The University of New England is proud to have led the state in hosting the Maine “Solve Climate by 2030 Dialog” on Wednesday, April 7. The dialog was one of more than 100 such events across 45 countries worldwide and in nearly every U.S. state held as part of the Solve Climate by 2030 project. Led by Bard College, the project aims to encourage states to engage in ambitious but feasible actions to tackle climate change.
The event featured a “climate solutions” panel on the topic of “Green Recovery, Climate Solutions and a Just Transition,” composed of local climate experts who discussed feasible steps to combat climate change.
Heading the panel were Hannah Pingree, director of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future; Maulian Dana, Penobscot Nation ambassador; Ania Wright, Sierra Club Maine representative; and David Costello, climate and clean energy director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Charles Tilburg, Ph.D., academic director of the UNE School of Marine and Environmental Programs, moderated the panel and a subsequent Q+A session.
In the discussion, Pingree outlined details of “Maine Won’t Wait,” the state’s four-year climate action plan. The plan calls for the state to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045; reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45% below 1990 levels by 2030; to advance equity through Maine’s climate response; ensure that Maine people, industries, and communities are resilient to the impacts of climate change; and to foster economic opportunity and prosperity throughout the state.
Currently, 54% of the state’s greenhouse emissions come from transportation, while 19% come from residential houses and 11% from commercial buildings. Pingree detailed steps that Maine plans to take to reduce emissions, including modernizing buildings and infrastructure and embracing clean energy innovation.
In discussing ways to mitigate the effects of climate change, panelists also addressed its roots. Wright described climate change as the result of capitalistic and colonialist principles that have driven, and continue to drive, consumption.
“When I think about the most powerful solutions to the climate crisis, I think mostly about system change and climate justice,” she said. “Climate justice, to me, is the recognition that our climate crisis was caused by failures of our political, social, and economic systems, and solving it demands intersectional solutions that will transform these systems and hold those responsible for the climate crisis accountable – ultimately resulting in a livable future where all of us can thrive.”
Ambassador Dana discussed how equity is important to realizing the state’s climate goals and how environmental justice – however it be defined – amplifies the voices of the vulnerable populations most directly impacted by climate change.
“When you hold up your most vulnerable communities, you are lifting up the entire state,” she said.
Dana, in discussing equity as it relates to climate change, acknowledged the longstanding connection between climate and the tribal nations.
“We are all living on the only Earth we will have, so we need to start thinking like tribal nations and see climate as our relative, our friend – something that we all need to unite around and take care of together,” she said.
Dana’s sentiment reflects UNE’s mission of improving the health of people and communities – particularly those in rural or underserved areas. In addition to boasting a number of interprofessional health professions programs that routinely serve vulnerable populations, the University has taken concrete steps to mitigate climate change.
The University’s adopted its first Climate Action Plan in 2010, which calls for UNE to become carbon neutral by 2040. In 2015, UNE became one of the few institutions in the northeast to academically engage undergraduate students in climate change topics by offering an interdisciplinary minor in Climate Change Studies.
Most recently, in January, UNE announced it will adopt a carbon-reduced portfolio for the University’s endowment. The resolution to significantly reduce UNE’s investments in carbon-related industries affects a substantial proportion – approximately 22% – of its portfolio.
In turn, UNE’s investment in funds that rank poorly in environmental performance will be reallocated to funds that promote carbon reduction and social responsibility, as determined by environmental, social, and governance factors (ESG) used to measure the sustainability and societal impact of investments.
In her opening remarks for the event, UNE Interim Provost Karen T. Pardue, Ph.D., M.S., RN, CNE, ANEF, emphasized the urgency of climate work in Maine and iterated the University’s role in meeting the state’s climate needs.
“Climate change represents complex and interconnected social, environmental, scientific and epistemological issues,” she said. “As such, no one discipline is able to tackle the challenges and opportunities climate change presents.”
“The University of New England is deeply committed to this vital work,” she continued, calling for an interdisciplinary approach to climate solutions. “Our strategic plan reflects our profound concern and respect for health: the health of individuals, health of our communities, health of our environment, and the health of our planet. We are also committed to interdisciplinary, collaborative problem-solving approaches to address the real-world problems facing people, society, and our planet.”