‘Focus on the opportunities’: Western Maine sees benefits of fighting climate change

AUGUSTA — “Drought is bad for forests.”

This is the simple mantra George O’Keefe uses to frame the issue of climate change in his work as Rumford’s first Director of Economic Development. For him, recent periods of reduced rainfall are a harbinger of potential climate change-induced catastrophe.

“I talk about climate change in the context of the forest, and drought is the most serious thing,” O’Keefe said on the sidelines of the Maine Climate Council’s first conference, Communities Leading on Climate, held Friday at the Augusta Civic Center. .

According to the Maine River Flow Advisory Committee, in March western Maine was experiencing “persistent and noticeable below normal flow and groundwater conditions” due to persistent rainfall deficits.

“The forest generates an important part of our outdoor leisure activities. It generates our drinking water. It generates wood products. It generates employment. It generates our home where we live,” O’Keefe said. By extension, drought is also a threat to hydroelectric generation, significant amounts of which are produced in Rumford and Lewiston and Auburn.

“We help people see things from a different perspective,” that is, “there are changes happening around us, and there are risks and opportunities associated with them. “, O’Keefe said.

For many officials, organizations and individuals in communities across the state, the focus is not so much on climate change as on the industries, technologies and environmental restoration and infrastructure projects that help reduce shared threats and rising energy and fuel costs, while generating jobs. .

Rumford, Norway, and many other cities are installing electric vehicle charging stations to encourage residents to make the switch. Auburn encourages efficiency upgrades and heat pumps by matching residents’ Maine Efficiency rebates of up to $1,000. Cities are widening culverts, revising zoning policies and evaluating infrastructure projects to mitigate risks from extreme weather events.

The cost of many projects has been offset or fully covered by federal and state funding. Energy-efficient housing is the cornerstone of Lewiston’s ongoing project to replace 1,400 homes with the help of a multimillion-dollar federal grant. Other such funds come from federal and state budgets for transportation, energy efficiency, energy, and infrastructure projects that support greenhouse gas reduction and climate improvement goals. environment.

Everyone is vulnerable to severe storms, washed out roads, rising energy and fuel costs, and these commonalities and practical solutions to problems are driving action in places where climate change itself- even may not be a universal concern.

“We have people who like to hunt…and now moose are dying of ticks,” Lesley Fernow, who started a community effort to fight climate change in Dover-Foxcroft, said in comments during the forum. “We have people who like to fish…and the waters are getting warmer and trout and salmon are not as plentiful…So we don’t even need to use the term climate change. All we have to do is say, “We want to do something about this.”

While it can be easy to buy into the risk mitigation message when there are grants to be had and the projects make economic sense, what about when tackling climate change requires sacrifice ?

Kittery is considering revising land use ordinances along the coast to further restrict coastal development due to increased flooding risks from climate change, Kittery City Manager Kendra Amaral said during the meeting. conference.

“It’s going to impact the value of people’s properties,” Amaral said. “I don’t know how it’s going to be because the one thing you know not to do is mess with people’s property rights.

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Teresa H. Sadler