September 25, 2011

Common Ground panel: It's time to act on climate change

Unity College president says now is time to take a stand

By Amy Calder
Staff Writer

UNITY -- Climate change is real, it's serious and it must be addressed now.

That was the message from a panel of experts Saturday at a public policy teach-in at the Common Ground Country Fair.

"It's really important to understand the science, I think," said Unity College President Stephen Mulkey. "I think the science is often minimalized or lost in translation."

Mulkey was one of five panelists who urged people to take a stand on climate change. He said he never has seen a topic so well-understood by scientists but so poorly understood by the public.

"The divide is enormous," he said.

Mulkey challenged every college president to speak out about climate change.

"We're out of time -- we need to act now," he said.

Unity College is building sustainability as part of its curriculum.

"I feel like we need to take a stand on this and the stand need not be political -- it needs to be scientific," he said.

Panelists said there's no question among scientists that climate change is real, but there are those who deny it because they profit from fossil fuels.

Lou McNally, Maine Public Broadcasting Network meteorologist and assistant professor of applied meteorology at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said the news media is complicit in that denial. He said journalists have changed their focus; instead of doing enterprise stories such as they did years ago, where they found information, garnered additional sources and wrote a story, they print pre-produced press releases.

McNally suggested people take a back-door approach by convincing companies they can save money by being environmentally friendly.

"They're not going to care. If it makes them a buck, they'll do it," he said. "They're not going to care about lowering emissions. We will."

He said some people think the climate change issue is all a hoax.

"This is such an Americo-centric view. It's ridiculous."

Panelists said there are many things people can do to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere.

Being more energy efficient, switching to renewable sources of energy and buying locally produced goods are some.

"Each of us is responsible for tons of emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere," said Dylan Voorhees, director of the Clean Energy and Global Warming Project for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Voorhees said everyone is part of the problem. Maine has promoted clean emissions and switching from oil to natural gas, but can do more, including using the sun, tides and wind.

"It means doing more renewable energy to displace fossil fuels," he said.

Voorhees said climate change affects the coast, lobstering, tourism and agriculture.

He said some people do not want to address the problem. "Those are the folks that have an economic interest in keeping us using fossil fuels."

Voorhees said lawmakers must be stopped from rolling back policies. And that everyone can use less energy in the home by insulating attics, using vehicles less and working on a cleaner fuel standard.

Anne Burt, community organizer and environmental justice consultant with Maine Partners for Cool Communities and the Eat Local Foods Coalition, said education is a critical component in getting the word out. John Jemison, University of Maine trustee professor and soils specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said Maine farmers were interviewed on how weather patterns are affecting their farming.

One farmer said the climate has become unpredictable and the best solution is diversification.

Another farmer said when he first started farming, there were no Japanese beetles in central Maine; now there are.

Yet another farmer said that, during his first five years of farming, the average date to spray his crops was between May 1 and May 5, and for the past five years, it has been April 25 to 27, according to Jemison.

Diane Messer, 58, of Liberty, an environmental activist, attended and said afterwards that she asks people who deny that climate change exists what they think is going to happen to them when the atmosphere is destroyed.

"Do they think they're going to be transported to some alternate reality where they can have all the fresh air and water they want?" she said. "When it's gone, it's gone."

Messer said it is critical that people who do not know about climate change be educated about it.

"We have to reach the children," she said. "Our survival is on the line."

Amy Calder -- 861-9247


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