MDI, let’s be conservative

By Emily Beck

Gun control. Transgender bathrooms. Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton. Global warming. All too often, these combinations of two words trigger a visceral response that leads to hot debate. Countless arguments have been made on these topics, including, here in this newspaper, disputes over global warming or climate change. So let’s not go there.

If you don’t believe that climate change is happening right now, that’s okay. Or if you suspect that the planet is warming, but you consider it due to natural cycles rather than human activity, that’s fine, too. You’d be in the good company of some prominent political, fiscal and social conservatives who proudly proclaim themselves climate change naysayers. Interestingly enough, someone who’s labeled conservative isn’t typically identified as a conservationist.

But, in fact, as researchers at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication have discovered, many so-called conservative Americans who deny the existence of human-caused climate change actually live their lives in ways that are climate friendly. They turn off lights when they’re not needed. They set their thermostats lower in winter and their air conditioners higher in summer.

They use energy-efficient appliances and buy only energy-efficient light bulbs. Maybe it’s simply to save money. I like to think it’s also because, deep down, perhaps unconsciously, there’s a little hedging of bets going on. That those who disavow climate change altogether or deny it’s caused by human activity nevertheless consider it prudent to take certain actions – not solely because it makes economic sense to do so, but “just in case” – is a harbinger of something more ominous.

So when it comes to behavior towards the planet, those often polarizing labels – conservative, liberal, tree hugger, progressive, Democrat, Republican – don’t really mean much at all. We all can be conservative with respect to our natural resources.

No one I know of who believes human-caused global warming is real thinks there’s any quick or easy fix. But across the planet, people concerned about climate change are taking serious steps to forestall its irreversible effects and reduce dependence on greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels.

Germany, currently the world leader in solar energy production, was generating 25 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind by 2013. Last year is was up to 33 percent.

England’s Isle of Wight (population 142,500) is progressing towards total energy self-sufficiency within the next four years, meeting its electricity, heat and cooling, and transportation needs from renewable sources.

Off Denmark, Samsø Island became the world’s first 100 percent renewable-energy powered (electricity) island in 2007. It now plans on becoming fossil-fuel free by 2030.

The little city of Dobbiaco, Italy, (population 3,283) already uses renewable energy sources for 100 percent of its electricity and heat.

Here in America, several cities and towns also have converted to 100 percent renewable energy sources for power: Aspen, Colo., Burlington, Vt., and Greensburg, Kan. Kodiak Island, Alaska, is at 99.7 percent.

Several other American communities have committed to converting to 100 percent renewable energy sources within the next two decades.

Even in the thick of Texas oil country, the city of Georgetown plans to procure 100 percent of its electricity from renewable generators by 2017.

The Town of Red Hook, in New York’s Hudson Valley, has some intriguing similarities to MDI. It is comprised of four communities. Bard, an environmentally active college like College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, plans on becoming carbon-neutral within a couple of decades. There are similar populations, although Red Hook’s population is much denser, filling an area of only about 40 square miles versus MDI’s 108.

Red Hook is a climate action powerhouse. In 2010, the town began work on an ambitious and comprehensive plan to take control of its energy use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while promoting health, safety and economic vitality for the whole community. The resulting energy and climate action plan was completed two years later. The town is well on its way to achieving many of its goals. It is a model of what local communities can accomplish.

Right now on Mount Desert Island, there’s a similarly daring enterprise underway whose very name turns the potentially divisive term “climate change” on its head. A Climate to Thrive (ACTT), launched last January. It is dynamically promoting energy independence and self-sufficiency through a cohesive, multi-pronged approach that will network and engage local businesses, nonprofits and the community at large. It already has garnered financial support from Maine Community Foundation’s Hancock County Fund and other sources.

The group is working towards the audacious goal of energy independence for MDI by the year 2030. How? By employing alternative energies such as solar and wind, making homes and buildings more energy efficient, creating and linking local food sources, advocating for enabling ordinances and legislation, adopting transportation methods to reduce congestion and emissions, and showing how we can reduce and reuse our waste. In the process, it will effect a reduction in pollution, create new businesses, generate year-round jobs that pay a living wage and bring the island community together around the shared goal of preserving our environment. Unbelievable?

Come to MDI High School on Sunday, July 31, at 3 p.m. to decide for yourself. U.S. Sen. Angus King will be the keynote speaker. He will be joined by Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, who has the dubious distinction of being a political target of Gov. Paul LePage. Also, Julia Dundorf, executive director of the New England Grassroots Environment Fund, ACCT’s fiscal sponsor, will be there. Attendees will hear about the specific projects and plans of ACCT’s six committees – alternative energy, building efficiency, food systems, policy, transportation and zero waste – and have the opportunity to talk with committee members and discover ways in which you can join this vital initiative. The Barn Arts Collective and MDI High School Jazz Band alumni will entertain, and there will be free ice cream for all – conservatives and conservationists alike.

Emily Beck lives and works in Seal Cove.

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