allow landowners and property developers to dump pesticides and fertilizers directly into waterways and destroy wetlands for construction projects. I wonder what the new member of the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus thinks about this.

• The EPA’s Science Advisory Board, which includes many members appointed by Trump, posted letters stating there is “no scientific justification” for the changes to the Clean Water Rule.

• The average global land and surface temperature was the highest ever recorded for January — more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average for the month, according to NOAA.

• The four warmest Januaries on record have occurred since 2016.

• Snow cover during January was 190,000 square miles smaller than the 1981-2010 average for the Northern Hemisphere, according to the Rutgers Global Snow Lab.

• Arctic sea ice extent for January 2020 was tied with 2014 for the eighth-lowest extent in the satellite record for January, according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center. The record low for January was in 2018.

• This month is going to end as one of the top five warmest Februaries recorded in Maine.

I guess if it helps you sleep, you can believe a story in which tens of thousands of climate scientists for about 60 years have been fictionalizing facts like these. “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” the voices of “Consevative talk radio” keep reassuring you. “Mankind cannot kill the planet.”

However, reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away, as science fiction’s prophet of postmodern insanity observed in the 1960s. Eventually the fires, floods, erosion, droughts, killer heat waves, category 4 and 5 hurricanes and refugees that are already punishing Australia, Syria, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Central America, Houston, California will start showing up in our backyards too. We’ll have to wake up. And it will be too late.


Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at [email protected] His recent book is “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods” available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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