As United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres summarized in the recent UN State of the Climate report, “the state of the planet is broken.” He went on to say that humanity is waging a war on nature and described this as “suicidal.” A stern warning to skeptics and deniers who continue to resist critical intervention.

Maine has taken a bold step toward avoiding a climate catastrophe with the release of the Maine Climate Council report, “Maine Won’t Wait: A Four -Year Plan for Climate Action.” In an era when politicians are leading from behind, Maine Gov. Janet Mills exhibited not only forward thinking but also political courage. By making climate challenges a high priority in a state that twice elected a climate denier as governor, Mills’ leadership is appreciated by many Mainers looking to protect our environment — but especially by the youngest generations, whose futures depend on the actions we take today

The Maine Climate Council brought together a multi-disciplinary group of experts and advocates to create a bold agenda with commitment to attainable targets for realistic climate action. A sustained focus on the recommendations in the plan will require the building of coalitions that will transcend political terms and calendars. It will require partnerships of business and advocacy groups working in concert to overcome clear challenges and differences.

But, most of all, we must enlist citizens, skeptics, and advocates alike, through a grassroots effort in order to create the deep cultural values needed to support the structural changes to come as we close the chapter on the carbon economy and create a new one.

In a time when the federal government abdicated its responsibilities for climate action, Maine stepped up. The effort is being noticed by other states including Vermont, which recently modeled its own Climate Council after Maine’s. Furthermore, the establishment of the Maine Climate Council and the process used to create the plan offers a model for more effective deliberations and planning in guiding a host of public policy challenges that Maine needs to tackle.

We could not have selected a better time to launch this climate action agenda. We are entering a time when the convergence of progressive climate policy is beginning to align with market forces. Energy from renewable sources is increasingly cheaper than energy generated by fossil fuels. Car manufacturers are embracing electrification of vehicles and reshaping transportation technologies. Homeowners are investing in energy conservation and embracing heat pumps. These changes will not only create a technology revolution, but also restructure economies and international relations as we relinquish our dependency on oil and gas.

Like all transformational technology revolutions before, this one will require massive, long-term public and private investments. To that end, we will need to more boldly adjust our tax system so that we penalize carbon producers and the consumers that use their products while we create more incentives to accelerate the shift to use of renewable energy sources.   It will also require a more dedicated commitment of resources and proactive policies to address worker dislocation, retraining and job quality, and the extra financial burdens that will hit low- income consumers the hardest. Failing to address these critical impacts will once again leave too many workers behind  causing us to miss an opportunity for more equitable economic growth.

There are additional steps Maine can take to create funding and financing mechanisms necessary to support our climate goals.

A Green Bank would not only provide more financing opportunities for efficiency, clean energy, and climate solutions projects, but do so equitably by providing low-interest loans to low-income households, marginalized communities, and those who otherwise are not able to afford it. Green Banks create new opportunities for investment by local banks and credit unions by using financial tools to reduce real or perceived risk. In this way, Green Banks spur more overall investment and multiply the impact of their initial capitalization.

The road to Maine reaching carbon neutrality will be difficult, but it is anything but impossible. It will require bipartisan collaboration and a commitment from everyone. The Maine Climate Council has created its plan. The rest is up to us.

John Dorrer is a labor market economist and the former Director, Center for Workforce Research and Information, Maine Department of Labor. He is a member of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear here monthly.


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