S7E8: What is the legacy and future of the Climate Change Institute?
The nation’s first multi- and inter-disciplinary research institute to study Earth’s recent and long-term climate variability was founded in 1972 at the University of Maine. That institute, now known as the Climate Change Institute, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, a milestone that honors the many groundbreaking discoveries its scientists have made in the field of climate science.
CCI have scientists first mapped the difference between climate during the Ice Age and today in the 1970s; discovered the importance of marine-based ice sheets in the 1980s; connected acid rain to human causes in the mid-1980s; uncovered the concept of abrupt climate change through studying ice cores in Greenland in the mid-1990s; and led expeditions traversing Antarctica to determine the impact of human-sourced pollutants into the 2010s.
In this week’s episode of “The Maine Question,” CCI director Paul Andrew Mayewski and researchers Daniel Sandweiss and Cynthia Isenhour discuss the legacy of the institute and its future of discoveries and contributions that will help tackle the all-encompassing challenge of global warming worldwide.
Paul Mayewski: There’s still a lot of major transitions that we need to make in the field of climate science. We need to align an understanding of climate impacts much more with our understanding of economic outcomes, of social outcomes. There’s a lot more to do.
Ron Lisnet: 50 years, the golden anniversary, a major milestone for a marriage, a career, or even a research institute. The Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine celebrates that achievement this year. As Paul Mayewski, its director, notes, the work is far from over and is changing and evolving along with the earth’s climate system.
I’m Ron Lisnet. This is “The Maine Question” podcast.
Ron: Back in 1972, it had a name that didn’t exactly roll off the tongue. The Institute for Quaternary Studies. What was known about the earth’s climate back then was vastly different as were the tools and methods scientists used to study how those natural systems functioned.
It was thought that changes in the polar regions had little or no effect on major human populations, that they were too far away to cause harm, and that any changes that might take place were far into the future.
Today, the research has shown that is not the case. Wildfires, droughts, sea level rise, record heat waves make headlines about every day.
The toll those events take on our planet’s health, the wildlife and human population is on the rise. At the CCI as it’s known, they explore those issues and many more. They drill and recover ice cores to document past climate change, or use lake and ocean sediments from the seafloor to do the same.
Those are a few of the techniques CCI researchers use as they explore all seven continents. The human dimensions of these changes is another major area of research.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary, we take a look back and a look ahead at this work with Mayewski. He provides some historical perspective.
Then, in the second part of our episode, we take a look at the human dimensions of climate change with Cindy Isenhour and Dan Sandweiss from the Anthropology Department, who also work with the CCI.
Our question for this week, what does the past and future look like for UMaine’s Climate Change Institute?
Paul, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. 50‑year milestone, as we can see on the poster here is certainly a major one. Can you talk about that milestone and what it says about where the CCI has been and where it’s going?
Paul: We’re very proud of the fact that the Climate Change Institute, formerly the Institute for Quaternary Studies, has gotten to its 50th anniversary. We have every expectation we’re going to go for many more decades.
I think, in particular, it is a great tribute to our founding director Harold W. Borns. He really did an amazing job of figuring out how to have a research institute well‑embedded in academia, which is something that doesn’t always work that terribly well.
Clearly, research institutes are related to education. We provide many opportunities for graduate students. We support graduate students. We embed them in research. We have laboratories that we build that they work in. They, in most cases, get their degrees in academic units.
Finding a good way for academic units and a research institute to function together, work this long together is quite remarkable. I’ve seen many places where this has not happened.
Ron: Talk about some of the mile posts that have happened along the way, both for the institute and maybe things that have happened now in the greater scientific world like the Clean Air Act or the discovery of abrupt climate change, or figuring out the role that these huge ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica play.
What are some of the major high points or significant findings over that span do you think?
Paul: 50 years ago, I was involved in the field as a student. I’ve been privileged enough to see a lot of transition. The field of climate science really didn’t exist the way we think about it today.
