Peter Dugas
Peter Dugas in his house in Portland's West End. Behind him is a photo of climate activists on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Portland Phoenix/Jim Neuger)
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Whether it’s tackling the environment or tickling the ivories, Peter Dugas is driven by his passions.

When he’s not advocating for climate change policy, which he’s been doing for 20 years, Dugas might be found teaching at L’Ecole Francaise du Maine and the Maine College of Art & Design. Or maybe on stage with his organ trio, Micromassé.

The multi-faceted nature of his interests and expertise is what keeps Dugas going. The overarching prospect of climate change can become daunting at times, and music becomes his relief, whether it’s playing or teaching.

Peter Dugas
Peter Dugas: “I’m all for working as hard as you can (on climate change), but you do need breaks from it. Music kind of fills that void for me.” (Portland Phoenix/Jim Neuger)

“I’m all for working as hard as you can (on climate change), but you do need breaks from it,” Dugas, 47, said. “Music kind of fills that void for me.”

He’s always been a guide, he said, sharing his knowledge with children, fellow band members, and teaching private piano lessons. 

Dugas said teaching is a natural thing for him; he’s always enjoyed talking to people and helping them improve themselves, whether it be guiding budding musicians or by helping people understand the part they can play in efforts to fight climate change.

Music is Dugas’ therapy from the sometimes heavy nature of climate change work, and his primary occupation, while his climate activism is entirely voluntary: He has been a liaison between Maine chapters of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a national nonprofit organization attempting to promote climate change policy, and U.S. Sen. Angus King.

He said he’s very fortunate to be able to provide for himself and his family through music, while still indulging his climate activism.

Dugas could have carried on as a climatologist or a professor after earning an undergraduate degree at Brown University in physics and engineering. But instead, he moved toward music and kept his climate change work limited to activism.

At Brown, Dugas did data entry for a professor researching climate. He said that was when he came to the conclusion there is too much at stake to ignore climate change. Having a family and hoping for a better future for his daughter Thea was another factor that would eventually motivate him.

When he’s at work and the long-term impacts of climate change weigh on his mind, Dugas said his daughter is often there to remind him to lighten up and have fun. 

Thea, a student at King Middle School, has joined him in several meetings, including one with Sens. King and Susan Collins. She has developed her own take on Dugas’ climate change presentations, he said, doing them for her friends and sharing them online.

Working together, Dugas and Thea support putting a price on carbon emissions at the source. He said the work is arduous and can be frustrating, but it feels great to know they’re “laying the seeds for possible solutions” – especially when he can work toward that with his daughter.

Maine is in a unique position, Dugas said, to guide national policy because it’s the only state where both its U.S. senators are members of the Bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus – a group that believes Congress should play a central role in efforts to tackle climate change.

Other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, have already taken steps to price climate change, he said, and now they even want to ramp those up, but can’t do so until the United States gets on board.

Dugas said starting the climate change conversation on a personal level is the first step, and it’s important to meet people “where they are.” 

While he’s grateful he has the ability to participate in science and arts, he said he hopes to put more time into music again after the coronavirus pandemic eliminated gigs and created space for him to dive further into work with Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Micromassé performed at the Denmark Arts Center in early November. The trio is inspired by jazz from the 1950s and ’60s and features guitar, drums, and Dugas on the organ.

“Music is good food for the soul,” he said, “and I love sharing it.”

Citizens' Climate Lobby logoCitizens’ Climate Lobby has long, short views on policy

Citizens’ Climate Lobby has a two-pronged approach to solving climate issues through national policy.

Its ultimate goal is to put a price on carbon emissions at the source, hoping to reduce greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide when fossil fuels are burned.

The organization hoped to have its policy included in President Biden’s Build Back Better bill, which has been stalled since U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-West Virginia, announced he would not support it.

Despite Manchin’s opposition, Portland’s Peter Dugas said the plan for Citizens’ Climate Lobby remains the same, with two possible strategies.

There’s the long-term solution, which has always been to get a standalone, bipartisan bill passed – perhaps the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, HR 2307, which Dugas called the “most co-sponsored climate bill ever.” It would achieve Biden’s goal of a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

Or, there’s the short term: Trying to get something similar inserted into Build Back Better. Dugas said achieving the 50 percent goal by 2030 is “kind of impossible” without implementing some sort of carbon pricing in the United States. 

While the prospect of Build Back Better may have looked bleak after Manchin’s statement, he said conversations may still be ongoing and “there’s still a chance.”

— Evan Edmonds