Climate Change: what your parents never told you

‘In the absence of science, religion flourishes . . .’

-Unknown

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One of today’s most hotly debated public policy matters is the subject of Climate Change, formerly known as “global warming.”

Before I go any further with a blog post that will surely divide my followers and Facebook “friends,” let’s get right to the meat of the matter.

When former vice president Al Gore declared that “the planet has a fever,” he was right. Global Climate Change (GCC) simply cannot be denied.

I am not a scientist, geologist or meteorologist. I am just another pundit with yet another point of view.

But while my friends on the left are far more likely to celebrate my above statements about the reality of GCC, I have some serious misgivings about many of their proposals to “fix the problem.” Recently hundreds of high-school students skipped classes to rally against GCC.

They should have hit the books instead.

When debating GCC, we should be able to acknowledge some fundamental facts:

  • Planet Earth is approximately 4.543 billion years old;
  • The Ice Age began 2.4 million years ago, lasting until approximately 11,500 years ago;
  • Humans began roaming the planet approximately 200,000 years ago.

So what do these facts tell us?

Well, for starters, the earth’s climate has been changing for a long, long time and humans had little to no impact on the earth’s atmosphere until about 50 years ago.

But before we begin any conversation about GCC, we should check our emotions at the door. This is a complex issue, and rhetoric – from either deniers or fanatics – won’t do a damn thing except possibly increasing your blood pressure.

Climate Change Impacts: A brief history

If you want to talk about other impacts that affect GCC, let’s take a relatively short journey back in time.

According to an article by Karen Harpp, an assistant professor of geology at Colgate University, published in the Scientific American newsletter:

In 1784, Benjamin Franklin made what may have been the first connection between volcanoes and global climate while stationed in Paris as the first diplomatic representative of the United States of America. He observed that during the summer of 1783, the climate was abnormally cold, both in Europe and back in the U.S. The ground froze early, the first snow stayed on the ground without melting, the winter was more severe than usual, and there seemed to be “a constant fog over all Europe, and [a] great part of North America.”

What Franklin observed, Harpp writes was “indeed the result of volcanic activity.”

“Natural forces cause Earth’s temperature to fluctuate on long timescales due to slow changes in the planet’s orbit and tilt,” according to a Q & A published by Climate Communication, which is a non-profit science and outreach project. “Such forces were responsible for the ice ages. Other natural forces sometimes cause temperatures to change on short timescales.”

On the other side of the debate there is plenty of scientific evidence regarding human impact on GCC, especially so in the last 50 years. The human impact has, in fact, outpaced natural impacts.

So what do we do?

Industrialized nations (United States, Japan, China, Russia, Great Britain, India and France) have more responsibility because of their bigger global impact. The 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change was signed by all of these counties and many more nations that have a far lower impact or produce fewer greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide.

And then there is the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that extends the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, based on scientific consensus.

I don’t dispute the science that provides more than ample evidence of human impact on climate change, but I am an ardent opponent of so-called carbon taxes. Just a few days ago, the state of Maine rejected the notion of placing a dedicated tax on gasoline and home heating oil. Phew! We dodged another bullet.

So-called carbon taxes are the rallying cry of the activists, but those additional taxes would place a further burden on the citizens who can least afford it.

Maine Governor Janet Mills is pushing for a $50 million bonding package that would study the impact of rising sea levels on coastal Maine communities. “We’re all in this together,” she said.

Rather than creating yet more taxes, perhaps we should focus more attention on creating incentives to reduce greenhouse gases.

I have worked as a public relations consultant on several energy projects, including wind power and an LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) terminal in eastern Maine. I was always amazed when environmentalists opposed clean, renewable sources of energy, citing bird strikes and the need for flickering red lights atop wind turbines. I live in a community that once burned trash to generate electricity, but don’t get me started on that boondoggle.

We humans have a right to occupy this planet and we all share an inherent responsibility to be good stewards of our natural resources. I recently took a quick gander around my house, comparing it to my parents’ home. When I was growing up there were no microwave ovens. We didn’t have a dishwasher, flat-screen televisions or computers.