We were mostly under the impression that climate operated slowly, that the polar regions were fascinating places that literally were so far away that they have no impact on anybody.
In the last 50 years, a lot has changed. We’ve had Earth Day. Of course, the discovery that there are toxic substances that we put in the atmosphere. The Institute has had an immense amount to do with that. We have also seen dramatic changes in the extent of glaciers all over the world. The Institute has had a major impact in those discoveries.
We’ve learned that the climate can change as fast as a political cycle which is particularly important. Because if you assumed that the climate operates slowly which it was assumed prior to about early 1990s, that means if you put greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, they’re not going to do anything. That’s absolutely not the case we know that today.
The impacts of climate change, not just greenhouse gases, no doubt one of the most important but pollution in the atmosphere. Seven million people a year die prematurely as a consequence of poor air quality.
Then once, of course, in the last few years, we all realized that climate change is so important. Arguably, the most critical security issue of our century, the 21st century. There, we need to understand the impacts better.
We need to understand how we’ll mitigate these things, how we’ll adapt, and also some of the very positive changes that can occur as a consequence of this understanding and the solutions. The Institute has been significantly involved in all of those aspects.
Ron: The major environmental events, for lack of a better term, that we see now, wildfires, floods, rising sea levels, droughts. Are those worse than was thought back when the Institute begin? Are they getting bigger sooner? Is that one of the discoveries that, unfortunately, is being made right now?
Paul: Absolutely. The fact that we are now subject as a consequence of warming the planet, to more extremes in the weather system and more extremes in climate which is, of course, weather integrated over many months and some years. That means that predicting the future becomes even harder.
Predicting climate up until about 20, 30 years ago was relatively…I shouldn’t say easy, but you could assume that things would be more or less the way they had been for the last 20 to 30 years. That’s no longer the case. Things are changing very quickly.
The Institute has been heavily involved in discovering this, understanding it. We’ve developed software that allows people to see these changes in data, in beautiful graphic form. We’ve developed software that allows people to see how their air quality, in some cases, it’s gotten worse.
In the case of legislation, which is directly impacting pollutants in the atmosphere, how in fact that has been effective in cleaning up our atmosphere and, of course, our ecosystem health.
Ron: Two major initiatives, I guess you could call them that the Climate Change Institute has started, 10Green and Climate Reanalyzer. Give us the Reader’s Digest version of what those two things are all about.
Paul: We’re very proud of two pieces of publicly available software that we’ve developed.
One of them deals with understanding what one’s air quality is like. That’s called 10Green. That was a collaboration between the Garrand Corporation which is an advertising firm in Portland. They helped us to understand how we could make this understandable to the public.
The purpose of 10Green was to show people how much we know about the chemistry at the atmosphere and what health impacts is, where they live, so that they will become energized and activated in pushing for cleaner and cleaner air.
The other one is Climate Reanalyzer, which has been primarily the work of John Bercow in our Institute who’s also the main site climatologist.
That is, I can say it unabashedly, the very best publicly available software that allows one on any platform, smartphone, a fancy computer, no matter what, to understand today’s weather and to go into the past, look at the recorded record and understand what the changes are. Also, look at models that predict what will happen in the future, look at the impact of volcanic events, on and on and on.
You can teach yourself climatology using Climate Reanalysis. We get 2,000 to 3,000 hits a day. It appears in media regularly, particularly print media because the graphics are so beautiful. It’s utilized by the public, by researchers, by government on a regular basis to understand where we are today and to do something that the Institute is dedicated to.
That is, provide perspective about climate and environmental change.
Ron: Speaking about that, one phrase or term that you’ve taught me is plausible‑scenario planning. Where are you now in terms of being able to do that, and try to predict what might happen? That’s what that’s all about, right?
Paul: Yes. I’ll back up a little bit, and say that, in general, the way prediction for climate operate is to assume what will happen by 2100, and then see a linear path in that direction. That’s not the way the climate operates. It goes up and down, and we know that there are faster climate changes.
The other thing that’s very important to understand about climate change is that it’s not just physical science, chemical science. There are a lot of disciplines involved. As a consequence, it’s an interdisciplinary problem. I had the great privilege of co‑teaching a course with John Mann, who was in the business school.
He taught me what plausible‑scenario planning is. Businesses use it, and military use it. It is a way in which you look at the full range of potential changes in the future, in particular in the short‑term for the next few years, which is, of course, what we care about immediately.
Then, you look at the way in which one either mitigates, adapts to, or helps to make something better out of what will happen. The answer is whatever is the win‑win situation for the largest number of plausible scenarios.
Typically, you could pick five. One of them can be the most conservative approach that nothing’s going to happen, which has not turned out to be true. [laughs]
The other is the more extreme. It’s a way in which you get people talking together, in which you represent all views. You revisit it on a regular basis every couple of years, and update it. It is a clear signal to all of us that everything that we do is not along a linear path. There are a lot of directions that we can take, and climate is a complicated…
I’m not saying it’s so complicated that we can’t understand where to go, but it has a lot of moving parts. Plausible‑scenario planning is a way in which one can take into account and adjust to an understanding of these changes.
Ron: You have the perspective of this whole 50‑year span. Can you reflect back on the tools that you used back when you were starting out in 1972 or so?
Hopefully you can keep warmer now than you did back then. The tools and implements you used back then versus now, has that come a long way?
Paul: It’s unbelievably different, except in the case of clothing in some ways. If you go back to the 1930s, the clothing that people wore who do the things that we do, it’s largely wool. By the 1960s and ’70s, we had made the transition into synthetic materials, which, as it turns out, don’t keep you warm, don’t keep you dry.
Now, we’re back to wool mixed with a little bit of, perhaps, synthetic. That’s a remarkable turnaround, and an awful lot of camping features too.
However, when you look at science, it’s a completely different game. I’d say that most of us who were involved in this field 50 years ago, it was primarily a pencil, a piece of paper, a compass, and maybe a hammer or an ice axe.
Today, it’s very, very different. You still need all those things. It is absolutely essential, and we’re very proud of this, to get people into the field, understand where data comes from. There are so many ways of approaching this data. Remote sensing, drones, analytical techniques that would have been absolutely impossible to imagine.
I take one example that we have pioneered, and that is the ability to increase dramatically the sampling of ice cores. Ice cores have remarkable records of past environment, past climate captured in them. The very best that has been done, until recently, was about 100‑sample levels per meter. That’s a one‑centimeter resolution.
We can now do 10,000 of these samples per meter, which has tremendous implications. It means that we can extend records. We can literally look at weather scale, not just a year or a few years.
Then there are all sorts of other analytical improvements, data‑handling improvements, of course, ability to access scientific papers, synthesize things. It’s a remarkable world.
In fact, the whole way that we deliver education is very different than it was before. Students have access to information that, in the past, you’d have to go to the library, maybe order by inter‑library loan, be lucky if you can get a xerox copy. Now, everything is at our fingertips.
There are downsides. Not everything that’s at your fingertips is correct. You need to be a better synthesizer, a better understander of information than we probably were in the past.
Ron: As you pass this milestone here, what’s next? What projects are on the horizon that excite you, or that you’d like to see the institute dig into?
Paul: I’m very proud of the fact that our institute has evolved with the field. We have in the last few years, because of partnerships with the School of Policy and International Affairs, the business school, the law school, really begun to delve into things that are extremely important to scientists, but that scientists don’t necessarily have expertise in.
You can make a discovery, that’s great. You can be involved in an amazing film, award‑winning film, that demonstrates the importance of that. Actually getting people to understand it, getting it into policy and law, is non‑trivial. Then, getting people to react to it. Those are the things that we have worked hard in the last few years to become involved in.
There are many other things that the institute has its foot into, but needs to more firmly step into. That includes how one takes large amounts of data and synthesizes it. I include in this, remote sensing and satellite data.
How we find new ways of taking sediment records, ice‑core records that we have in storage, and in many cases that are disappearing very fast.
How we take those before their completely lost, and understand even more about our past. How we compare our understanding of the past, our climate and environmental understanding, how we couple that with historical events. For example, pandemics, the impact of war on the atmosphere. These things go on and on.
When you start to look at even the outer fringes of what we’re beginning to talk about right now, places like the Arctic which are changing rapidly, a new ocean is appearing. How do we deal with these things from a geopolitical point of view?
We have models like the Antarctic Treaty which have preserved Antarctica for scientific and now, tourists involvement which is great. It’s too late to do that easily for the Arctic, but how do we take those lessons learned which are critically important?
Scientific achievements could not have gotten to this stage that they’re in if we haven’t been able to work together in places and solve problems together into multi and interdisciplinary way.
There’s still a lot of major transitions that we need to make in the field of climate science and in many other major challenges like climate. We need to align an understanding of climate impacts much more with our understanding of economic outcomes, of social outcomes. There’s a lot more to do.
While people might have thought 20 or 30 years ago, that we knew everything we needed to know and some people today even assume, “Well, it’s going to get warmer by 2100. We just have to live with it,” there’s a lot more to learn about how we move along in that direction, what the impacts are, and there are a lot of great opportunities out there.
There will without a doubt be a large portion of Earth’s population that will be very badly hurt by continuing climate change, but there are many things that can be done to either soften that, ranging from economic to major technological discoveries, that will actually make the way we live healthier, less dependent on resources that the world has less and less of.
I have a very bright view of the future, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be some very serious shocks that we experienced in the process.
Ron: Thank you so much. Now we’re going to have some people join us and talk a little bit more about the human dimensions of climate change. Great, we’ll transition to that.
Paul: Thank you.
Ron: Cindy, I know we’ve talked before on this podcast. Maybe just remind us what is your area of interest.
Cindy Isenhour: Sure. As an interdisciplinary institute, the Climate Change Institute has lots of folks working in different areas. We have a social side, so I’m part of that social sciences core. My work is specifically looking at climate mitigation and adaptation policy.
What we can do to help people, for example, here in the coast of Maine adapt to climate change through things like reuse and building resilience for our communities through alternative means of procurement.
I’m also particularly interested in mitigation. What’s the mitigation potential of moving away from this linear systems of production consumption and disposal, and towards alternative economic arrangements that allow us to cycle materials and get rid of all the emissions that are associated with new production and consumption disposal.
Those are my two primary areas of focus.
Ron: Dan, we had talked to you earlier this season, as a matter of fact. Just remind us again, what’s your area of focus?
Dan Sandweiss: I’m an archeologist. I’ve been here for almost 30 years. I was hired jointly into the anthropology department. I work mainly in western South America, Peru, and adjoining countries. I work on climate change and how it impacted people.
Also, how we can use the archeological record to track the climate change.
Ron: Cindy, with hindsight, obviously, now we know that changing climate has a huge effect on people of today. Was that not so much the case back when the Climate Institute started? Or did it seemed like maybe these were problems, but they’re little farther off?
Cindy: I would say that that continued much past the 1970s, even in recent decades that people…Climate is a threat that was far removed from them personally, either geographically or temporarily through time. That is really rapidly changing now where people are experienced in the effects first hand.
They were all documented and we have people all over the world who are claiming that their livelihoods are in severe danger now. That climate change and acting on it quickly is a matter of life and death for them. Even here in United States where I think it’s taken a little bit longer with the wildfires, with flooding, with coastal erosion, all sorts of different issues.
We certainly are coming closer to that immediate need for response. That’s something that’s changed and there’s actually some great social science research on it that risks is a culturally constructed process and people in Sweden understand climate risks in different way than people in Tuvalu or here in United States.
It’s an active area of research in the social sciences. It’s an exciting area as well to figure out how can we communicate with different types of people, not only on the science but also think about things like climate obstructionism and what’s being done to prevent progress. Then also research on what’s going to be the most likely effective policy response. Those are all ongoing. Lot more awareness now.
