What Climate Means for Maine
By Elizabeth Hogan
It is no longer questionable that the climate of our planet is changing. How those changes manifest, and the rate at which they take effect, vary from place to place. And the science reveals that they are changing faster in one place than all others on the planet: the Gulf of Maine.
In the last two decades, the Gulf has warmed at seven times the global average; faster than 99 percent of the global ocean. The shape, depth, and position of the Gulf at the meeting point of two major currents, the Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream, make it particularly susceptible to warming. And because warm water cannot hold as much oxygen as cold water, this change in temperature alters the chemistry of the Gulf as well.
These changes have a substantial impact on Maine’s essential fishing industry. Cod, shrimp, and salmon stocks have already been affected, and mussels have been disappearing from the coastline. Even after more than 20 years of rebuilding, the cod stocks have yet to recover from the drastic impact of warming on reproduction rates, which resulted in unintentional overfishing that wiped out the stock. Research from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute demonstrates that lobsters continue to migrate north as climate change warms the ocean. While this migration has benefited Maine fishermen in recent years, the continued migration of lobster will gradually push the species into Canada. And the higher levels of acidity mean that mussels, oysters, and clams cannot build their shells and are less likely to survive.
While these changes clearly threaten our fishing communities, which account for 30,000 Maine jobs, their effects are not restricted to the seafood industry. One direct impact of climate change, sea-level rise, threatens the entire region. Higher sea levels translate to more and higher coastal floods. 306 square miles of land lie less than 4 feet above the high tide line in coastal New England, including $32 billion in property value and the homes of some 85,000 people. Sea level rise will also cause regular flooding of Maine’s coast and may cause saltwater contamination of groundwater aquifers. It will also limit the capacity of coastal ecosystems to protect us from increasing storms. And Lyme disease has increased by more than 300 percent across the Northeast since 2001, courtesy of climate change, which is likely driving the occurrence of certain vector-borne diseases.
Protecting Maine, and fishermen throughout New England, means taking aggressive action on climate change. Without action to reduce emissions, the global average temperature will continue to rise, causing changes in weather patterns, rising sea levels and increased frequency and intensity of storms, floods, and heat waves. These climate-based events can have major economic impacts on households, businesses, and the infrastructure of our transportation and energy and water supplies.
However, much of the economic damage will be felt through declining health, rising energy costs, and decreased job security. If this sounds overwhelming, consider just starting with the transportation sector — the source of 54 percent of Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions. Multiple solution options can contribute to changing this: assist Mainers in driving less by increasing broadband access, require freight companies to participate in the EPA SmartWay program, develop public transportation options in rural areas, and reduce commuting through incentivizing innovative land use development.
The oceans have absorbed 93 percent of the heat trapped by climate change. Building coastal resilience can prevent devastation from storms and sea level rise, create food security, meet our energy demands, and create jobs. Every dollar spent to rebuild our roads, bridges, buildings, electric grid, and our water infrastructure can be used to prevent, reduce, and withstand a changing climate.
But inaction on climate change is the most expensive policy option we can pursue. That’s why we need to elect Joe Biden as president. He recognizes that the future of the planet, and our economy in Maine, depend on fighting climate change.
Elizabeth Hogan is co-founder of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative and specializes in marine wildlife conservation, sustainable fisheries, and ocean plastic. Her work includes analyses of single-use plastic regulations and cap-and-trade programs, as well as the links between climate change, plastic pollution, and ocean health.