Originally published in The Weekly Packet, August 1, 2019
From science to solar, Climate Conference raises awareness
by Cora Curtis
Bringing together science, mitigation, adaptation and the psycho-social factors surrounding climate change, the first of its kind—a Climate Convergence Conference—was held at George Stevens Academy on July 20. Facilitated by members of the Brooksville-based Reversing Falls Sanctuary’s Climate Action Group, the conference was 10 months in the making, under the leadership of Tony Ferrara, Ann Ferrara, Joan MacCracken, and Rob Shetterly. Over 200 people were in attendance at the day-long event which featured workshops and presentations dedicated to topics on climate change.
The conference’s organizers were happy with how it went, according to Tony Ferrara who said, “what was created was a great deal of energy and hope.”
The conference lineup also included student speakers from George Stevens Academy, Friends School of Portland, Kent Hills School, and College of the Atlantic.
Workshops included discussions about the changing climate, the health of the oceans, the impact to Maine’s fisheries, using solar energy, home design for climate change, as well as sessions surrounding the emotional impact or stressors associated with climate change.
Two such workshops, featured below, were among the 12 that happened throughout the day.
Workshop: What is Happening to Maine Fisheries?
“It’s a delight to be here and see so many interested people,” said Ted Ames, fisherman and researcher, as he began a workshop co-hosted with his wife Robin Alden, the former executive director and co-founder of what is now called Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries.
Ames identified four factors as having the most impact on local fisheries:
The Gulf of Maine is warming very fast;
Sea level is rising twice as fast;
Melting ice is changing the salinity of seawater;
CO2 increases are raising acidity.
Higher acidity corresponds to lower pH levels in the water, which has caused a mass death of shellfish larvae that are unable to form a shell in the current conditions. Rates of shell disease in lobsters have been on the rise, while the center of the lobster population has steadily shifted Northeast, he said.
Ames showed a “Climate Vulnerability Score” index. It indicated that Blue Mussels and Atlantic Sea Scallops are “highly threatened” while Atlantic Cod and Atlantic Lobster are categorized as “moderately threatened.”
Alden, who also served as the commissioner of Maine’s Department of Resources in the 1990s, added an administrative perspective to the workshop, discussing ways that policymakers are responding to changes in Maine’s fisheries. According to Alden, Hancock County brings in one-third of Maine’s lobster. “Fishing really matters here,” she added.
Under the Sustainable Fisheries Act, there is no dragging for lobster allowed, there is a limit on the number of traps, there are added protections for large and reproductive females, and required biodegradable panels have been built into traps to allow lobsters to escape from lost traps.
Right now is an “opportune time to develop a bottom-up, localized ecosystem based management structure,” said Alden.
Workshop: The Spiritual Dimensions of Climate Change
The Reverend Elaine Hewes invited audience members to share their responses to questions posed in her workshop that viewed climate change through “a spiritual lens.” The workshop focused on finding new ways of thinking about current climate issues and solutions on a personal level.
Hughes asked attendees, “What might we relinquish? What practices will we adopt?” Hewes stressed the interconnectedness of all things in her lecture and the role of individuals. She compared Maine’s ecology to a web, saying “Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”
One audience member, Jennifer Comeau, said that one of her personal practices is to use guiding questions. Comeau practices reminding herself to “choose the decision that supports life.”
A retired preacher who was in attendance said he believes that “listening is the deepest spiritual practice.” Hewes’ workshop encouraged listeners to be conscious of the journey that an object takes and how it impacts the environment along the way. Hewes said, “take one thing, like a pencil, and follow it all the way back.” This line of questioning raises awareness of how much work and energy it takes to create something as simple as a pencil.
The conference’s closing ceremony included remarks from various speakers from 10 organizations that support climate change science and are working to lessen their environmental impact.
Speakers included representatives from Window Dressers, Citizens Climate Lobby, Greenhouse Project, Trash Action Team, and Blue Hill Heritage Trust.
Tom Adamo, who helped make the Greenhouse Project a reality, spoke about the successes the group has had installing greenhouses for area residents and other nonprofits. The volunteer-run project has built 150 greenhouses in Hancock County, including many at area schools. Some schools even replaced detention with gardening work in their new greenhouse, he said.
“It’s a privilege to be living in this community, where we are all making each other’s lives better,” said Adamo, who is a resident of Penobscot.
Dennis Kiley, who serves on the board of directors of A Climate to Thrive, seeks to achieve energy independence for Mount Desert Island by 2030.
According to Kiley the initiative is further ahead on their timeline than they expected to be. He encouraged those in attendance to “stay engaged” and bring the conference’s energy with them to their personal endeavors.
After closing remarks, all those in attendance were invited to sing a handful of selected songs together with singer/songwriter Noel Paul Stookey of Blue Hill.
For more information and resources, visit reversingfalls.org/climate-convergence-conference.