I am not suggesting that we should get rid of these things, but maybe we could be more mindful about our energy consumption, and explore expanding clean energy sources such as hydro projects – and yes – nuclear power. (Last week, Forbes magazine published an article that examined the safety of nuclear power plants.)

In a March 11 Portland Press Herald editorial, the editorial board wrote that “the global climate fight will take many forms.”

I could not agree more.

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Get back

Someone once famously said, the only apparent constant is the consistent and unyielding persistence of change.

In political campaigns, the word “change” has long been a favored rhetorical tool for those seeking to oust an incumbent. On the other hand, if those challengers are succesful, they quickly drop the battle cry for “change.”

The New Page mill in Rumford.  (Bangor Daily News photo)
The New Page mill in Rumford. (Bangor Daily News photo)

Change is rarely quantified during political campaigns. Consider: If your house burns down, that will be a change, but not necessarily a change you would choose.

Unfortunately, none of are us are immune to change or able to control its impact.

But it’s important to remember that we can respond to change without panic. We can embrace change and accept it. We can and should always prepare for the next change that waits around the proverbial corner.

I chose this topic as the result of an article I read in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. That story, about 1,100 lost paper mill jobs in Alabama, jarred me and re-ignited a lingering sense of anxiety I carry around with me about Maine’s fragile economy.

The thrust of the story involved the diminishing need for paper in an increasingly digital age.

I spent the sophomore and junior years of my high school career as a student at Rumford High. Still, more than 30 years later, I always enjoy telling people from away that I lived in Peru and traveled daily on a school bus through Mexico to simply attend classes.

It did not take long for me to understand what it was like to live in Rumford, a community that is literally dependent on the financial health of yet another paper milll perched along the shore of the Androscoggin River.

Every year, while driving my family toward our summer excursion to Rangeley Lake, my kids and wife will complain about the smell of the mill as we drive through the neighboring town of Mexico. “That’s the smell of money,” I remind them.

When I was a kid, the mill was the preferred future for many of my classmates. Those were good-paying union jobs with excellent benefits. If you get into the mill, you would be all set. You could earn a good living, raise a family and buy a decent home.

Those days are changing.

It’s no different in my hometown of Biddeford, another Maine community hit hard by the influence of global markets and a decline in what were once traditional manufacturing opportunities.

Historically, Maine’s economy has been driven by the 3 Fs – – – Forestry, Fishing and Farming. All three of those once strong economic engines are facing serious challenges  – – from unstable and rising energy costs and tightening environmental regulations to global competition and advances in technology.

Fortunately, many of Maine’s paper mills are learning to adapt to a world that consumes less paper as the result of rapid advances in digital technology. But that adaptation seems slow and certainly painful.

 Maine is the second leading paper-making state by volume, producing more paper than any state other than Wisconsin, according to the Maine Pulp and Paper Association. Maine’s paper production has consistently increased since 1990, and in recent years Maine has produced more paper than ever before, according to the association’s web site.

But the challenges cannot be ignored or dismissed. My job regularly takes me into rural communities throughout Maine. Too many of our communities are mere shadows of what they once were.

just last week I spoke to a school principal in northern Maine who told me her school district has a 74.3 percent rate of students who qualify for free or reduced hot lunches. In the same breath she proudly tells me that her school district also has one of Maine’s highest graduation rates and that her school district was the first in Maine to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims.

Just amazing.

There are many other good stories out there, An increasing number of commercial fishermen throughout the Gulf of Maine are becoming partners in collaborative research projects and using new technology to adapt.

But still, I worry. I worry that my fellow voters will not support our state’s technical schools. I worry that too many of us blindly follow change or react to it within a narrow vacuum of our own experience.

I know what it’s like to live in a community that shudders with fear and anxiety when rumors of No. 2 machine shutting down begin to circulate around town.

Can technology and education overcome the painful consequences of change? Yes, but only if we can accept and prepare for change.

Still, it hurts to think about those 1,100 people in Alabama, just like it hurts to drive through portions of Washington County.

Make no mistake: change is something you can believe in.