The Atlantic puffin is one of the species declining in Maine due to climate change. (Courtesy Fyn Kynd)
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“Every industry of Maine’s economy will be impacted by climate change, and the state must develop strategies to prepare for its consequences.”

That was Bumbleroot Farms owner Melissa Law speaking in April 2019 as Gov. Janet Mills introduced a bill to establish the Maine Climate Council.

As we’re seeing now in the depths of the coronavirus shutdown, preparation for a crisis can make all the difference. Had the nation been better prepared with respirators and protective equipment there would be less strain on our medical system, and improved systems and procedures could have prevented the virus from reaching our shores in the first place.

Preparedness is essential, which is why the Maine Climate Council, which was established after the governor’s bill passed last September, will continue its work on schedule throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The council was given a heavy task: develop a plan by the end of 2020 to meet Maine’s legally mandated greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, including a 45 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2030 and at least 80 percent by 2050. Comprising representatives from science, economics, industry, conservation, and state government, the council and its working groups have been meeting steadily since September.

The state has announced that those meetings are to go on as scheduled, although in a virtual format. Nearly a dozen meetings of working groups and subgroups were still scheduled, many of them open and available to the public via videoconference, as found on the council’s website.

“In these unprecedented times, addressing climate change remains a critical priority,” the council said.

I couldn’t agree more. Climate change is not waiting for us to get ready, and in fact we’re already measuring changes in the state. State Climatologist Sean Birkel kicked off the January 2020 meeting of the council with a presentation on climatic changes we’re already seeing. Maine’s average temperature has risen by 3 degrees since 1895, and the six warmest years have all come since 1998. Precipitation has increased by 6 inches per year in the past century with increased instances of “extreme” weather and flooding. At the same time, our snow is melting earlier and our water bodies are thawing sooner, coinciding with a lengthening of the warm season by two weeks.

Maine’s climate has changed and continues to change.

The costs of continuing to drag our collective feet will be more dramatic than the current viral pandemic. The Gulf of Maine is warming far faster than the global average, rapidly changing conditions for wildlife and putting the state’s fishing industry at risk. Sea levels have risen more than half a foot over the past century, and are projected to rise several feet more by the end of the century, rendering uninhabitable much of Maine’s current coastline. Iconic wildlife like moose, American lobster, and Atlantic puffin are all declining in Maine due to various impacts linked to climate change.

I am glad that the Maine Climate Council has not let the coronavirus crisis prevent it from helping prepare the state for continued climate change. Unlike the coronavirus, climate change is a crisis we know is coming, and we have no excuse for being unprepared.

Nick Lund of Cumberland, outreach and network manager at Maine Audubon, has written about nature for the National Audubon Society, Down East, National Parks Magazine, the Washington Post, and others. He can be found online at TheBirdist.com and on Twitter @TheBirdist.