Maine Grassroots Climate Change Action Conference draws activists statewide

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George Lakey gives the keynote address at the Maine Grassroots Climate Action Conference on Saturday at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston campus.

LEWISTON — Climate change activists from all parts of Maine met Saturday for the Sierra Club’s Maine Grassroots Climate Action Conference at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston campus.

In the keynote address, George Lakey, author and noted environmental and peace activist, said, “Apathy is a temporary phenomenon.”

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Lakey’s talk focused on building a movement based on what he called “a big-picture vision for the climate.” Lakey said we are currently living “in an energized country” and awareness of recent weather extremes might be the “wake-up call that will put people in motion.”

He said conditions around the nation make it likely that there will be “a re-sorting” of activists.

“People are back in activism,” Lakey told the conference attendees, adding that polarization throughout the population “follows the curve of economic equality.”

“That’s the motor,” he said. “It creates volatility and that intensifies motion.” He emphasized that “we need to retake self-sovereignty.”

Lakey, who is credited with adding academic underpinning to the concept of nonviolent revolution, said, “We cannot protest our way into a just society.”

He outlined steps that local groups can take in organizing CATs (climate action teams). Along with roles of organizer or advocate, Lakey said a rebel plays an important function — and it’s the role he most prefers for himself.

He advocated utilizing drama to further a group’s objectives. He also emphasized the effectiveness of saying yes to an alternative.

“We need to reframe what we are doing,” he said. “That’s what enables societies to move forward decisively.”

He noted that labor activism in the 1930s made it “a big breakthrough decade in the U.S.”

Some specific actions that can be taken by Maine people are solarization of energy in low-income neighborhoods and hiring local people for solar installations.

“What I’m hearing here today is an emphasis on water and utilities and a reliance on fossil fuels,” Lakey said. “The more leadership Maine can take, the more other states will benefit.”

Lakey co-founded Earth Quaker Action Team, which recently won its five-year campaign to force a major U.S. bank to give up financing mountaintop removal of coal deposits. Along with college teaching, he has led 1,500 workshops on five continents and led activist projects on local, national and international levels.

Organizers estimated attendance at about 300, with the count fluctuating as people moved among several concurrent sessions. A variety of speakers covered topics aimed at advancing local climate and clean energy solutions.

The all-day gathering brought together Maine climate activists from many communities around the state to learn about advancing local climate and clean energy solutions.

There were 19 breakout sessions on topics including local solar power, weatherization, microgrids, sustainable businesses, clean transportation, youth organizing, totally clean energy goals, community resilience, sustainable agriculture, town government best practices and grassroots organizing.

One of the well-attended sessions was titled “Maine’s Clean Energy Future: A Vision for 2030 Fossil Fuel Free and Non-Transmission Alternatives.”

Kathleen Meil, of Acadia Center, an advocate for clean energy, said Maine is a leader in utilization of heat pumps.

“Heat pumps are paying off,“ she said.

Her presentation also emphasized that further introduction of natural gas into Maine is not an effective strategy.

“We are done with natural gas,” Meil said. “Natural gas is not the future.”

Rich Silkman, founding and co-managing partner of GridSolar LLC, followed Meil with a discussion of non-transmission alternatives.

Another of the workshops examined cutting energy usage and costs for low-income families. The presenters were Cheryl Shattenberg and Peter Thayer, both of Western Maine Community Action, and Andy Meyer, residential program manager for Efficiency Maine.

The conference was dedicated to and in honor of David Moses Bridges, a fierce and effective environmentalist, who spent much of his life working to preserve Wabanaki culture and fighting for the environmental integrity of Maine’s native water and land.

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