BAR HARBOR — The town officially declared a “climate emergency,” following a 5-1 Town Council vote Tuesday. Councilors said they intend to create an action plan to address the emergency, but need more time to decide which specific actions the town will undertake.
The climate resolution was brought to the council by members of the Mount Desert Island High School Eco Team and College of the Atlantic’s Earth in Brackets.
“I understand that this resolution is bold, but it is also necessary,” MDI High School senior Lily Crikelair told counselors. “Climate change has become the grave emergency that it is today because of all the years in which we have refused to commit to taking necessary action. Bold is now our only option.
“The scientific evidence of the crisis is overwhelming,” she continued. “This crisis must be treated as an emergency.”
Interested community members overflowed the council chambers and filled the auditorium, where a screen was set up to watch the meeting. According to Fire Chief Matt Bartlett, there were more than 100 people in attendance.
Students asked councilors to commit to “a town-wide mobilization effort to reverse global warming and the ecological crisis” by becoming energy independent by the end of 2030.
Specific actions asked for by the students involved establishing a Bar Harbor Climate Emergency Task Force with youth representatives to research “opportunities for radical greenhouse gas emissions reductions opportunities.”
Financial obligations under the resolution would include designating one percent of the town’s annual budget to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and hiring staff to implement a Climate Mobilization Action Plan.
A majority of councilors said they were willing to declare a climate emergency, but wanted to hold of on the specifics of a climate mobilization action plan until they could study the matter further.
“I have no problem with making that declaration tonight, [but] we need some time to think about the parts and pieces of the action plan,” said Councilor Jill Goldthwait.
“Coming from a municipal point of view … I want to make sure that the things you’ve proposed can actually be put into place,” Councilor Erin Cough told the student presenters. “If not, how can they be modified so that as a town, we can reach the goals you’re asking us to reach. I would love to be able to work with all of you to do that in a timely manner.”
The motion passed by the council requires a group of councilors to work with the high school Eco Team and Earth in Brackets to begin studying the issue and forming a mobilization plan within the month.
Laura Berry, a Bar Harbor resident who worked with the students on the resolution, asked councilors about the newly passed motion, “Would that include a commitment to de-carbonize by December 31, 2030?”
Council Chair Jeff Dobbs answered, “No, not at this point. We’re going to meet and we’re going to have a further discussion on what to do and how to do it. But the will to do it is there.”
MDIHS Eco Team member Ayano Ishimura said in a press release issued after the vote, “People ask me, what is one town going to change? The answer is a lot. In the midst of the climate crisis, every single carbon emission matters. I am so happy that the Bar Harbor town council is able to recognize that and take immediate action to protect our beautiful home.”
South Portland is the only other Maine municipality to have passed such a resolution, though 1,182 municipalities worldwide have passed declarations of climate emergency, and committed to increased climate action in response, according to the students.
Councilor Steve Coston, the only dissenting vote, explained his rationale. “Declaring an emergency is maybe threatening to someone who doesn’t feel that there is an emergency. ‘Emergency’ really draws a line,” he said. “You have to engage all the stakeholders, even those you feel are not on your team.”
As Coston spoke, a vocal reaction could be heard from the overflow room, which Coston later referred to as “uncivil discourse.”
Goldthwait, as a newly returning councilor, commented that she had been to less civil meetings. “I found it a very satisfactory first night back on council,” she said.