Research Outcome Highlights
There are clear pathways to effectively communicate about climate change impacts and climate change-related policies, even in the face of uncertainty about climate change among some Mainers.
Aspirational messages that leverage past economic and environmental successes and Maine’s “can do” spirit, ingenuity, and community action have great power. Taken together, they enable Mainers to envision how climate change challenges can be tackled in ways that also move Maine forward - while staying true to key values that make Maine a very special place to live, work, and celebrate the outdoors.
Pride in Maine’s Natural Resources
Maine’s natural resources—both their inherent beauty and the bounty they provide—are deeply cherished by Mainers. Mainers have a keen understanding about how these natural gifts are connected to tourism and the larger economy. Maine’s natural resources are a core part of the Maine identity, and as such Mainers want to ensure these resources are protected now and for future generations.
Tough Economic Times & Class-Based Perceptions on Climate Change
There is a strong consensus that most Mainers are really struggling. Economic anxiety cannot be underestimated. Between the slow financial recovery, scarce jobs, the high cost of living, and feeling overburdened by taxes, Mainers are working hard to make ends meet (and so are their neighbors). Therefore, while most Mainers are generous by nature when it comes to helping one another, Mainers currently do not feel like they have a lot to give, and policies that are perceived as resulting in significant costs to them personally can generate pushback. Within this context of economic anxiety, addressing climate change can be seen as an elite problem with elite solutions. Many Mainers want to live a greener life, but the costs of entry can be perceived as beyond their reach.
Climate Change Impacts Visible in Maine
Mainers are close to nature, and many are seeing the impacts of climate change all around them—in unusual weather patterns, more frequent extreme weather events, and shifting wildlife populations (e.g., longer allergy seasons, more ticks and other pests, and a decline in certain fish populations). The quotes below are illustrative:
When we played in the woods when we were kids, we didn't have no damn ticks. But now deer ticks, Lyme disease and encephalitis are coming up. I have to check my daughter for ticks all the time.
The wood ash borer and different insects, destructive insects.
There was a big influx of jellyfish last summer. Ocean swimmers had problems.
The fish are changing because the fish that normally were down south, because our waters are getting warmer.
I miss the rainy springs. It would wash away all the pollen. I feel there were less allergies because we had much more of an opportunity to wash away a lot of that. We just don't have them anymore.
Maine is a pretty place because we don't have poisonous snakes or poisonous spiders but as it gets warmer, more nastiness is moving north and it is going to possibly affect me.
1. Connect with climate change impacts in people’s daily lives. To effectively connect with Mainers on climate change, it is important to describe impacts that are readily apparent and affect people’s everyday lives. By using examples that match people’s lived experiences, skepticism is minimized and people become more open to solutions and ways that Maine can take action on climate change.
2. In calls to action, use aspirational language that leverages Maine’s can-do spirt and its legacy of leadership. Mainers can imagine a number of ways in which the state could play a significant role in addressing climate change. This belief flows from a clear sense that Mainers have a “can do” spirit infused with “Yankee ingenuity,” and that in their own way there is both a moral and a reasonable argument for doing “their part” to solve specific climate change problems in Maine with very specific solutions. In addition, Mainers like the idea of being “leaders” in some capacity, such as playing a lead research role (e.g., in alternative energy), or leading the country in sustainable farming. It also helps significantly when Mainers are reminded of their heritage as leaders, such as Maine’s leadership role in legacy forestry, textiles and shipbuilding industries. Mainers, like most people, welcome messages that provide a positive, action-oriented tone that leaves them feeling empowered to take steps to address climate change, rather than hopeless and depressed about the enormity of the problem.
3. Remind Mainers about environmental successes in the past. Mainers understand that human activities impact climate, and that climate in turn impacts their habitat and surroundings, even if they do not understand the mechanisms through which the impacts take place. For example, when they hear about “ocean acidification,” many refer back to “acid rain” and what a major concern that was decades ago. The acid rain example not only provides Mainers with a template of how human activities impact weather, it also effectively illustrates an environmental problem that was overcome through a combination of policy and technology in the face of considerable resistance. When this point is made explicitly, Mainers are much more likely to believe addressing climate change is possible (even for Maine).
