Climate change, governor, means floods plus failing fisheries and forests

For a state with 3,478 miles of coastline, you’d think that melting ice caps and rising seas might cause some problems.

And the resulting flooding won’t just hurt the environment but would have devastating economic effects.

According to an analysis using data from the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute:

Economic impacts could be serious. Businesses could be damaged, real estate lost, transportation infrastructure destroyed, and tourism revenues lost.
• Many parts of Route One would need to be completely rebuilt and re-routed.
• Millions of dollars would be required to rebuild fresh water supplies and wastewater treatment plants.
• The value of damaged and destroyed commercial and residential properties would be enormous. Two neighborhoods in Portland with an assessed value of more than $70 million, East Deering and Baxter Boulevard, would be ruined by a six-meter rise.
• The value of properties along the more affected, and more expensive, south coast would be in the hundreds of millions.
• Because these areas include some of the State’s most important tourist destinations, the economic impact on Maine’s $3.5 billion tourism economy could be incalculable.

According to Gov. LePage, this is not so bad. In fact, melting ice is good for jobs.

At a conference on transportation trends, Gov. LePage remarked, “Everybody looks at the negative effects of global warming, but with the ice melting, the Northern Passage has opened up,” he said. “So maybe, instead of being at the end of the pipeline, we’re now at the beginning of a new pipeline.”

And, according to LePage’s chief strategist, “Certainly, the governor was not making a statement here about environmental policy,” he said. The statements about Eimskip and the Northeast Passage are about jobs, he said.

But the governor is overlooking the incredible economic damage climate change has – and will bring

Raw Maine shrimp. Photo credit: Gabor Degre l BDN

Raw Maine shrimp. Photo credit: Gabor Degre l BDN

Besides the damage from flooding, climate change hurts two of Maine’s largest economic sectors: fisheries and forests.

Just this week, the entire season of fishing Maine shrimp was canceled.

This will be a big economic hit for shrimp fishermen.

And problems with the fishery are due to warming oceans.

As one report noted:

North Atlantic shrimp provide a small but valuable fishery for New England fishermen, with several hundred boats going after them using nets and traps. About 85 percent to 90 percent of the annual harvest in the Gulf of Maine is typically caught by Maine boats.

This summer, a survey indicated that the northern shrimp stock was at its lowest level since the annual trawl survey began in 1984. A report released Nov. 21 by the fisheries commission’s Northern Shrimp Technical Committee concluded that the stock has collapsed.

The report recommended a moratorium on shrimping in 2014 to maximize the species’ spawning potential. It attributed the collapse in part to warming ocean temperatures.

Regulators said the warming ocean and the absence of the normal springtime surge of plankton, a critical link at the bottom of the ocean’s food chain, have hurt northern shrimp. Predation by other fish species and overfishing a few years ago also contributed to the collapse.

Climate change also threatens the very valuable lobster fishery.

As Sen. Angus King noted, “The lobster makes up about 70 percent to 80 percent of our fisheries’ value, and what’s happening in Maine is that as the water gets warmer, the lobsters go north,” said King, according to the Congressional Record.”

Forests and thus forest products are also threatened

And the economic consequences from forest problems are also immense.

The nation’s most heavily forested state, Maine is likely to be in for a rude awakening in forestry within the next 20 to 100 years, state specialists predict. Which trees will flourish, and where, will change — gradually over time — and imperceptibly at first, to most observers.

Maine’s forests contribute more than $5 billion a year to the economy through the production of timber and wood products, including furniture, biomass pellets and paper pulp. When added to other forest-related businesses, including tourism and recreation, that number grows to about $6.5 billion for the state’s economy annually, according to the most recent reports from the North East State Foresters Association. [source]

So when LePage and his strategist talk about “opportunities” and “jobs” from climate change, they are overlooking the tremendous threats such changes pose to Maine’s economy. Those threats far outweigh any benefits there would be from new port facilities.

Instead of claiming that good things are on the way, maybe the governor can try to support policies to halt massive damage and to understand all the ways climate change will hurt Maine.

Then again, this is a governor who stopped the Department of Environmental Protection from working on a climate change plan, soon after becoming chief executive of Maine’s state government.

Perhaps his acceptance that climate change is really happening, implied by statements about new shipping lanes, will lead him to grapple with the real harms for Maine.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives.