Waterville’s City Council will soon be among the Maine communities considering a resolution pertaining to climate change.

I first learned about our warming climate in the late 1980s at a public lecture presented by oceanographer Dr. Peter Larsen at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, then located in West Boothbay Harbor. I recall the beautiful summer night near the water, the data that poured over the assembled group, and our stunned silence.

Since then, I have read the reports produced by scientists affiliated with the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine in Orono. Maine is a national leader in understanding the impacts of climate change, primarily through CCI. The university’s most recent report can be found at climatechange.umaine.edu. Over the past 30 years, the damage to Maine, its environment, its economy, and its people has become evident and is only going to get worse.

After citing mountains of data, this report succinctly concludes with the following:

“There is no question that climate change in Maine:

• is accelerating,

• impacts all aspects of Maine life,

• has growing costs to society,

• does not leave us helpless, but

business as usual is not an option” (my emphasis).

Polling conducted by Yale University in September 2020 showed that 72% of Kennebec County residents,  like Americans in the rest of the country, believe that climate change is real. In a country that is tremendously divided politically, this cuts across party lines. Another strong majority of Americans (68%) believe fossil fuel companies should be required to pay a carbon tax. It’s one of the few areas in American politics (in addition to the current stimulus) where there is substantial overlap between Democrats and Republicans.

The Climate Leadership Council, a bipartisan group, strongly advocates such a tax, coupled with dividends paid directly to the American people. A carbon tax makes sense environmentally because it will incentivize the rapid reduction of carbon and reliance on carbon. Economically, it makes sense if all Americans are paid a dividend from a carbon tax. Most Americans — including the bottom 70% (i.e. most of us) — would benefit financially. Each household can determine how best to use carbon dividends — to pay for their fuel bills, buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle, or install heat exchangers or other renewable energy technologies (or not).

Big business favors this because a straightforward carbon tax is more manageable than dealing with ever-shifting government regulations. This includes companies such as ExxonMobil, General Motors and Johnson & Johnson.

After years of publicly denying climate change, notoriously, ExxonMobil is (finally) shifting gears. But the fossil fuel industry reminds me of the huge container ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal. Nothing changed until there was an effective intervention. In the meantime, the costs piled up.

Local communities around the world are the ones on the frontlines of climate change. Here in Maine,  to name just a few of the impacts, downpours are more frequent, the invasive emerald ash borer is decimating ash trees, tornadoes are no longer extremely rare events, the tick is spreading disease, growing seasons are changing, periods of drought are a reality, and the famed Maine lobster fishery is heading north to cooler waters. This issue is too important to ignore at the local level.

A carbon tax with cash dividends to the American people won’t happen without local, state and federal action. We citizens can’t keep waiting for policy changes to happen, because business as usual has been the mantra of business for way, way, way too long and now climate change is obvious, dangerous, accelerating, and must be addressed effectively.

We the people have left our fates and that of our grandchildren in the hands of private industry and unresponsive government for far too long. It’s time for all of us to do something that will make a difference, something that is effective and efficient. A carbon tax with cash dividends to the American people fits that bill. It’s not a complete solution, but it’s certainly part of one.

Business as usual is not an option. Please contact your local city councilor and ask them to support the upcoming climate resolution.

Waterville resident Jennifer Wilder Kierstead is a writer, business owner, and professional grants consultant.

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