A View from the Hill: Climate change isn’t going away

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The other day I was listening to some news on National Public Radio. The announcer was doing a handoff to a reporter. After introducing him, she said: “He covers science and these days that means COVID-19.”

Really? There is only one science story worth reporting now? It sure seems that way, but clearly there is more going on in the world of science than that introduction would suggest.

So, a suggestion for the news media: Start covering climate change again. That’s a big story.

On our current track, even with the virus raging in most states, with more than 120,000 people dead in America, 2.5 million Americans who have been sickened by the disease, and nearly half a million dead around the world, the economic and human costs of climate change will completely overshadow what will be the short, unbearably tragic life of the coronavirus.

Besides, arguably the story of the runaway virus is now really a story about politics and civics as much as science.

Meanwhile, the climate change story has been increasingly marginalized.

According to the Media and Climate Change Observatory, since January of this year, media coverage of climate change has fallen 59 percent around the world, and 22 percent in the U.S. A good chunk of what reporting there has been in the U.S. involves media parroting something idiotic Trump has said about climate change.

I suggest doing less of that kind of reporting and more stories that further our understanding of climate change and the incredible havoc it will wreak if gone unchallenged. Just a thought.

After all, in Maine, though comparative media coverage statistics are hard to find, work on the climate change challenge has not only continued under COVID-19, but flourished. 

In June, members of the Maine Climate Council working groups met in long but fascinating back-to-back Zoom sessions to unfold their recommendations for greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation strategies to the full 39-member council and public.

The work of this group began last September when Gov. Janet Mills launched the council. In a few short months, it has reinvented the wheel while showing the nation what good governance looks like. 

The council’s marching orders were to develop plans to reduce Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and at least 80 percent by 2050. Additionally, she asked the council to come up with a plan to make the state carbon neutral by 2045.

At the time, the plan was praised by Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA during the Obama administration and later director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard University.

“Nothing innovative starts at the federal level,” McCarthy told the Portland Press Herald. “Everything starts at the local levels.” 

How painfully aware we’ve become of the truth of that statement.

The work already done by the council is impressive and massive. Those charged with the work, including the many in the working groups, are among the top experts in a number of fields. Listening to the presentations in June, I found the depth, breadth, and professionalism of the presentations truly moving. The level of energy and commitment was palpable, even on one-dimensional Zoom.

This approach is indeed innovative and offers a national and international model for how this work should be done. It’s worth following at the Maine Climate Council web page at maine.gov. Catch up this summer prior to the next meeting on Sept. 9. This is science, and it’s a big, fascinating, important science story.

We are now in a time of widespread disruption, adaptation, grief, and fear. We are also in a time of beauty and wonder, opportunity, and change.

We are not the one-dimensional culture that we see reflected in the mirror that the media holds up to us every day. A pandemic is not the sum of us. It does not define us. We are defined by the way we behave and act, and the values we hold. 

Good work happens when these values are honored.

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

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