MOUNT DESERT — Residents here will vote at the 2021 Town Meeting on a resolution declaring a “climate emergency” that would commit the town to working toward achieving zero carbon emissions by 2031.
The Board of Selectmen voted last week to place the resolution on the warrant for Town Meeting, which will be held May 4 unless the COVID-19 pandemic causes it to be postponed for the second year in a row.
The Eco Team at Mount Desert Island High School proposed the climate resolution, which was endorsed by the Mount Desert sustainability committee.
The resolution cites the negative effects of climate change including threats to “the natural ecosystems of Mount Desert Island, economic activity such as tourism and seasonal recreation, and public health, such as an increase in tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease.”
By passing the resolution, voters at the 2021 Town Meeting would agree that “the climate emergency represents a clear and present danger to all life in the town of Mount Desert and on Mount Desert Island and is threatening the cultural, social and economic wellbeing of our community.”
A yes vote would commit the town to “reducing as much as possible town-wide greenhouse gas emissions and initiating additional greenhouse gas reductions as quickly as possible and no later than Dec. 31, 2030, prioritizing zero-carbon solutions for local electricity, heating and transportation systems towards the goal of a zero emission, energy-independent Mount Desert Island [by the same date], and ensuring a fair and reasonable transition for all residents.”
With passage of the resolution, the sustainability committee would be charged with “coordinating, in collaboration with key stakeholders, proposals for town efforts towards the expedient reduction of greenhouse gas emissions across the community, as well as developing funding proposals to support such initiatives.”
The selectmen voted 5-0 to send the climate resolution to voters at Town Meeting, but not without some reservations.
“I think we often forget that with every decision we make there are consequences, both good and bad, and you have to weigh those,” Selectman Matt Hart said. “My fear is that, when we make a blanket statement like this [resolution], rather than a specific list of what we’d like to do, it forces you into making decisions that might not be the right decisions for your town or the right decision at that time.”
He cited as an example the adoption of building codes that would require new homes to be built to certain energy efficiency standards. While that would be good for environment, he said, it could put affordable housing out of reach for even more people.
“I just want to make sure that the consequences are all considered, rather than just saying, ‘It’s good for the environment, so we’re going to enact it.’”
Selectman Martha Dudman told Hart he made some good points, but she said the climate resolution is basically a statement of intent.
“Our putting it on the warrant really puts this decision in the hands of the voters, which I think is appropriate, and I would hope there would be a healthy discussion about this on the Town Meeting floor.”
Hart said that because some of the wording of the resolution is vague, it is unclear exactly what it would be committing the town to do. For that reason, he said, he isn’t sure he would recommend that the voters adopt it.
“But I am definitely in favor of it being on the warrant,” he said.
Selectman Geoff Wood said the resolution means “we have to always be looking at every decision we make and changes in policy, including building codes and the building of new structures for the town, through the lens of making sure we’ve identified the least carbon footprint way to do it.”
Phil Lichtenstein, chairman of the town’s sustainability committee, called the climate emergency resolution a “motivator.”
“It’s not telling us to go change the world,” he said. “We just need to be able to move forward in a positive way. I think a lot of our residents and taxpayers would be very ecstatic that the town would put this forward.”
The Bar Harbor Town Council adopted the climate emergency resolution in November 2019.