Ron: Dan, the peoples you study go back thousands of years. Can you just talk a little bit about the push and pull that you’ve observed in those peoples as they adapt and had to pivot to climate change even 10,000 years ago?
Dan: Sure. I’ll start by looking at the field. Archeologists in the ’50s, ’60s were pushing back against the idea of environmental determinism, along with much of anthropology.
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, when I started to come into the field, archeologists would begin to say, “Wait a minute. We can see evidence for climate change from environmental change, and we can see that human reactions seem to track with this.”
When I came in, what we were doing was tracking the changes and trying to correlate them directly with what people were doing. Things have come back to a much more balanced perspective now. We realize that people of the past had many successful adaptations to these events, which were largely invisible in earlier studies.
We’re beginning to look at that now in a very productive way. Some of these adaptations are actually lost but recoverable and useful in today’s world. That’s certainly true of peoples in Peru, where, for instance, they developed field systems that would be used only during El NiÒo flood times, when the regular canal systems were destroyed.
They could still have some agricultural production in these very bad times. That’s a very recent discovery that we didn’t know anything about five years ago.
Ron: You talked about the interdisciplinary nature of the institute. There’s a lot of climate change research centers at universities and other places around the world, but is that one of the things that distinguishes UMaine’s CCI? That interdisciplinary that makes it somewhat unique in a way or?
Paul: CCI is definitely one of several, and there are more and more, but we were certainly amongst the leaders in terms of interdisciplinary activities. We’re also one of the leaders in terms of not just looking at modern climate, but looking at past climate and using that information to make better predictions and understanding of how we’ll function in the future.
We’re also different because we work all over the world. Very few climate research units do. We’re also not unique but different because we’re very dedicated to having students involved in all of the things that we do in these unique parts of the world.
We’re also unique because we have an amazing selection of analytical equipment. We’re also relatively unique because we’ve developed software that nobody else has, that allows the public and researchers to understand both physical and chemical climate changes.
Ron: Cindy, I know how you look at this whole issue is almost 180 degrees from what you hear a lot about in the news, where there’s talk of reducing emissions, reducing burning fossil fuels. You’re trying to look at it from the consumer end and the product end, and trying to reduce it almost going backwards, in a way.
Is that a fair way to look at it?
Cindy: It is. I might say that I do both, but in the literature, there are what are called push strategies and demand and pull strategies. I think we need both of them. All of my work has been, you’re right, largely focused on consumption, but consumption not separated from the extraction, production, distribution.
It’s the linear chain of the entire materials economy. A lot of the strategies that I’ve studied, including reuse, has to do with how do you prevent that whole linear chain through keeping products in use longer. Then, you can displace all those emissions along that whole chain.
In terms of mitigation policy, you can and we absolutely should be working on both push and pull strategies, demand side and supply side strategies, to be the most effective. We can certainly work on transitioning to alternative energies for our production‑based activities, and we can certainly work on offsetting the need for version production through our consumer‑side policies as well.
It’ll be interesting to see what mix we come up with, but I think a lot of people don’t think about that end user side very much.
When you’ve already got a product and you’re trying to figure out what to do with it, I don’t think that they really associate that much with the ability to mitigate carbon emissions with what you do with that good. That’s a fun area to work in.
Ron: It seems like the plastic in the ocean, it’s come into the headlines a lot lately. Is that a prime example of what you’re talking about? It’s just too much stuff?
Cindy: Absolutely. We have an absolute glut of stuff in our system. We can choose to incinerate it. We can choose to throw it in a landfill, and a lot of that waste does end up in our oceans. The plastics breakdown and breakdown. They get in the water supply, and then out to the ocean.
We can choose to figure out ways to repair them, reuse them, resell them. Oftentimes, those choices, to keep things in circulation longer, not only have carbon‑based benefits. They also have real, as you and I have talked about before, social and economic benefits for local communities that are harder to track and harder to measure, but could be argued equally as valuable.
