I don't know whether it was the sky-high gas prices or what, but Portland sure caught an eco-bug in 2008.
First, witness the staggering success of Greendrinks, where like-minded young people (who ostensibly care about the environment) get together to drink beer, network, and learn about a business or organization that has some connection to the green world; Greendrinks grew so popular that refreshments were running out and accommodations were cramped — we have to believe that it's the message, as much as the booze, that draws hundreds of people to this event each month. There was also significant interest in Portland Green Streets, which urges people to commute in an eco-friendly manner (i.e., walking, biking, or using public transport) on the last Friday of every month. Also: Whole Foods bid farewell to plastic bags (a national policy for the healthy-food chain); the Maine-based Hydrogen Energy Center and the Maine Clean Cities Program displayed several hydrogen-powered cars in Cape Elizabeth's Fort Williams Park; and one South Portland family took eating local to the next level by building a wood-fired brick oven in their backyard (the culinary results, by the way, were absolutely scrumptious).
Another promising development was the increasing popularity of the Food Now food-buying club, which now operates out of the Meg Perry Center on Congress Street. The 75-member group, which is a precursor (members hope) of a store-front food cooperative in Portland (see "Chew on This," by Deirdre Fulton, December 5, 2007), is enjoying mounting visibility, which is evidence of our growing interest in buying local, sustainably-produced food.
It's not just hippies and foodies who are jumping to greenify Portland. Local policymakers at the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS), under pressure from the public and some public officials, prioritized eco-friendly projects over gas-guzzlers in a list that they'll present to Maine's congressional delegation for federal funding. Committee members ultimately rejected the idea of asking for more money to widen I-295, and instead turned their attention toward buying new public transport vehicles, rebuilding Veterans Bridge, and developing the rail corridor between Portland, Yarmouth, and potentially Brunswick (see "PACTS Priorities Are A Green-Transport Victory," by Deirdre Fulton, October 9). Other good signs in the green-transportation arena include the Portland City Council's signing of a deal to bring car-sharing to the city (the four PT Cruisers will appear on Portland's streets in January); an attempt to bring bike-sharing to town (the White Bike program wasn't a smashing triumph, but at least they tried); and the expansion of the statewide Free Fare Friday bus-riding program.
On the state level, green news was mixed in 2008. The state's Land Use Regulation Commission came under fire from some enviros and the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) for approving amendments to the Plum Creek development proposal for the Moosehead Lake region. This sets the wheels in motion for that development — which has split the eco-community; the Nature Conservancy of Maine gave the thumbs-up to the project — to move forward, although the NRCM is considering an appeal. The Sierra Club's state chapter also found itself in an eco-battle over development at Sears Island in Penobscot Bay. And the governor set up a special task force to continue investigating and capitalizing on Maine's renewable-energy resources — namely, wind and tidal energy.
Meanwhile, my personal eco-development stayed pretty steady; I'm a long way from being a full-blown vegetarian, and I still forget my travel mug most days, but I'm a committed recycler/reuser, and I really feel like I've transformed my consumerist tendencies. Here's hoping that things only get greener in 2009.
Deirdre Fulton can be reached at email@example.com.