Climate change panelists, from left to right: Stephen Mulkey, John Jemison, Sharon Tisher (moderator), Lou McNally, Dylan Voorhees and Andy Burt. English photo.
Maine gardener Beedy Parker notes that we are experiencing generally longer growing seasons, but they are unpredictable and undependable due to extremes of temperature, moisture and storm intensity.
Parker was the moving force behind MOFGA’s 2011 Common Ground Country Fair public policy teach-in and three other talks on climate change, summarized below. Sharon Tisher of MOFGA’s public policy committee moderated the teach-in, and Tisher and Nancy Ross helped organize the event. A video of the teach-in is posted at www.youtube.com/user/MaineOrganicFarmers.
Mick Womersley: Update, Adaptation, Mitigation
Unity College professor Mick Womersley cited a study from the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research showing that by 2070 to 2100, global average annual temperatures will be 0.5 to 7.8 C (0.9 to 14 F) warmer than they were between 1960 and 1990, with a mean increase of 3.2 C (5.8 F). A different study by U.S. Navy scientist Judith Lean and NASA's David Rind accounted for 76 to 80 percent of the sources of current climate change, and showed anthropogenic causes to be the driving trend. That study took into account contributions to climate change from anthropomorphic sources, the El Niño/La Niña-southern oscillation, volcanic aerosols and changes in total solar irradiance due to the 11-year sunspot cycle. In any given year the natural variation (due to El Nino/La Nina, volcanic eruptions and sunspots) can be greater than the anthropogenic trend, but over time the anthropogenic trend is steadily warmer and very significant.
Andy Burt with a Green Sneakers poster. English photo.
It’s probably already too late to stop a decadal scale change on the order of 1 to 2 C (1.8 to 3.6 F) in the next two to four decades, up to 4 C (7.2 F) this century, said Womersley; “but we can find ways to adapt and thrive and prevent yet-worse changes for our great grandchildren. The possible absence or reduction of solar cycle 25,” which will peak around the year 2022, “is a Godsend,” he added.
Warmer temperatures will cause continued and possibly worsening of increased extreme weather events; drought and floods; and a general northern movement of ecosystems, including agroecological systems. In 2011, as of late summer, extreme U.S. weather events had cost $42.5 billion in damages.
Humans will adapt, said Womersley. North America and Asia have large land masses to the north, although soils are lacking there.
We’ll see increased international diplomatic tension, sometimes leading to conflict; increased international economic competition, particularly for fuel and food; and price revolutions in fuel and food.
Countering warming requires that people stop bickering and start creating resilient communities; and that work involves preventing all large scale forest-agriculture conversions; phasing out coal completely; bridging to renewable energy using natural gas, the safer kinds of nuclear energy, the cheaper kinds of fuel cells, and lots of efficiency measures; developing long-term systems of renewable energy, such as passive housing, offshore and properly sited onshore wind, solar roofing and electric vehicles; slowing and then stopping human economic growth, bridging to steady scale economic thinking through such technologies as solar buildings, denser, more human-scaled communities, and more intensive, lower energy-input agriculture.
These are the kinds of things demonstrated at the Common Ground Fair and taught at Unity College, said Womersley, and the kinds of things that conservatives generally don’t like.
The alternative may involve threats to democracy and liberty, with authoritarian states in the West and a greater military-industrial complex; deteriorated U.S. and Canadian breadbasket ecosystems; and increasing power of China and Russia over the rest of the world.
Some 500 people participated in an action at the Common Ground Fair to demand solutions to climate change. They lined up at MOFGA’s Common and then formed a “350” while holding up pumpkins to celebrate local foods. Photos by Jean English.
Megan Mallory photo
Paul Kando: Climate Change – Where We Stand, What To Do
Paul Kando of the Midcoast Green Collaborative (www.midcoastgreencollaborative.org) said that governments are ineffective, so a sustainable future depends on citizen action in towns and cities, where people have power. “Specifically,” said Kando after his talk, “our elected representatives at the state and federal levels cannot be expected to come up with workable ways to address climate change. Federal and state programs are often under-funded, ideologically threatened and hopelessly bureaucratic. But cities and towns have power. We can develop replicable local models that work at the city, town and regional level, create regional policies and strong councils of government centered on such major population centers as Portland, Lewiston, Augusta and Bangor. We (government by the people) must discuss and develop policy solutions locally, then, as appropriate, demand that our representatives act on them.”
