Maine is not as prepared to manage the health impacts of a changing climate as other parts of the country that face far hotter and stormier futures because it lacks the experience and the infrastructure needed to deal with extreme heat and weather.

Maine will likely remain a relatively temperate place through 2100, with the average annual temperature increasing between 2 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit and precipitation between 5% and 14%, depending on various emissions scenarios, Maine State Climatologist Sean Birkel said during a virtual meeting of the Maine Climate Council on Thursday.

KeKe Samberstein and her colleagues try to stay dry as they make their way down the flooded Portland Pier at high tide after having lunch at Luke’s Lobster on February 13. Samberstein and her colleagues are visiting Portland on a work trip from New York and didn’t know about the predicted high tide flooding. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

But other parts of the country facing far warmer, wetter and wilder weather futures already know how and when to set up heating or cooling stations, have neighborhood evacuation plans for interior and coastal flash floods, and have housing stock equipped with air conditioning.

“There’s a lot of room for catch-up for our adaptation and our social structures for protecting Mainers and Maine communities from health impacts of extreme heat and extreme weather,” said Rebecca Lincoln, an environmental epidemiologist at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

That was one of the major takeaways about the changing climate’s impact on the people who live, work and play in Maine from the first of three scientific briefings about the latest update to the state’s climate action plan. The Maine Climate Council must update the plan by the end of the year.

The council doesn’t have enough data to say exactly how the higher temperatures, humidity and frequency of extreme weather expected at the end of the century will impact human health, other than to say they are likely to exacerbate certain conditions, Lincoln said.

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Examples of climate-related health conditions include pregnancy, birth and pediatric complications, respiratory problems, kidney and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and mental health problems. Extreme weather can cause injuries, hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Many of these conditions have multiple causes, many of which are not related to the changing climate.

“We don’t have (a) good understanding of the relationship between how warm or how wet the climate has to be to produce how many more cases of depression or PTSD or how much change in wildfire smoke or pollen will produce how many asthma exacerbations or respiratory deaths,” Lincoln said.

Maine is already seeing an increase in diseases carried by hosts that survive longer or even thrive in warmer weather, such as ticks and mosquitos, Lincoln said. Deer ticks are well established in southern Maine and are expanding into northern Maine quickly.

Last year, Maine recorded a record-breaking 2,943 cases of Lyme disease.

University of Maine anthropology professor Cindy Isenhour noted that climate change is often framed as an environmental issue when it is really a story about people. People are burning the fossil fuels that create the emissions warming the planet, and people are already feeling the impact, she said.

“We’re certainly feeling the impact of climate change here in Maine as projections for increased storm severity, sea level rise, shorter winters, and more frequent high-heat events have been realized,” she said. “But if (we) caused the problem, then we are also ultimately the solution.”

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