Go far enough north into Maine and you reach what some call the final remnants of the lower 48’s unspoiled frontier. Over the two hundred and fifty or so years of this nation’s history, the vast stretch of wilderness and rocky coast has remained sparsely populated. Industries centered on raw materials and game have come and gone. Small towns have ebbed and flowed, but never exploded.
And that’s just how Mainers like the North Woods and the quiet coastal region they refer to as Downeast. If they can have their way, they’ll keep it unspoiled even as the climate crisis unravels civilization elsewhere.
But without a unified response to the climate crisis though, all of that will change.
Last November, Maine voters came out in force to support a referendum ending a plan to run a hydro power transmission line from Canada through Maine and to the densely populated Eastern Seaboard of Massachusetts and Connecticut. A narrow strip of their vast wilderness at stake, they voted to scuttle the project.
As all decisions in the public sphere anymore, the vote was toxically political. Proponents say the referendum was funded by and even proposed by fossil fuel lobbyists. They’re challenging the legality in court.
Opponents say they like clean energy, just not the company chosen to handle the transmission lines, one poorly rated for customer service. Or they say that the lion’s share of the benefit will go to Massachusetts, a correct statement if you consider dollar for dollar savings between what is the 5th most densely populated state and the 44th. The opposition has told Massachusetts to meet their clean energy goals elsewhere.
Regionalism, factionalism, and NIMBY concerns threaten a response to what is a global crisis. I can’t help but be reminded of the response to Covid, a global health crisis completely indiscriminate of borders and political parties. Pundits and talking heads took over the medical advice of millions. People started ingesting dangerous medicines or snake oil cures. They were happy to risk their lives and those in close proximity to them if only they didn’t have to take a vaccine offered by a medical community they’d been propagandized not to trust. The same community who’d already created vaccines for a list of scourges for humanity and nearly eradicated more than one in the process.
One thing this boils down to is trust. And, frankly, that is understandably in short supply.
“Big pharma” is coming off a decades long foray into legalized cartel territory which killed an estimated half a million Americans. Millions of acres burned in states like California have often been traced back to power companies unwillingness to maintain power lines. The grid in Texas literally froze up because energy companies refused to winterize their natural gas lines. Now they’re struggling to meet heavy demand as heat wave after heat wave assails the Lone Star State.
As all this comes to a head, giant corporations allowed to consolidate far beyond the needs of a healthy economy pump billions into political campaigns and voter influence. Entire sections of our voting population have been convinced that sacrificing their safety and health for profit is normal. To not do so is even considered by some to be unamerican.
The voters in Maine who turned down the transmission line project have assured everyone they aren’t against clean energy. They say the millions of advertising dollars spent by fossil fuel companies to influence their vote had no effect. They want clean power, just not in their backyard.
The move has potentially scuttled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of investment and tens of millions fed haplessly into the political machine. A waste of the “profits” Americans claim to hold so dear. And as long as money rules these decisions, the citizens will never win.
Maine isn’t the only place. Voters in Nevada shot down plans for the nation’s largest solar array mostly because it was not aesthetically pleasing. This as Lake Mead dries up and Hoover Dam approaches a point where power generation will be impossible. Energy transmission projects across the nation are facing a similar fate.
As I write this from the far northeast coast of Maine, the projected high temperature is 73 degrees Fahrenheit. It won’t break that temperature for the rest of the week. Down in Boston, the highs will be in the nineties. In Texas, they’re looking at a continuing weeks long stretch of temperatures from 105 to 110.
Toxic politics will inevitably lead to a toxic environment. As the desert southwest becomes uninhabitable and large grids like Texas and California fail under the strain, people will be looking for a refuge. Power lines or not, those unspoiled Maine woods will start to appear mighty attractive. By refusing to support clean energy initiatives outside their borders, Maine may very well be inviting a wave of refugees in a worsening climate future.
There is no backyard. No “local only” option. Only a failure to act that puts everyone at risk.