Industrial processes, said Kando, release 26 gigatons (GT) of CO2 per year, and changing land use patterns release 6 GT, upsetting the pre-industrial balance in which land organisms released and absorbed 440 GT of CO2 per year; oceans released and absorbed 260 GT; and the atmosphere had a stable concentration of 315 ppm CO2. The seemingly small additional amount of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere and the oceans annually is enough to lead to climate tipping points.
Ice sheet disintegration is one result. As oceans warm, ice shelves melt, ice streams surge, the ice disintegrates and sea level rises. A rise of 1 meter will displace 56 million people worldwide, according to World Bank estimates – including much of coastal Bath and Bath Iron Works, according to a map Kando showed.
The melting of the world’s glaciers is another major result, said Kando. The summer flows of rivers will be drastically reduced as a consequence, with a food disaster not far behind. Over 1.4 billion people depend on glacier-fed rivers of the Himalaya alone. Glaciers are the Earth’s way of ensuring a year-round fresh water supply by gradually releasing precipitation accumulated over the winter months. If they disappear, there will be huge spring floods followed by shortages of water during the summer growing season.
Also, shifting climate zones and multiple stresses lead to extermination of species and of their interdependent species.
Further, methane, another greenhouse gas, is released as tundra melts, intensifying climate change.
These events can lead to floods, as warmer air creates more water vapor, which leads to extreme rainfall and snow pack; or to extreme droughts and forest fires in other areas; and to greater damage from storms that are stronger due to greater latent heat, and that damage coastal areas more due to higher sea levels.
Other impacts include changes in seasons, more problems with invasive species, new and resurgent diseases, sea acidification that jeopardizes corals and shellfish, and changes in Maine’s forests.
After the Teach-in, more than 500 people rallied on the Common to spell out “350” for a large-group photo and video to support Moving Planet – a worldwide rally initiated by the 350.org movement to demand solutions to the climate crisis. To preserve our planet, scientists say we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current 392 parts per million to below 350 ppm. The event was organized by Unity College personnel, including Sara Trunzo, Food and Farms Project coordinator; Anna McGalliard, director of Health Services; and professor John Zavodny, who made a video of the event (at http://vimeo.com/29576487). Megan Mallory photographed the event. Many participants held pumpkins in the air, celebrating the climate change solutions offered by limited consumption and by supporting a local agriculture and economy. The 150 pumpkins came from the Swanville Re-entry Center (where soon-to-be-released prisoners are able to garden) and were later donated to the Volunteer Regional Food Pantry in Unity.
Examples of climate extremes abound, said Kando. July 2011 was the hottest month on record in the United States; June 2011 was the warmest June on record worldwide and the 304th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average; March through June 2011 was the warmest four-month period on record; and 2011 saw the lowest recorded level of Arctic sea ice.
Extreme temperatures can halt photosynthesis, prevent pollination and reduce grain yields, said Kando – a problem, as the 23 warmest years on record have occurred since 1980.
Insured weather-related losses in the United States went from about $5 to $10 billion in payouts in the 1980s (in 2005 dollars) to about $80 billion in 2004.
As the Arctic sea ice melted last summer, the Northwest Passage opened. By accelerating our use of coal and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, all of the Arctic summer ice will probably be gone by mid-century.
We can, said Kando, turn things around by simultaneously becoming independent of fossil fuels, reducing energy costs, creating jobs, improving the quality of our lives and creating a sustainable economy and planet – if we halt all coal emissions within 20 years; use no unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, oil shale and methane hydrates; and do not pursue the last drops of oil in the polar regions, the deep ocean and on pristine land.
