The Climate Crisis and the Spirit of ‘Dirigo’- Mainers do not shy away from catastrophe. Instead, they lead the charge against it.

  “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.” People coined this phrase in the 1930s when they noticed that election results from Maine were an effective way of predicting the national outcome. Maine has been a leader in the United States since breaking from Massachusetts in 1820. As Kelley Bouchard wrote in the Portland Press Herald, “In the 1850s, Maine spearheaded the temperance or prohibition movement, was a leader in the fight against slavery and helped to form the fledgling Republican Party….” The state’s motto sums it up exactly: “Dirigo” is Latin for “to lead” or “to direct.” Maine is the first state to see sunlight in the morning.  It literally leads the nation into each day. 

     Mainers are proud to be leaders.  They are stepping up to one of the biggest threats facing modern America: Climate Change. This matters not just for the country and the world.  It matters for Mainers themselves. The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than almost any other area of the planet’s oceans. This endangers the vital fisheries along the coast. Maine’s famous creatures such as moose, loons, Atlantic puffins and boreal chickadees are also in danger. Experts have found unsafe chemicals called PFAS on Maine farms, drinking water and many other areas. But the Maine “Dirigo” spirit is as strong as it was back in 1820. 

     As U.S. Representative Jared Golden, D-Maine, puts it, “If you want to contribute to the fight against climate change, Maine is a good place to start.” The congressman has hope for the future. He explained, “As a parent, I have to. My daughter will turn one later this year and I want her — and all kids of her generation — to have the same or better quality of life that my generation has had. A healthy environment and a livable planet are big parts of that.” Maine is one of the biggest reasons Golden has hope.

     Golden said, “We’re going to need to rely on a wide array of energy sources, energy efficiency strategies, new technologies and other changes to meet the challenge of lowering emissions.” He explained, “In many ways, Maine is uniquely well-positioned to play a big role in America’s transition to renewable energy.” 

     Golden had examples to back up his claim. He pointed out a company that is developing sustainable home insulation using wood fiber. Another example is a company constructing a building using cross-laminated timber instead of concrete. Maine-grown kelp that pulls carbon out of the atmosphere is a third example.  Golden notes there are many more.

     Individual Mainers are doing their part to lead the country in climate action as well. Ryan Deveau is a 20-something born and raised in Maine. He’s a bartender at a popular local spot.  He serves up refreshing drinks with a dry sense of humor. Deveau is not as hopeful as Congressman Golden about the future.  But he still does what he can to help. 

     For Deveau, it’s a little complicated. He believes, “Humanity is capable of creating the technology to achieve sustainability.” But he also said, “I am not as optimistic about the actual integration of these technologies. I feel like there needs to be a significant shift in mentality among the masses.” Deveau’s thoughts reflect the feelings of many young people all over the world. A study released last fall surveyed 10,000 young people from 10 different countries (aged 16-25).  It found that over half think that humanity is doomed. 

     Experts agree that humanity is not doomed –as long as humanity acts. Deveau added that to achieve sustainability, “The various technologies and methods would need to be made accessible to all social classes and not limited to higher economic classes.” 

     Deveau does what he can as a downtown apartment renter with a bartender income. He said, “I don’t drive and generally walk to where I need to be. I try and buy local and organically grown/created. As well as recycling or reusing things where I can.” As simple as they sound, these actions are all important. 

     Golden said, “There’s no doubt in my mind that we need to take action on this issue….  If we take the right approach, we can make a difference. We should start by recognizing that there is no one solution to address climate change.” 

     Climate action is not one-size-fits-all. Not everyone can walk everywhere or buy organic. But everyone can do something. The entire nation needs to take action to curb the climate crisis. And, as they say, “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.”

     A great place to learn more about climate solutions is Project Drawdown, at:

Photo by Em Deveau. Walking instead of driving when possible is one of many actions that can help reduce pollution and carbon emissions.