Coastal Rivers hosts community climate conversation

Coastal Rivers hosts community climate conversation

Photo: Discussion participants gather for dinner and introductions before splitting off into breakout groups.

On June 28, Coastal Rivers hosted its first ever Community Climate Conversation. People from across the region, among them business owners, educators, scientists, and students, gathered at Round Top Farm in Damariscotta to discuss the risks and opportunities climate change poses for the community. The event is part of Coastal Rivers’ broader climate strategy, which includes efforts to strengthen local climate resilience. By sharing unique thoughts and perspectives in both small and large group settings, participants united around specific problems and potential solutions that they, and the land trust, could prioritize to promote a better climate future.

The affordable housing crisis emerged as a dominant theme throughout the evening. Some participants speculated about the impact of climate migration, worrying that residents from more climate-stressed southern states moving northward to Maine could drive up housing prices beyond the limits of what many current residents can afford. Yet participants also reflected on opportunities to ease Maine’s current and future housing woes. They suggest that town planners could site new housing in central locations with access to services, leaving more open space to absorb carbon and retain access to nature. At the same time, town ordinance could require new housing developments to promote socioeconomic diversity, creating options to suit a variety of budgets and family sizes.

Some participants also worried about current and future risks to public infrastructure, noting that recent heavy rainfall events are already causing flooding and washouts on local roads. Combined with the risk of climate migration, some wonder whether public infrastructure could be overstressed and more prone to damage in the years to come. To help avoid this outcome, attendees suggested that local towns could draw on funding provided through national programs, such as the Inflation Reduction Act or the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to reinforce existing infrastructure and make new additions to help accommodate population growth, such as bike lanes, sidewalks, and a bus system.

Climate-induced shifts in the local ecosystem also worried some participants. As warmer weather conditions become the norm across Maine, invasive species such as deer ticks and brown-tail moth caterpillars are threatening public health. At the same time, attendees discussed how shifts in the ecosystem could contribute to the decline of key local industries. They pointed out how warmer ocean temperatures are causing lobster and other marine species to migrate north to cooler waters, while harmful algal blooms and ocean acidification threaten oyster and other aquaculture industries. To help combat such issues, some participants suggested that nature-based solutions, including integrated pest management (IPM) or assisted migration, could be employed to help re-establish ecological balance and limit the spread of invasives. Other participants mentioned how environmental change has the potential to make new food products viable, and to encourage the growth of nascent industries, such as kelp farming.

Across every issue discussed, participants expressed collective and overwhelming concern for how political polarization and misinformation could jeopardize the ability of community members to initiate a swift and unified response. Yet participants also hoped that the threats posed by climate change may present an opportunity for people across the region to rally together around a common challenge. Regardless of party affiliation, members of this community want to see themselves and their neighbors thriving in the years to come. Many believe that establishing consensus across local problems and local solutions could provide the best hope for building a more resilient community.

Tackling climate change locally may seem daunting, but participants were quick to note that many adaptation strategies are already underway. Examples include recent efforts to address failing coastal infrastructure, including the reconstruction of the causeway to LincolnHealth, or the approved plan to construct a flood wall along the Damariscotta back parking lot. At the same time, scientists at Bigelow Laboratories in East Boothbay are helping manage environmental health risks, monitoring water quality and alerting the public of bacterial contaminants in local water bodies. Farms, conservation groups, and independent land owners are doing their part by maintaining green space, helping provide local food, wildlife habitat, and human recreation.

As a conservation organization rooted in community, Coastal Rivers appreciates the opportunity to host the public for community conversations. The ideas generated during the discussion will directly help to inform and direct the organization’s future work and in particular, its climate strategy. Coastal Rivers invites continued public input on community climate resilience. If you have an idea or perspective to share, please contact email us at or phone at (207) 563-1393.

Thank you to all who attended the conversation for taking the time to listen and discuss with one another. Click here to take a more detailed look at the risks and opportunities that came out of discussion.