False solutions, said Kando, distract from corporate responsibility. These include cap and trade; saying citizens must sacrifice and change their lifestyle, while corporations and governments duck their responsibilities; and technical solutions, such as nuclear power and putting aerosols in the atmosphere to induce cooling.
Instead, energy efficiency without compromising comfort is the key to sustainability, said Kando. Buildings use 40 percent of our energy; we can reduce that by at least 90 percent through super insulation; no thermal bridges; no air leaks; heat recovery ventilation; and warm windows.
Transportation uses 50 percent; we can reduce that by at least 70 percent with more efficient vehicles, efficient trains, and other changes. And power generation, which uses 10 percent, can be reduced by at least 60 percent through co-generation (combining heat and power production), distributed power generation to eliminate line losses, and other technologies. The balance can come from renewable resources.
Small, local, organic farms will solve many problems, said Kando. On the farm, fuel use accounts for 61 percent of energy use; agricultural chemicals, 20 percent; and irrigation, 19 percent. Looking at on and off-farm energy use, those three use 20 percent of the energy that goes into food; transportation takes 11 percent; processing, 16; packaging, 7; storage and preparation, 50 percent.
Kando suggested that we model plants, which can live on what’s available, capture their own energy, do not waste, cooperate with other organisms, don’t exhaust their future resources, and enrich the soil where they grow.
One audience member suggested checking tire pressure regularly for better gas mileage. Tire pressure valve stem caps are available to do this (with some working better than others); and newer cars sense tire pressure changes electronically.
[Kando writes a weekly column at www.newmainetimes.org on specific things to do about the energy stress on our budgets and climate change; and a weekly column in the Coastal Journal (www.coastaljournal.com). He also teaches several continuing education classes.]
Maine’s Climate is Unique
While it is true that global average temperatures are on the rise, Maine is experiencing a unique twist compared with our immediate neighbors. On average, we are cooling very slightly, on the order of tenths of a degree Celsius (centigrade).
This average cooling is calculated within our state lines, as opposed to specific climate zones, so variations within the state appear to go unnoticed. On closer inspection, it does appear that the western and northwestern parts of the state are following suit with neighboring New Hampshire and Vermont, and getting warmer. The east-central and Down East parts, however, are getting colder, along with our neighbors to the east in the Canadian Maritimes.
Maine is at a disadvantage, then, when explaining climate change in terms of political boundaries. When viewed as climate zones, though, it becomes obvious that change is already here. Yes, we expect that the western hills will get progressively warmer, Down East will get cooler, and central sections may stay roughly the same, but the variability in the climate is increasing everywhere.
This means that the areas near the central and eastern coast will be just as cool as they are now, but will be cooler more often (aided by temperature differences driving the Labrador current), the west will experience summers just as hot, but they will last longer, and the spring and fall will simply become shorter for everyone, as is happening already.
The fact remains that we in Maine have the consequences of both warming and cooling climate zones, the observations to prove it, and the scientists to research it. It is a situation which we alone share among our neighboring states and provinces in northeastern North America. This should underline the importance of Maine taking the lead in developing and implementing mitigation strategies at the state level. This is an extraordinary opportunity for Maine to follow its own motto and lead.
– Lou McNally, Ph.D.
Lou McNally: Climate Change and Maine Agriculture
Meteorologist Lou McNally, who studied the climate of 1785 for his Ph.D. at UMaine, learned that people were close to starvation that spring because the Kennebec River remained frozen until the second week of June. Without trade ships, food was scarce. A similar situation existed in Boston and Philadelphia. Despite the longer, colder winters around that time, summers were almost as hot as they are now.
“We may be headed back that way,” said McNally, adding, “If we’re going to see any change in the climate, which way is it going to go? That’s what everyone wants to know.”
Comparing temperatures this year with the 30-year average for the ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s, Maine is down 0.4 F, said McNally. The Canadian Maritimes, Southern Greenland, Scotland, Ireland, Manchuria and some other northern areas are also cooling, while the rest of New England is up 1.6 F.
