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George J. Mitchell Center talk discusses equity and climate justice in the state of Maine

On Nov. 9, speakers Linda Silka and Sara Kelemen came together to discuss the importance of equity in the context of environmental concerns facing our lives such as climate change. This discussion was made possible thanks to Carol Hamel, the fiscal and administrative coordinator for the Senator George J. Mitchell Center. 

Silka focuses her work on building community-university research partnerships. She’s spent several decades focusing these partnerships at this scale, on environmental, economic development and environmental health issues. Prior to her time with the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, Silka was the director of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center here at the University of Maine. Prior to her time here, Silka was a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. 

Sara Kelemen is a master’s candidate in the School of Food and Agriculture and currently works in the Agroecology lab. Prior to her time at UMaine, Kelemen earned a Bachelor of Arts in history and environmental studies at Reed College. While at Reed, she took on similar tasks that set her up to be the perfect and successful candidate for her work on climate justice here at UMaine. Kelemen was interested in farmer decision-making practices, increasing climate resiliency on farms and crafting accessible and equitable plans for dealing with the effects of climate change by working on the initial stages of the Climate Action Plan at Reed College. 

Although there weren’t speaking members at the talk, the Climate and Equity Advisory Committee plays an important role in the discussion of equity and justice in the context of climate change within Maine. 

The most important focus of this climate change talk was equity. Equity is important in regard to the discussion of climate change because of the impact on people and communities. Therefore, the focus of Kelemen and Silka’s work is to improve the inequality Maine faces rather than to focus solely on mitigating climate change in the broad sense. The goals are to center equity, promote inclusive agenda setting and to learn from others’ examples. Kelemen and Silka focused first on key terms relating to the discussion of equity and climate change, observed trends in Maine and dove in-depth on the Maine Climate Action Plan. 

Kelemen and Silka also discussed the concept of vulnerability and frontline communities. Frontline communities are the communities within the state that are impacted more so by climate change than the others. Additionally, they tend to be made worse off by the effects of climate change due to limited access to resources and education. Other terms discussed were climate justice, energy justice and equity. The speakers also discussed two main trends for the state of Maine where both air temperature and precipitation have increased by more than two times the long-term acceptable rates of 0.026 degrees Fahrenheit and 0.049 inches per year respectively. 

Other noted trends included the fact that a large percentage of the state’s population lives in rural areas in which poverty levels trend higher than suburban or urban areas. Almost all of the people below the federal poverty level in the state spend 53-75% of their income on energy costs. Additionally, fuel poverty rates are high in rural areas. A majority of the homes in Maine were built between 1967 and 1981, and old houses and energy efficiency don’t go hand in hand. 

The Mitchell Center Equity Assessment focused on a specific framework that worked with and for communities throughout the state. This framework is used to assess climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, focusing on social and distributional impacts. Some examples are the wealth and health of people and accessibility of resources for people of the state. Secondly, it focused on the impacts climate change has on vulnerable populations. Under this section of the framework, financial vulnerability, social and demographic vulnerability and geographical vulnerability were mentioned. 

Participation and inclusion encompass the last category of the framework. This section asked Who is affected and is participation meaningful? The Mitchell Center Equity Assessment focused on working groups. Strategies were focused on specific areas of infrastructure, like coastal and marine, community resilience planning, public health, emergency management, energy, natural and working lands and transportation. In working with the government, Kelemen and Silka, among others at the Mitchell Center, have experienced uplifting and genuine interest and support.

For more information, and to access “Maine’s Climate Action Plan Framework Analysis and Recommendations” visit ​

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