Ron: Dan, the people you study…Nowadays, obviously, consumerism and the things we all buy are through the roof. Was that always a problem, but at a smaller scale, for some of the ancient civilizations?
Dan: Not exactly. Where I work in Peru, they had no money until the Spaniards arrived. They had trade and redistribution, reciprocal relations. It was a different kind of system. They did have tax. They had labor tax, but if you did it, you were Fed and housed when you were doing it. A different kind of system.
I did want to go back to your question to Paul about interdisciplinarity though. I want to say that the institute has been a wonderful place to do interdisciplinary work. It’s a great framework, the way we’re reviewed. We have joint committees. We’re essentially rewarded for doing anything anywhere within this broad space at the institute.
If I had done the same things that I’ve done in a straight anthro department that wasn’t associated with an institute like this, I might not have gotten tenure. It doesn’t look like anthropology often.
Being in the institute with joint review has been incredibly productive. My closest colleagues have actually been in this building, in the School of Earth and Climate Sciences over these 30 years, been a great place.
Ron: Back in the ’70s, first of all, it was not the Climate Change Institute. It was the Institute for Quaternary Studies. The word quaternary, defined, means what?
Paul: It’s typically the last two million years of Earth history. I know that when I came here, there were a lot of discussions about, “Was it really two million years? What did it really involve?” It’s an open‑ended term, number one.
Number two, while at the time, it served the institute well, it’s not something that the popular audience understands.
Ron: It doesn’t roll off the tongue.
Dan: Nobody even knows how to pronounce it. Quaternary, quaternary, quaternary…
Paul: It’s interesting. When I became director, and wanted to change the name, I’d only been around about a year. I found it awkward going around speaking to people and saying, “I’m from the Institute for Quaternary Studies.” It took a while just to explain that. I went around to almost everybody in the institute, and I talked to them about the change.
There was only one objection, and it turned out to be a person who wasn’t staying anyway. The person who was the most enthusiastic about the change was the founding director. He was the person I was most concerned about. He said, “No, it sounds like a great idea. We should talk about and say what we are.”
Ron: That’s the late Hal Borns?
Ron: What I was going to ask was, the output of the institute then, was it merely, “We’ve found these results and this data, and we’re putting it out?” Now, has that evolved to address policy, and be more proactive? Is that the right word?
Paul: All of the people and all of the researchers ‑‑ I include faculty, staff, and students ‑‑ in the institute understand the immense importance of giving back to society, and helping to apply our findings to society. That’s changed dramatically. I’d say that 20, 25 years ago, in academic environments, it was not necessarily considered what one does.
You don’t necessarily try to apply what you do. When you apply it, it doesn’t necessarily have to be something that you discovered about what’s going on today. It can be something in the archaeological record. Now, it’s very different. Funding is based on how you apply, whether or not it’s something that’s valuable to people.
It’s a very important part of the institute. We do it in several different ways. We have, at least once a year, a meeting in which we listen to all the graduate students and the faculty talk about what they do. We provide information on our websites.
We all give talks all over the state, and all over the world. We all appear in various forms of media, probably more media attention to researchers in the institute than pretty much anything else in the region.
Ron: As a result, because everything is political now, there’s pushback. Have you all experienced people saying, “Well, that’s not right,” or what have you, that kind of questioning?
Paul: I’m sure we all have. It was far more intense a few years ago. I welcomed it because having skeptics is a valuable thing. It makes you look at what you’re doing more intently. In the last few years however, the skeptics have run out of steam.
They tried to run climate change into a very narrow path that was easy to attack, which means, how important could one‑degree, two‑degree‑centigrade rise be by 2100? It’s much more than that. It’s much more than that. Temperature, it’s much more than just what’s going to happen by 2100. One way or another, people are beginning to understand that.
It requires individual discussions with people. If you live on the coast, it’s one thing. If you inland, if you live in place where water is not available, if you lived in a place where sea level is rising…We’ve had to, I would say, be very nimble in the way we speak to people, and make sure that they understand that the understanding of climate change is relevant to them.