More places in the world are warming, but those near nucleating ice sheets, such as Greenland, are cooling. “We may be on a margin right now,” said McNally, “and the tipping point [toward a little ice age in Maine] could be pretty quick.” Only 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) separate our current mean temperature from that of an ice age. Work on ice cores from Greenland showed that the climate flipped in six years toward glaciation in the last ice age, while full glaciation took 500 years.
Normally the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current moderate Maine’s climate, but melt water from Greenland is cooling the Labrador Current and making Maine colder on average. “The ocean currents will not stop but they will deflect,” said McNally. “Moscow will get very cold.”
Where temperatures increase, hardwoods will replace softwoods – a problem for paper mills but an opportunity for small sawmills, said McNally. When softwoods are cut, consider replanting with a mix, he suggested.
Look for crops that thrive in hotter, shorter summers, said McNally. Find out what and when people in hotter and colder zones are planting. Learn to deal with increased climatic variability: “When it rains, it rains for a month instead of a few days, then it’s dry for weeks. The moderation is leaving us; we’re getting hotter hots, drier dries, wetter wets.” So plant a mix of crops; double crop; have land in different zones; or make a cooperative with farmers in different zones.
Climate denial, an “Americo-centric idea,” according to McNally, comes from tens of millions of dollars per year funding organizations and politicians to make the public question climate change.
The media is complicit, too, as producers broadcast press releases from climate deniers without investigating claims.
McNally believes that people will change facilities and processes if those changes save money. When the changes also save energy, “they won’t care that they’re reducing emissions, but we will.”
Before long, the global reinsurance industry won’t be able to cover damage due to extreme weather events. That, too, will force companies to change.
College Presidents: Speak Out
Dr. Stephen Mulkey, a forest ecologist and president of Unity College, has studied forests and global climate for more than 20 years.
“Never before have I ever seen a topic so well understood and embraced by the scientific community, yet so poorly represented and misunderstood by the public,” he said, adding that “97 percent of practicing climate scientists have signed off on the fundamental tenets of human-caused climate change… There are no dissenting national academies [of science].”
Greenhouse gases reradiate infrared radiation into the atmosphere, creating more heat aloft and putting more energy into the atmosphere. Thus, many climate models suggest more of the extreme weather events that we’re currently seeing.
While Europe generally is on target to meet the Kyoto protocol, Kyoto is too weak to do much good, said Mulkey. Emissions have increased dramatically worldwide, mainly through activities in China and India – activities promoted by our consumption.
If we do not change, said Mulkey, we’ll likely see a 4 C (7.2 F) increase in temperature globally by around 2080 and beyond, and more than a meter rise in sea level by 2100.
“We have never experienced that level of temperature in our evolutionary history… Drawdown of that CO2 would take up to 1,000 years to get it back to a lower level. The imperative is that we don’t go there...”
We are now adding 3 percent more CO2 to the atmosphere each year. The tundra is projected to become a net CO2 and methane emitter by 2020. “The early 2020s is when we expect that positive feedback on the warming of the climate to kick in. That would be, in my opinion as a scientist, disastrous.”
Mulkey cited the metaphor of a bathtub filling with water at the same rate that the drain empties it. The water represents greenhouse gases. “Then take a quarter of a soda straw and add to the stream of water flowing in. It’s not hard to see that after 100 or 200 years, the bathtub is overflowing. That is what we’re seeing with our overall emissions profile.
“I challenge every university and college president to speak out,” Mulkey concluded. “The science is clear. The stand need not be political; it needs to be scientific.”
Over the past year and a half, John Jemison from UMaine Cooperative Extension asked 180 farmers or farm advisors about their views on and responses to climate change.
“They get it,” said Jemison: Climate variability, not necessarily global warming, is changing their practices.
One farmer said, “The trend isn’t a trend anymore – it’s just totally unpredictable.” Another, “We’re increasing toward unpredictability.”
That’s consistent, said Jemison, with scientific models predicting climate change.
Apple growers are particularly concerned. One noted “a very narrow window of [climate] stability. [I]f we get outside that window very far, everything falls apart.” This grower is “concerned about McIntosh apples requiring very specific weather, and if that weather changes, our major crop is going to be dramatically affected.
