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Updated: August 31, 2020

New study: Maine can recover from economic crisis by addressing climate change

Courtesy / Maine People's Alliance  Nate Barr, founder and owner of Zootility, a tool manufacturer in Portland, said climate change is an even larger crisis than the coronavirus at his factory.

A new study by Professor Robert Pollin and his colleagues at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst says Maine can recover from the pandemic-caused economic recession while also achieving the state’s climate stabilization goals and creating 22,000 new jobs.

The study proposes a recovery program for Maine that would create "an effective counterforce against the state’s economic collapse in the short run while also building a durable foundation for an economically viable and ecologically sustainable longer-term recovery,” Pollin, the study’s lead author, said in a news release.

The study, “A Program for Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition in Maine,” proposes a climate stabilization project for Maine that is promoted as also serving as an engine of economic recovery from the pandemic.

The state’s goals, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2040 and at least 80% by 2050, “can be accomplished in Maine through large-scale investments to dramatically raise energy efficiency standards in the state and to equally dramatically expand the supply of clean renewable energy, primarily wind and solar power,” the study says. 

In addition, according to the study, “climate stabilization for Maine can serve as a major new engine of job creation and economic well-being throughout the state, both in the short- and longer run.”


The study estimates that $2 billion in public and private investments in Maine to achieve emission reduction targets is capable of producing nearly 15,000 jobs in 2022. 

Clean energy investments would entail greatly enhancing the state’s level of energy efficiency, including through deep energy retrofits to public buildings; and massively expanding the state’s supply of clean renewable energy sources, starting with wind power and solar power. 

New job opportunities would open for, among other occupations, carpenters, machinists, environmental scientists, secretaries, accountants, truck drivers, roofers and agricultural laborers.

Courtesy / Maine People's Alliance
Robert Pollin.

Maine’s economy would receive an additional boost, in terms of both short-run stimulus and longer-term productivity, by undertaking a large-scale public infrastructure investment program, the study says. 

“We estimate that $500 million in annual infrastructure investments in Maine between 2021 and 2030 will generate about 7,300 jobs per year within the state,” the study says. “Roughly half of these jobs will be in the construction industry, including new opportunities for carpenters, electricians, glaziers, plumbers, pipefitters, and construction laborers. Most of the rest of the jobs will be in manufacturing and a range of services.”

Nearly 60% of all the energy Maine consumes comes from oil and gas, and another 27% comes from biomass—i.e. burning wood to create electricity, the study says. 

During a virtual panel discussion on the topic last week, Pollin said the proposal involves continued investment of $2 billion per year, with 15,000 good-paying jobs created every year,  in order for Maine to hit its emission reduction target goals.

The investment would be between 2% to 2.5% of the Maine economy each year, he said.

Climate change impacts

The presentation included input from business representatives around Maine.

The problems of climate change are already compounding the economic difficulties of the pandemic in Maine, said Clara Ruppert, assistant manager at Bar Harbor Farm.

“We’ve already seen the beginning of it this year in our melon and squash field, when over a month without any rain produced plant desiccation and a reduction in yield,” she said. “It is also reported that new and unusual pests in our region will begin to migrate North as temperatures rise in the regions to which they’ve become adapted.”

Courtesy / Maine People's Alliance 
Bar Harbor Farm’s assistant manager, Clara Ruppert, said climate change compounds the economic difficulties of the pandemic at the farm.

Grant Provost, a Maine business agent for Boston, Mass.-based Ironworkers Local 7, said that, as a labor leader, he supports a transition away from fossil fuels. But key to the transition, he said, will be enhancement agreements to ensure communities receive economic benefits through good-paying, long-lasting jobs.

Said Provost, “If we want to truly tackle the dual crisis of climate change and income equality, we need to ensure that these climate policies create good working class jobs.”

Nate Barr, founder and owner of Zootility in Portland, said climate change is an even larger crisis than the coronavirus at his factory.

The company custom designs and manufactures tools. Barr started the company seven years ago and now has 14 workers. It was hit hard by COVID-19, he said, because many of the shops that carry his tools closed and the trade shows, a key sales channel, were canceled. The company pivoted to making a washable, contoured face mask that now accounts for rover 50% of its revenue. 

But Barr said climate change could pose greater challenges, particularly since the factory sits just above sea level about a mile from the waterfront. 

“If we don’t tackle climate change, we’ll literally be underwater,” he said. “We as a nation need to innovate to adapt to a world where climate change is truly an existential threat. That means investing in green energy and green energy infrastructure, and stop subsidizing dirty energy.”

Running the energy that it takes to power a factory is expensive, he said. 

But it’s much more expensive when it comes from fossil fuels versus wind and solar energy, he said.

“We can either double down on dirty energy or we can innovate to solve both climate change and our economic crisis,” Barr said.

The full study can be found here.

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