Ron: Cindy, in some ways, when you advocate for some of the things you’re talking about, it would save people money. They’d probably welcome that news, right?
Cindy: Yeah. I don’t find too much pushback against my own work because it’s, in some ways, tangentially related to the climate science. I did want to bring up, I do think that the climate‑skeptic community is shifting very quickly.
Two quick things I’ll mention. One, is that there is this big initiative around the five Americas, that there are these five different audiences that understand climate in very different ways. The climate deniers, their numbers have gone down substantially recently.
The number who we would consider climate‑alarmed, so people that are really concerned about it, are going up rather significantly. I’m also part of a network called the Climate Social Science Network, and heard a great presentation last week from a scholar who had analyzed, over a 20‑year period, all of the reports put out by climate‑skeptic think‑tank’s.
It used to be that their claim was that the science isn’t reliable, or there’s something wrong with the science. Those types of claims are going down substantially. They’re dropping off. Instead, where they’re creating doubt is whether or not the solutions will work.
Now, we see all sorts of claims. “No, it’s not going to work to build electric cars because the green can’t handle it.” “Oh no, it’s not going to work to transition to alternative fuels because it will be too expensive.”
That would make sense with Paul’s observation that the skeptics aren’t attacking the science as much because [laughs] it’s really hard to do it at this point. There’s such a strong consensus.
Ron: I was looking through the wonderful brochure that was put out for the 50th and then one thing I noticed, John Bercow, who is one of your colleagues, he’s looked at climate change in Maine. I was looking at some of the numbers.
Temperatures has risen over the last century three degrees, six inches of precipitation increase over that time span, and the sea level has risen over seven inches.
Are those that can Dan to anything that you witness with some of the populations that you’ve studied in Peru or is this what we’ve been dealing with all along here? Or the magnitude worse?
Dan: It depends on how far back you go. If you go back before, about 7,000 years ago, sea level was rising a lot. It went up over maybe 10,000 years a little bit more. It went up 120 meters and people had to deal with that. They were there for much of it and they had to move.
Of course, a lot of sites were under water so it’s hard to track exactly what they did. Temperature’s changed, but things weren’t going in this single direction the way they’re going now. We didn’t have the volume of people, the density of people we have. It’s a lot easier if you’re mobile [inaudible 37:16] gather bands a small population.
You simply evoke with your feet. You go somewhere else. In our society, where are we going to go? How are we going to feed people? It’s a much more serious. Even small changes and they’re not small, are much more serious now.
Ron: Cindy, for the changes we’re talking about here, that has real effects on people in Maine. They have to alter or really pivot how they live, right?
Cindy: Oh, absolutely. Mainers are resilient. We know that. We’ve got examples all over the state of people that are working really hard to try to figure out what they’re going to do given what we know about their likely future and their likely common scenario.
It’s everything from trying to figure out what to do when you’re working waterfront is flooded or trying to figure out what to do when your culverts are too small to handle the amount of flood water that you’re going to have coming through, and roads that are blocked that don’t allow people to escape.
All sorts of problems with rural communities and services that can be provided there, insurance, and all sorts of things that people are having to work through. It’s going to be tough. I do think, as I said, Mainers are resilient. The state has done a nice job of starting to put forward an infrastructure and a system.
The Maine Community Resilience Partnership is excellent, and the Maine Climate Adaptation Providers Network. We’ve got some resources coalescing around our Maine Climate Future Action Plan.
Hopefully, communities will continue to make those investments, and get the help that they need to adapt to the changes that are coming. We are locked into some change. The more that we can do to plan for that in advance, and make sure that those plans are equitable and effective, the better.
Ron: As we pass this milestone, maybe I want to ask all of you, what’s next? How will the work of the CCI evolve? Is it going to be more work along the lines that it’s happened? Are new areas going to be explored? Any predictions for the hundredth?
Ron: At least maybe the next five years? What are your thoughts, Paul?
