Monday, October 6, 2014

Local and Global

I attended the Special Town Meeting in the town of Bristol on October 1, 2014. The purpose of the meeting was to vote on a non-binding resolution that would allow a cable from experimental wind turbines off Monhegan to cross prime fishing grounds and come ashore in New Harbor. Apparently the cable cannot be buried on the sea bottom and would pass across uneven rocky ground, making it all too easy for fishermen to entangle their equipment. Even though the resolution was overwhelmingly defeated, the meeting was packed and the energy in the room was genial and inclusive. Whatever the outcome, it always feels good in these cynical times to experience passionate citizen involvement, where the tension between opposing interests can almost always lead to a constructive outcome with which all parties can live.

The late Edward Myers, my father, lived for more than half a century with the tension between his lobster business and changes in the ocean system bearing on lobster health. While he did much to enlarge the international market for Maine seafood, at the same time, year after year, he carefully noted changes in salinity, acidity, temperature and mean tidal levels in the Damariscotta river.  The changes he witnessed were alarming enough for him to put together a book before he died in 2002, called Turnaround, a gentle prophecy of what is coming unless we change course in our relations with the natural world. This tradition of scientific analysis of environmental changes continued with his granddaughter, who spent three years studying shell disease in lobsters at the New England Aquarium. It is becoming clear that factors such as water temperature and water quality may be increasing stress upon lobster immune systems.

The eloquent fisherman who spoke against the cable characterized it as a potential “environmental atrocity.”  But an environmental atrocity a trillion times larger than the proposed cable has already happened and continues to unfold as the oceans change in ways with which marine research can hardly keep pace. At the moment, lobsters in the Gulf of Maine seem to be plentiful, but south of Kittery the story looks more ominous. We ought to fear for the long-term health and livelihood of all fisheries off the coast, should we continue to deny locally what is looming over us globally. “The way life should be” becomes a meaningless slogan if it fails to take into account the way life actually is.

I volunteer for a non-profit called the Mid-coast Green Energy Cooperative. Our purpose is to help people, especially working people struggling with the rising costs of oil and gas, to insulate their houses and switch to energy-saving devices like solar panels and heat pumps—without spiraling into unsustainable debt.  A by-product of our work is the mitigation of human-caused global warming and climate instability.

We can debate where the best place might be for wind turbine experiments. But Initiatives like our Co-op and the University of Maine wind experiments, whether they are merely academic or eventually commercially viable, remain essential, given that local, national, and international political responses lag behind environmental warning signals that are affecting all of us and will overwhelm our children and grandchildren unless we become more proactive. Nations like Germany are years ahead of the U.S. in their commercially successful conversion to wind and solar

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