Both in Maine and around the nation, the year did not lack for significant political headlines. Government shutdown? Check. Pot legalization in Portland? Uh huh. Mass-target terrorist attack? Guess so. Twelve months’ worth of same-sex marriages in Maine with no signs of the world falling apart? Damn straight. As 2013 prepares for an exit, I looked at just a few of the developments that were perhaps underreported, and could present game-changing significance to the everyday worker, citizen, and Mainer.
LePage admits climate change is real . . . sorta
Climate change is hardly news, obviously, but this was the year its deniers realized the ground they were standing on had washed away. The effects of global warming in Maine — economically, environmentally, and politically — were impossible to ignore. President Obama delivered a national address on the issue in June (finally!), prompting Maine legislators to propose a special committee to draft legislative proposals for climate-change adaptation and require the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry to account for climate change in its operations.
But it was apparently all a gas to Governor LePage. In spite of the federal mandate, the governor vetoed the bill (and the state legislature fell a single vote short of overriding him), blustering that it would “add layers of workgroups and reporting . . . on top of work that was already being done.”
With the right amount of squinting, optimists might consider this progress. LePage, you may recall, came as close to denying climate change as one can when he told the Waterville-based Morning Sentinel during his 2010 campaign, “I just don’t know how severe it is and I’m not sure how much human beings contribute to it.” That was a popular opinion in the Tea Party tide of that election cycle, but it no longer holds water.
The governor no longer disbelieves in climate change; he just doesn’t care.
Not about the adverse effects, at least. Earlier this month, LePage trumpeted claims from scientists that small cargo ships would be able to traverse Arctic waters by mid-century as one of the potential upsides of global warming. “Everybody looks at the negative effects of global warming,” he told a conference in December. “But with the ice melting, the Northern Passage (sic) has opened up. So maybe, instead of being at the end of the pipeline, we’re now at the beginning of a new pipeline.” (Liberals should get used to this: As climate-change deniers become increasingly viewed as transparently delusional, they’ll likely repackage their opposition to environmental concerns with glittering silver linings for private businesses.)
But for Maine’s fishing industry, economic boon is a tough sell. Maine lobsters, which represent about 80 percent of the value of Maine’s fishing industry, are feeling the heat, as studies have shown that water temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) render them susceptible to a bacterial shell disease. The warming and acidifying ocean is radically affecting the state’s lobster populations, who migrate farther northeast every year, raising shipping costs and rendering long-tenured fisheries near Casco Bay and Midcoast increasingly idle. As
Robert Steneck, professor of marine sciences at the University of Maine, told the political blog ThinkProgress in August, “(w)hile warmer waters off the coast of Maine in recent years have probably aided the boom in lobster numbers, putting us right in the temperature sweet spot for this species . . . we’re getting closer and closer to that point where the temperature is just too stressful for them, their immune system is compromised and it’s all over.”