Paul: Well, as I mentioned earlier, we need to constantly evolve. An awful lot of things that have happened to society in terms of climate and environmental change have been surprises. They shouldn’t be surprises because we actually did it, but we didn’t realize that we were doing it. Clearly, we need to be a lot smarter about the surprises that we might encounter.
Those surprises include things like abrupt climate change, fast shifts, which even the models don’t take into account, but which we just experienced, and will experience more of.
The fact that our society in Maine could change dramatically. I believe that, within the next couple of decades, the population of Maine will double. If it does, it has tremendous impact on schools, roads, everything else. It’s important to be planning for those things.
Maine is, in some ways, lucky. We have a small population now. A large area makes us very attractive. In terms of climate change, we potentially have a much more stable ‑‑ although everything is unstable ‑‑ relatively more stable climate future.
We need to think about what could happen. We need to look at the full range of plausible scenarios for the future. We don’t know what those are yet. We know what the range potentially is. The Climate Change Institute needs to be smart enough to think about those things, attract the right people and projects to do it.
We need to be pushing more in the direction of a policy and legislation because all of the things that we have all found, if you can eventually turn them into policy and legislation will get us on the right track.
Ron: Cindy, how about you? Areas that you hope to delve into or prediction if you were so bold.
Cindy: [laughs] Yeah. I do see. Our last strategic plan really did put an emphasis on policy. I also think that we will continue to engage in local adaptation efforts and to try to train our students to contribute to that type of planning and adaptation, which will really be important.
We have some wonderful faculty that are very engage already. I see that as an important area going forward to train students how to do this adaptation work.
UMaine this year’s going to the climate negotiations as an official delegation for the first time this year and that provides a great opportunity to engage our students in that international negotiation process, and potentially even create leaders for the future coming out of this Institute.
They can help lead those negotiations or contribute to them in some way. I hope that that’s an area we can continue to work on.
Ron: As we record this, you’re headed to Egypt for the Climate Summit, right?
Cindy: Yes, a two‑week Climate Summit. I’ll be there for the first weekend. We have four other faculty and four students going to represent the University of Maine. It will be great and represent the Climate Change Institute there as well.
We have some great tools that folks at the climate negotiations are always really happy to learn about, particularly the Climate Reanalyzer, which is an internationally known tool that lots of folks around the world use. It’s really valuable. We promote that there as well. It’s been useful for a lot of folks.
Ron: Dan, how about you? What do you see?
Dan: Yeah, from the archeology side, we’re going to work more and more on seeing how people adapted to climate change in the past, and see if there are lessons that we can draw forward. It looks like there are.
Paul: I can add two other things. I think there are two big goals that we should set for ourselves. We need to be able to generate more programs like the Arctic Science programs that we have right now for graduate students.
Because in that particular case, the intention, of course, is to focus primarily on the Arctic impacts of the Arctic on Maine but it brings together people from different disciplines.
When you get a group of people, particularly researchers, interested in solving a problem and you can find a good common problem for them, your chances are much, much greater. Far more exciting. Everybody in terms of what they do themselves accelerates dramatically.
There’s a name for that. It’s interdisciplinary problem solving. It’s a new program that we’re trying to get started through the University of Maine system. We don’t all ‑‑ no matter how much interdisciplinary research we do ‑‑ necessarily understand all the methodologies, all the approaches, all the interactions.
I think we need ‑‑ as an Institute, as a University, and as a University system ‑‑ to think much more about how we bring our students and the researchers, scholars together to think about what is a complex problem, how do you solve it. How is that actually going to be important for the future.
Ron: Great. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.
Cindy: Thank you.
Paul: Thank you.
Ron: Thanks for always tuning us in. You can find all of our episodes on Apple and Google podcast, Spotify, Stitcher and SoundCloud. You may Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages as well as Audible and Amazon. Questions or comments, get in touch at Maine Question at maine.edu.
This is Ron Lisnet. We’ll catch you next time on The Maine Question.