4. Connect climate change solutions to job creation. The Mainers we spoke to talked about the large number of people who are from Maine and who are unable to find good jobs, and about the large number of people who come to Maine and think they can find work but cannot. In this context, the promise that climate change policies can also create good jobs is crucial, and for many, credible. To be sure, they appreciated that these policies could address climate change and protect Maine’s natural resources, but job creation is arguably a larger priority given their economic anxiety. Particularly attractive are “green” clean energy jobs—such as solar manufacturing and installation—that would allow young people to stay in Maine.
At the same time, be prepared for skepticism about green jobs. Mainers have many questions about the nature of the jobs that will be created. For example, will these be temporary jobs? Will they be sourced from other places in Maine? As such, be ready with ways of making these jobs more attractive, such as working with companies to hire Maine residents. The details are important.
5. Advance policies that will provide collective benefits and pay for themselves in time. When proposing solutions that are advancing collective goals and helping everyday people, Mainers will generally get on board. However, they also have a strong desire for programs and projects that eventually pay for themselves rather than costing taxpayers more money in the long-term. A good example is community solar, where people can go in on a group of solar panels together and earn collective energy savings. Another example can be found in the city of Belfast, which installed a large solar array on top of the city’s central firehouse. The solar array allowed Belfast to save money on electricity, as well attract businesses and people to the city. It generates about 58,000 kilowatt hours per year, about 3 percent of Belfast’s electrical usage.
6. Allow addressing climate change to be a secondary benefit. Climate change solutions such as solar and energy efficiency are deemed powerful because they are perceived to be very forward thinking and innovative in their own right—regardless of climate change. Therefore, while Mainers appreciate that policies could help address climate change, this is not necessarily their top priority.
“We can do this” example
· Mainers have been leaders for centuries in the forest products industry, in ship building and once again we are on the cusp of being great leaders to create a better future for our children and grandchildren.
· There is a perception sometimes that we can't do anything about climate change and global warming—they’re too big. And yes, the problem is urgent, but it is not hopeless by any means. We’ve had success tackling environmental challenges in the past. We cleaned up our rivers and lakes. And remember acid rain? In the 1980s we heard a lot about how the American economy would be ruined by the Clean Air Act and reducing sulphur emissions. But that never happened. We changed emissions. We actually did affect acid rain. There was something we could do about it, so maybe there is something we can do about this.
· We can limit greenhouse gases, we can move towards a renewable energy economy. We can provide all sorts of tools and opportunities to address and adapt and thrive, but we have to take action.
· When I think about what addressing climate change in Maine, I think about what do Maine people care about? I know that as a Mainer we are very careful with our finances and our investments, and we also think a lot about what do we want Maine to look like in the future? What I see is that as a Mainer, when we run into a problem, our Yankee ingenuity kicks in. How do we solve this problem in a sensible way that is consistent with our other objectives like being financially sound and making sure that Maine is a place that our kids want to be. I see renewable energy as being consistent with those objectives. The benefits for Maine are consistent with our economic objectives, being careful with our finances and making sure that there are jobs for our children to have, and retaining our natural resources, which are very precious to us.
· All of us have the potential to improve our energy efficiency and in doing so, not only to save money in our personal budgets, but also to lower carbon pollution. And these efforts will create jobs for skilled, hard-working Mainers. So that is a real win-win-win.
· Young Mainers are attracted to work in renewable energy companies in Maine. But many are moving out for solar jobs elsewhere, because most other states have incentives to manufacture and install solar and those states’ solar markets are taking of well beyond ours. We need solar legislation that incentivizes renewable energies here in Maine. If there are more incentives to promote solar jobs here in Maine, more young people would be inclined to stick around.
· A new option in Maine is called community solar. Some people call it solar farms or solar garden. Basically what it means is that you can buy solar panels as a group. It doesn't matter if you live near each other or if you live in the same neighborhood, you can basically go in a group of panels together. You own the panels so you get the energy savings.
· Or like the city of Belfast, which installed a large solar array on top of the city’s central firehouse. The solar array has allowed the City of Belfast to save money on electricity, as well attract businesses and people to the City of Belfast. The firemen are really happy with the system—it’s like it’s not even there in the first place. City officials estimate it generates about 58,000 kilowatt hours per year, about 3 percent of the City of Belfast electrical usage.