Cast Your Ballot for the Planet
“We’re a society of distracted drivers. We’re not paying attention to what matters most.” – Michael Lewis, author (on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Oct. 3, 2018)
Lost in the discussion of America’s partisan, gender and racial divides is a fault line that’s rarely discussed: the gap between what U.S. citizens want for the planet and what many elected leaders are delivering.
A poll of American voters, conducted last March by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, found that 70 percent of respondents believe the U.S. should reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, 71 percent support fossil fuel companies paying a carbon tax, 85 percent want tax rebates on energy-efficient vehicles and solar panels, 81 percent want carbon dioxide regulated as a pollutant and 87 percent want more research support for renewable energy.
Yet Republican leaders in Washington are working against these goals. Blinkered by short-term greed and skepticism of science, the Trump administration is scrambling to accelerate oil drilling in sensitive areas, roll back fuel-economy standards, shore up the terminal coal industry and reverse regulations on fracking releases of methane (a gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in heating the atmosphere).
Here in Maine, there’s a similarly disorienting split. For eight years, we’ve had a governor determined to undermine wind power; cut energy-efficiency programs, promote fossil-fuel pipelines and squelch solar power (with vetoes of three separate bills that had widespread support).
Yet in a Maine survey last spring, 77 percent of respondents want political action to dramatically cut global warming pollution by 2030. Even higher percentages seek more electricity from wind and solar along with expansion of energy-efficiency programs.
So why aren’t we electing officials who address concerns about climate disruption and support clean energy? Many candidates for office – of both parties – steer clear of even mentioning climate change because in rankings of top voter priorities, it often falls low on the list.
If we want to limit the torrent of greenhouse gasses wreaking havoc with the climate, we’d better start holding politicians’ feet to the proverbial (or not so) fire. We need to ask candidates – at all levels – about specific measures they plan to take, and note carefully not only what they say but what they don’t.
The stakes are particularly high in Maine’s gubernatorial race, where two of the candidates treat energy and environmental concerns like asterisks, barely worthy of mention. When the Energy and Environment Council of Maine (E2Tech) organized a forum in September for gubernatorial candidates, Independent Terry Hayes acknowledged there that she has no policy or position on renewable energy and Republican Shawn Moody simply declined to attend. (Independent Alan Caron and Democrat Janet Mills both committed to a goal of 100 percent renewable energy in Maine by 2030 – up from about 75 percent today – through added wind and solar power and increased energy efficiency.)
In a rare public statement about renewable power, Moody echoed Gov. Paul LePage’s mistaken view that it is unaffordable and exclusionary, writing “we cannot subsidize high-priced sources of energy, or special interests, at the expense of Maine people.” Just for the record, the U.S. already subsidizes fossil fuels at a rate of roughly $26 billion per year (more than three times Maine’s annual budget), despite projections that have the cost of renewable energy falling below that of fossil fuels within two years.
Maine’s natural resource-based economy could get turned upside down in the coming decades by climate-charged droughts and deluges, ocean acidification, invasive species, and other challenges. Voters deserve details about how candidates will address climate adaptation and mitigate Maine’s generation of greenhouse gases. Shawn Moody has just seven sentences on his campaign website under the header “Protecting Maine’s Environment,” five of which refer to his private auto-body business. That’s a shockingly narrow vision in an increasingly interconnected world.
The choice of Maine’s next governor carries added importance now because of the environmental backsliding occurring in Washington. More than ever, Maine needs to fortify its environmental protections and work with other state leaders to advance joint initiatives.
After President Trump signaled his intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord in June 2017, 17 governors (including those of Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island) formed a bipartisan alliance to maintain U.S. momentum reducing emissions. That group recently held a Global Climate Action Summit and – joined by Canada and Mexico – pledged to reduce their emissions of methane and other atmospherically destructive pollutants 40 percent by 2030. They also planned measures to make solar-panel installation cheaper and to maintain high energy-efficiency standards for household appliances.
Maine can move toward a brighter future if we elect candidates – up and down the ticket – who are committed to foster clean energy and a healthier environment. But that will happen only if we focus on what matters most, voting with the planet in mind.
© Marina Schauffler, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Column reprints available upon request.
Learn more, then vote
TO LEARN MORE about the environmental and energy views of gubernatorial candidates, review their websites, watch the Oct. 10 Gubernatorial Debate at pressherald.com and read the cover story in this week’s Source.
MAINE CONSERVATION VOTERS compiles an environmental scorecard of incumbent state legislators based on recent votes – available on line at maineconservation.org/scores, and makes endorsements of candidates – without regard to party affiliation – based on their past advocacy for environmental concerns.