“It makes you wonder what the future’s going to bring in terms of new weather patterns, new insects and diseases,” the grower continued. “When I first moved to Maine, there were no Japanese beetles in central Maine.”
A Bridgton apple grower cited his spray records for the past 20 years: “There is now at least a five- to 10-day earlier need to get out in the field...”
A blueberry grower said, “I do believe global warming is going to have a very severe effect on our blueberry industry, even with irrigation, because the heat in August has become so intense that berries literally cooked within hours in the field.”
Beef producers saw that putting potato land in sod and raising animals on it was a way to sequester carbon in their system.
Another grower said, “We make changes all the time to adapt to the situation. I mean, to try to anticipate [that] this next year is going to be like it was last year is just a waste of time. You know, in the end, I’ve got to have a crop, and I’ve got to feed the cows, and I’m not going to anticipate that next year I’m going to be able to be in the field on the 15th. I’m going to be ready on the 15th, but if it doesn’t work, I’ll get there anyway.”
Some embrace warmer temperatures. “If you were a dairy farmer,” said Jemison, “and had to go out all the time in really, really cold weather, maybe you too would pray for global warming.”
Many farmers are installing irrigation and drainage. Interestingly, some are choosing to grow earlier maturing corn varieties due in part to increased uncertainty with the weather. Extension has been advocating for double cropping systems for more soil protection. Practices being used to improve land quality, such as protecting soil, said Jemison, are not necessarily driven by weather, but they can help farmers deal with weather variability.
“If I have one message [for farmers]…,” said Jemison, “the more we can diversify our operations, the better off we’re going to be in an uncertain climate environment.”
Maine’s Action Plan
Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) discussed the state’s efforts regarding climate change and emphasized that countering climate change is the moral thing to do for future generations.
Voohrees said that over the last 20 years or so, emissions from Maine’s industrial sector have decreased, while those from transportation and residences have increased. Maine had returned to 1990 emission levels by 2010, and a pre-2008 chart showed that the economy can grow while emissions shrink.
“Understanding that doing something about this problem does not have to hurt our economy is important,” said Voohres.
Further emissions reductions can come from switching from oil to natural gas. “Natural gas is still a very large contributor to global warming from power plants,” said Voohres. “We have to address that; but it’s clearly in the right direction to switch...”
We also need to use the sun, the wind, the tides and biomass in sustainable ways, he said.
Limits to progress come from entrenched interests that want us to keep using fossil fuels, which represent 90 to 95 percent of emissions in the United States and in Maine. “Over the last couple of years,” said Voohrees, “I’ve observed not just the Maine folks who want to maintain the status quo, but the national folks having a greater influence in Augusta – the American Petroleum Institute; Americans for Prosperity (funded by billionaire fossil fuel moguls the Koch brothers), who are now paying lobbyists in Maine.”
Voohrees said we must stop the administration and representatives in Augusta from rolling back existing policies. “[T]he policies we’ve had over the last several years on renewable energy, on reducing global warming from power plants, on energy efficiency, are absolutely under attack by the current administration and their allies. We need to stop that.” He urged people to join with NRCM in being an active advocate.
Lighting our homes and businesses and running our machines with less energy “is absolutely the first priority for us to reduce our emissions. And doing that will save money. Putting insulation in your attic will reduce your footprint at home, and it will save you money. We need to do this across the board, and we need policies to support that.” Efficiency Maine, a statewide independent organization, helps businesses and homeowners with energy efficiency.
We also need effective fuel standards for vehicles – “not ethanol from Midwestern corn, which is a boondoggle, but actual real fuels, whether electricity or real biofuels that are going to help.”
And we need to stop such dirty fuels as tarsands and oil from Alberta.
What Citizens Can Do
Community organizer and environmental activist with Maine Partners for Cool Communities and its partners Andy (Anne D.) Burt said, “We have a citizen legislature. If they see that this is what the people really want, I think that we can make a difference.”
