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Alan Caron: Why businesses must lead the fight against climate change
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Alan Caron: Why businesses must lead the fight against climate change

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We all know that the nation and the state are in serious trouble right now. The COVID pandemic. Labor shortages. Destructive politics. We cannot ignore the looming crisis that has been brewing for a while and will not go away, despite its consuming consequences. It is the economic, health, and environmental crisis caused by climate change.

Climate change was once a distant and almost hypothetical threat to many. Not so now. It is already crashing at our shores, invading forests, and taking up permanent residence on our weather reports. Eventually, it will affect every business in the state and prove to be the greatest threat to Maine’s economy since mechanization and global markets sped the decline of our rural areas and mills.

It may be our best chance to grow a more sustainable and fair economy for the future.

Last week, a new Maine organization dedicated to climate action was launched. It is called “The Maine Climate Action Organization”. ClimateWork Maine. It was good news for Maine.

ClimateWork’s goals are both ambitious and practical. They are aiming to:

• Ensure that every business or business leader that wants to be part of the solution to climate change has a place to connect with others who share their commitment.

• Advance the transition to a new economy where we burn less carbon fuels.

• Foster more business-to-business learning.

• Research and analyze best practices and emerging technologies to help companies adapt and grow.

• Support government policies that make it easier for businesses to take action.

Here’s why this is so important right now. We’re running out of time. For decades, scientists have warned us about climate change. We either ignored or mocked them. It turned out that many of their dire predictions were too optimistic. Since 1976, the average annual global and U.S. temperatures have steadily risen. The Gulf of Maine is another example. Warming faster than almost any part of the world’s oceans.

What the scientists didn’t get right was how fast these changes would happen.

Already, Maine’s iconic industries, like farming, fishing and forestry, are seeing unfamiliar and worrying changes, which can only get worse under the stress of rising temperatures, warming waters and invasive migrating species. The pandemic has already accelerated the climate refugee wave in Maine, but it is only the beginning of a climate refugee tsunami that will continue to grow as other areas heat up and dry out.

It is clear from all of this that unless we adapt and move in a different direction, we will most likely suffer economic declines and disruptions in the future.

Change is difficult. We want the past and present to continue as they are now into the future. We prefer the familiar to the unknown. We tend to ignore the imminent threats that are looming over the immediate. We should now heed a warning often given by someone who has lived through turbulent times. Benjamin Franklin said, of his time, ‘“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”

The state of Maine has a roadmap for action on climate change, with the state’s climate action plan, Maine Won’t Wait, and its 10-year anniversary Maine Economic Strategic Plan. But its ambitious goals will be almost impossible to meet without concerted and determined action by the state’s 147,240 small businesses, and our larger companies working with them.

Together, they manage tens to thousands of buildings in the state and a fleet of trucks and automobiles. Since businesses are constantly changing, they’re more able to redesign buildings, upgrade equipment, update purchasing priorities and make large-scale investments in non-carbon heating and transportation.

Generations of Mainers will be able to benefit from a climate-friendly, clean energy, and carbon-free economy if we take action now. According to federal data, this transition could save us as much as $6 billion annually, which is what we currently spend on gasoline, heating oil, and propane. Imagine what we could accomplish if we had more of this money.

For ClimateWork to succeed, it should heed another of Franklin’s recommendations. The world is divided into three kinds of people, he said: “those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.” ClimateWork should spend no time on the immovable. It should spend almost all of its time with those who are, in increasing numbers, ready to move.

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