Angus on Action: Leaning into Change

This article is a part of our Leaning Into Change series. Topics are meant to inspire conversation leading up to our 2016 Summit in Waterville. Registration is now open. Follow along with #GrowSmartME.

We recently sat down with Senator Angus King to talk about taking action in Maine’s communities. In order to address some of Maine’s most critical issues, we asked Senator King about action he’s taking on climate change, economic development, Maine’s workforce, and more in a quick piece to inspire you to take action in your community.

Talk: How do we get conversations going in our communities?

Reverse this to listen. What we need now is eloquent listening. That means gathering information, listening to the best data, the best thinking, and also to our citizens who often have the best ideas because of their practical experience in the community. Listening is the solution to a lot of our problems. That would be where I would start.

The next action after listen is “develop options.” Many Maine towns face the same larger global issues our country is facing. Whether the issue is climate change, economic development, changes in the workforce, or education – after listening to our community members, we must collaboratively develop all options to address our shared issues.

One tool many neighborhoods are using to collaborate is NextDoor. It is a free social network for neighborhoods – allowing neighbors and community members to collaborate on issues, chat about neighborhood meetings, and build community connection online.

Learn: What is something we can learn about Maine to share with others?

“In the 21st century where work is more decentralized, and you can work where you live, rather than live where you work, the nice places will ultimately win. The core message of GrowSmart Maine is that we have to maintain the magnificent quality of life as part of our economic development strategy.

There isn’t a inconsistency between climate change, economic growth, and quality of life. We still have geographic challenges, but a big part of Maine’s future is our quality of life. The loss of young people in Maine is an issue that goes all the way back to Joshua Chamberlain in the 1880s. We have an opportunity now to change that calculus. Our ace in the hole is our quality of life. We have to concentrate on economic development and opportunity and not compromise on why people want to be there.”

“We have another secret that a lot of other places lack: community. We are a big small town with a lot of connected streets. We can focus on what unites and what we love about this place and not be divided.”

Do: What’s something we can do right now in our communities to act on climate change?

“Two steps: first is prevention and mitigation. The second is adaptation. On the prevention side we have to stop burning fossil fuels and move as fast as we can to renewable energy resources, and slow the C02 in the atmosphere. It won’t prevent the affects of climate change but it could slow them and make them less catastrophic. The next step is adaptation. What do we have to do to take account of the affects of climate change? Many communities in Maine are affected by sea level. The projected amount of sea level rise in the next 50 years is one foot. This is going to have dramatic affects in our coastal and river communities. One foot doesn’t sound like a lot but when combined with high tide and a storm, we face serious consequences.”

This free online tool from NOAA lets you see where sea-level rise would affect your community. It also gives great imagery points to show what happens when the sea-level rises one to six feet. For example, this is a simulated photo from Pine Point in Old Orchard Beach with six feet of sea-level rise scenario.

Opine: How do you perceive what is happening within our country and how does it compare to your time as Governor of Maine?

“Our national security situation is our most complex and dangerous challenge, but one of the greatest challenges is our economy and how we cope with changes. With the changing nature of work, it means changing requirements for success in the current economy.”

The Senator remarked he recently came from a meeting with educators at Thomas College addressing questions like “how do we educate people for the economy that we don’t know what it will be in 10 years?”

“We have to educate people for change. That’s difficult, but if we’re going to succeed and prosper, we have to be nimble and responsive to change”

You can read our recent blog on how Thomas College is leaning into change here.

Read: What’s something you recently read that expanded your mind?

“’High Tide on Main Street’ by John Englander. A stunning and well-written clear analysis on sea level rise and climate change. Fascinating and scary.”

Grow: What’s something you have experienced lately that helped you grow?

“I went to Greenland in August and spent time on the Greenland ice sheet with the Danish Arctic Command. Something I learned that I had never thought of before is that the sea level is very dynamic in the history of the planet. We tend to think of the ocean as a fixed object. In its totality, it just happens that its been fairly stable in the short history of humans. 50,000 years ago the sea level in the Gulf of Maine was nearly 200 ft lower than it is now. The sea level has changed dramatically in relatively recent history. We’re in a short period of stability that appears likely to end soon. The Greenland ice sheet contains within it 21 feet of sea level. If the Greenland ice sheet melts entirely, and it may be in 100-1,000 years, the implications will be incredible.”

Senator King is also a founding member of the Senate Arctic Caucus and a member of the Senate Climate Action Task Force. He has spoken on public policy for “Predicting and Preparing for a Changing Arctic” hosted by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership.

Imagine: What is your vision for Maine?

“Short term vision: A greater dispersion of economic activity throughout the state. The huge hit we’ve taken in the paper industry in the last 5 years has disproportionally hit Northern and rural Maine, and it’s damaging because most of these mills were in places where there weren’t many other opportunities. A loss like this is a double whammy – a significant loss of employment and opportunity, and a loss in a place that cannot replace it immediately. My vision is finding new value in the forest to support the next generation of jobs to support economic growth and opportunity.”

“Our long term problem is demographics. When I was governor, there were 17,000 students in each grade in Maine schools. That number today is 13,000 and falling. That’s a 25% drop in the pipeline of people to make Maine work. Doctors, nurses, loggers, bank clerks, teachers. It will be a threat to our ability to attract businesses. Right now, our death rate exceeds our birth rate. We’re going to have to find and develop new people just to keep the doors open – whether that’s helping people with disabilities, helping older people who want to stay in the workforce, and attracting growth from people around the US and the world. We can’t afford to turn people away.”

Change: If you could change something overnight for Maine, what would it be?

To discover something to do with the forest resources to generate jobs and opportunity in Northern Maine. George Washington Carver was a scientist in the South. He found 106 things to do with peanuts. We need 106 things to do with trees. Maine forest’s product was 20% of our GDP when I was governor, now I believe it is around 15%. The question is: we still have the trees – how do we develop value added products to replace the losses we’ve had in the paper industry? How quickly can we transition to new products and new processes with a new forest based economy? It involves R&D, and entrepreneurship, and the university is incredibly important. This has to happen soon. We can’t lose a generation. We need new jobs now.”

In August, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Matt Erskine and representatives from several federal agencies kicked off a three-day Economic Development Assessment Team visit to eastern Maine today with a meeting with public and private sector representatives from across the state at the University of Maine. The meeting discussed the economic health of Maine’s forest product industries and a path forward to create jobs and economic opportunities. The Economic Development Assessment Team also has $4M to pump into opportunities within Maine to support towns affected by mill closures. [source]

GrowSmart Maine recognizes the value of this coordinated effort to assist communities facing the challenges that come with a mill closure, and we look forward to the opportunity to add our resources to the mix in the forest industry initiative.

Be sure to  join us at our 2016 Summit on October 19th in Waterville to discuss a diverse suite of relevant smart growth issues here in Maine!