Burt, along with leaders from the Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Maine Council of Churches, started Maine Partners for Cool Communities and its signature Green Sneakers Project. Since 2005 Maine Partners has presented climate change solutions community by community. “We have organized Cool Communities in 26 Maine towns,” said Burt, “working to have local climate action plans and real timetables and activities with citizen activists and municipal staff.”
Maine Partners also helped spur the statewide Clean Air Zones No Idling Campaign in schools and communities; and the DOT adopted it so that approaches to bridges and turnpike park and ride lots are No Idling Zones. Members also pushed through legislation preventing trucks in Maine from idling for more than 5 minutes. “There’s no idling police,” said Burt, “but we get the education out and let people know why it’s important to do these things.”
Maine Partners’ Green Sneakers Project started with a door-to-door campaign after local leaders were disappointed with the outcome of international negotiations on climate change in Copenhagen in December 2009. In the spring and fall of 2010, 120 volunteers talked to 2,000 Maine homeowners in 14 communities, planting the seeds of energy efficiency.
“Our former Governor Baldacci was challenging Mainers to weatherize every Maine home and business by 2030 – a bold goal that was going to give us energy independence and security,” said Burt. “At the same time, Efficiency Maine was launching its home energy savings program that had generous financial incentives for homeowners to move forward towards that goal. We took that news door to door to our neighbors.” Maine Partners trained people to give interested homeowners information. “We’ve now gone into 200 homes with follow-up to that project,” said Burt.
Launching a follow-up to the successful canvass in the Camden-Rockland region, the Green Sneakers Project since January has been organizing house parties with people who want to show neighbors the energy upgrades done on their homes. Project volunteers also provide home visits/walk-throughs for homeowners who want to learn what they can do to improve home energy efficiency. Green Sneakers created lawn signs to publicize actions people have taken. And Green Sneakers is giving high school students the tools and empowerment to talk to their families and do home walk-throughs.
Working with other organizations and some state legislators, Maine Partners helped to pass legislation for the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Loan Fund in spring 2010. Maine’s PACE program received a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to create the fund. “PACE needs to be adopted in every community,” said Burt. “Efficiency Maine has funding to help homeowners upgrade their homes, and Maine Partners is organizing educational forums across the state so that local homeowners can find out how to take advantage of this opportunity to invest in their homes’ comfort and safety.” The forums are another Maine Partners effort to link community organizing to public policy.
During the question and answer period, one person recommended the Adaptability Project – a blueprint to deal with variability, at www.alderstone3.com. Two Unity College students noted the potential for hemp (Cannabis) to fight climate change by using the crop as a carbon sink.
Asked about the carbon footprint of local vs. nonlocal food, Jemison said that many studies address this issue, with different results. But “even if people are saying it’s cheaper and it’s less CO2 intensive to move the food from California to here, I still argue that it’s more important to have it here because it’s locally produced, it’s driving the local economy, and if the wheels come off the energy truck,” we can feed ourselves.
Asked about transportation, Voohrees said that accounts for 45 percent of Maine greenhouse gas emissions. Our increased driving over the last decade or two has countered pollution reductions attained from slightly more efficient vehicles.
Regarding working with legislators, Voohrees said that our senators are on the short list of Republicans U.S. senators who understand that the climate problem is real. “That said, they have cast some… very disappointing votes undermining the EPA authority. They need to hear from you.”
Tisher added that Maine people, with two Republican senators, carry a disproportionately important power to address this issue.
Burt and her coworkers have been trying to raise climate issues with our senators, including the threat to our seafood industry from ocean acidification resulting from increased CO2.
Asked about dealing with climate change deniers, McNally said to ignore them. “Find a real climate scientist and get the information to your legislator.”
Beedy Parker said that people don’t realize that a 3 C (5.4 F) temperature increase is the average, not the extremes that can occur. She urged scientists to use the Fahrenheit scale when communicating with the U.S. public.
Voohrees suggested emphasizing that much of what we should be doing to address climate change is also good for us, saving money and supporting local communities and industries.
He also suggested telling our governor that you care about climate change, that we have made good progress on clean energy, and that we don’t want rollbacks.