A View from the Hill: Climate news isn’t all bad

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Today we’re going to talk about climate change.

Wait! Don’t leave! I get it – I, too, feel overwhelmed by all the noise. That’s what I want to talk about. 

I recently heard a presentation by Troy Moon, the sustainability coordinator for Portland, and Julie Rosenbach, the sustainability director for South Portland. The two have joined forces to help the two sea-level cities to prepare their citizens and institutions for the effects of climate change. That effort is called One Climate Future (oneclimatefuture.org.), launched last June.

Troy and Julie spoke to our group for about an hour, laying out the case for a no-holds-barred approach to climate action. There was lots of talk about what will happen to our cities under various scenarios, from doing nothing about our carbon emissions (not good at all) to acting aggressively to hold temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (still not pretty, but better than nothing, since there’s no turning back now.)

By the way, these are two of the most optimistic people you will ever meet. I’m not sure Troy could stop smiling even if he wanted to. They are energetic and inspiring and deeply engaged in their work.

So why was I feeling increasingly sad and hopeless as they talked? Discussing the talk afterward, I expressed my mood to the group. I said it felt like grief. I said I didn’t think our society had the will to do what needed to be done. How were Julie and Troy and their staffs of one each going to get us out of this?

I had fallen head first into a pit of negativity.

Very gently, the group spent the next 10 minutes digging me out.

Break it down, they said. Look at what can be done and what is being done. Be encouraged by the fact that the city councils in Portland and South Portland took the gigantic step of creating sustainability offices. And that, perhaps for the first time in this country, these two cities had teamed up to create a joint regional plan to address the effects of climate change.

Of course it’s a terrible, depressing, scary situation. But that doesn’t have to stop us from acting in individual and collective ways to work for change, to do what we can, to celebrate small victories. 

As a group we decided to task ourselves with projects related to climate action. Perhaps we could all do home energy audits to identify and correct ways that our homes add carbon to the atmosphere. There are 18 people in our group. Will cleaning up the carbon output of 18 homes solve the climate crisis? No, but it’s a start.

What other actions can we commit to as individuals, neighborhoods, and communities? Our group will be discussing that. If you have any ideas or suggestions, send them to the Portland Phoenix. 

Since that meeting, I’ve seen a wholesale change in my perspective. I see that recently six towns along the southern Maine coast have teamed up to hire their own shared sustainability coordinator to help them prepare for the impact of climate change. Officials in these towns are not wringing their hands. They are doing something that requires work, money, commitment and cooperation. That’s a giant step.

I read a story in the Washington Post headlined “What it takes to be carbon neutral – for a family, a city, a country.” The story is about Copenhagen, which has set a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025. It talked about what a particular family is doing to “live small,” like using cloth diapers and putting an hourglass in the shower so bathers don’t dawdle. It talked about what the city is doing to mitigate the effects of flooding. And it talked about the increasingly green culture of Denmark, where the prime minister drives an electric car.

“That’s not going to save the planet,” he concedes. “But we want to show the world that we can do this.” That reminds me of what Maine Gov. Janet Mills said to the United Nations about the state’s commitment to doing something about climate change: “Maine won’t wait.”

And that brings me back to Troy and Julie and One Climate Future. Their goals are to reduce greenhouse gasses by 80 percent by 2050 and for the cities to run on 100 percent clean energy by 2040.

They’ve already started, and that’s huge.

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning journalist, and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.