Editorial: Climate clarity

Last month the Bar Harbor Town Council agreed to declare “a climate and ecological emergency.” The request came from a group of student activists, who submitted a resolution “on behalf of the youth and future generations of Bar Harbor.” The group asked the town “to take comprehensive action to address the causes and impacts of climate change in our community, and advocate on our behalf” to the state and federal governments “to protect our futures and restore a safe climate.”

Councilors partially agreed to the request. They did not adopt the students’ proposal, which included some sweeping mandates the council wisely decided might require more study and perhaps adjustment.

Here’s what they did approve: “The Town Council of Bar Harbor declares that a climate and ecological emergency exists and threatens our community, and we intend to develop a Climate Mobilization Action Plan to respond and meet within 30 days.”

The mandates in the original resolution included “local ordinances, building codes and permitting processes” to “facilitate the rapid phase out of fossil fuel and adoption of renewable energy.”

That raised red flags for some residents, who became concerned that the project could lead both to higher taxes and the town requiring that property owners incur additional private expense to meet new rules.

“I don’t want seniors to be forced to do something they can’t afford to do,” one resident said. “We have enough problems with affordability.”

Council Chair Jeff Dobbs put it well last week: “We’re not trying to force things down people’s throats,” he said. “It is an emergency, but how do we do it so people feel like they’re part of it and they can afford it?”

South Portland declared a climate emergency in October, adopting a resolution somewhat similar to the one presented here, with a few important differences. South Portland already has a “climate action and adaptation” plan in development, a joint project with neighboring Portland, called One Climate Future. So, the language of the South Portland resolution focuses on that plan, and does not commit the city to specific, local deliverables.

Two planning meetings have been held since the November vote, one with a group of 10 people and one with 27 people, including representatives from many Mount Desert Island institutions.

In one draft action plan document presented to the council last week, the goals from the students’ resolution had already begun to grow and shift. “Hire staff to coordinate implementation of the Bar Harbor Climate Mobilization Action Plan” had become “Hire sustainability director.” General goals about reducing greenhouse gas emissions became “install solar on every viable rooftop” and “develop affordable housing and solar array” on a property in Town Hill that’s currently owned by Acadia National Park.

The climate crisis is indeed urgent. But any mobilization plan will only be as effective as the care put into crafting it. One Climate Future and the state’s new climate plan may be good models. It would be premature to hire town staff to implement not-yet-articulated goals.

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