Climate change is an existential crisis in lifetime of MDI students

MOUNT DESERT, Maine – It is the year 2100. Bass Harbor is an island to itself, having been cut off from the rest of MDI by rising waters. The entire Fresh Meadow area in the northern part of the island is a cove the size of Echo Lake. Much of MDI’s marshes has disappeared.

Grace Munger, now Age 97, still remembers her first encounter with global warming when she was 14 (See photo). Folks on MDI were gobbling up room air conditioners. Never had there been such a need, But the summer heat of 2018 was not only scorching but prolonged.

“We tried to warn them,” she said.

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When she turned 16, she joined other spirited classmates to assist the Bar Harbor Climate Emergency Task Force. They were mentored by Ruth Poland, an environmental scientists who taught an AP course on the subject at the high school. Their work caught the attention of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which funded a gap year for the team so they may advance their cause.

In short they were the modern day Champlain Society, the Harvard students who came to MDI during summers in the 19th century to study plant and animal species, ecology, marine life and climate. They were the precursor to the preservation movement.

Ruth Poland went on to become the head of the EPA in the second Kamala Harris administration. But despite her efforts, the country was still buffeted by those who would not accept that global warming was man-made.

But her class back in 2020 would have none of that denial. They first presented to the Bar Harbor Town Council. Their presentation was divided into six core themes: Sea Level Rise, Storm Intensity, Ocean Acidification, Heat & Warming Oceans, Species Movements and Agriculture. The local paper, Mount Desert Islander, reported:

“On behalf of the high school science class, (Sam) Mitchell suggested that Bar Harbor convert all energy uses to electricity by passing a solar ordinance, approve solar energy production in Salisbury Cove, modernize the electric grid and replace old town vehicles with electric vehicles.”

The town council was so inspired that it moved later that year to ban cruise ships, one of the worst polluters on the planet.

After the council presentation the students took their show on the road and presented to citizens in public forums.

In front of members and guests of A Climate To Thrive, senior Cate Pope told of an extreme case of earth’s average temperature of a 9-degree increase by 2100. In fact, it exceeded that by another 2 degrees.

Jane Pope explained the earth’s feedback loop which traps warm air inside its atmosphere. “If it reaches a point of no return … that would be very bad.”

Munger was only a junior then and when her turn came up, said that an estimated 3.3–8.2 feet of global sea level rise from ice melting and thermal expansion was expected to occur by 2100. She said that the sea level rise predictions are locally higher than the global scenario, where Bar Harbor would see 4-10 feet of rise. 

“With only a 3.3–foot sea level rise, it will cost Bar Harbor $360,000 to repair roads alone and six addresses will be inaccessible to emergency services.”With 6 feet of sea level rise, it will cost Bar Harbor $3,000,000 to repair roads and 750 addresses will be inaccessible to emergency services.”

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Sam Mitchell (photo) reported that the escalating temperatures have warmed the Gulf of Maine seven times faster than the rest of the ocean in the last 15 years. The high temperatures were demonstrated by the class to negatively affect Bar Harbor’s marine life. 

Isabella Michael, who was one of five summer climate change interns with A Climate To Thrive, stressed the importance of the world working to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming to avoid runaway climate change; a breaking point in the climate threshold that, when exceeded, can lead to large changes in the state of the system. 

Munger was able to find in her archives a link to the ancient technology used by humans back then called the internet:

Munger also managed to stay in touch with some of her classmates.

Isabella Michael joined the Air Force and became a pilot. She was among the crew of astronauts who landed on Mars in 2042. Their mission was to explore alternative living environments as earth became more inhospitable.

Elaina Cote graduated from Colby College, Yale Law School and became secretary of the Interior.

Cate Pope attended Bates College and University of Maine graduate school and became a marine biologist. She created the non-profit Deep Oceans which operated a 300-foot marine research vessel in the Arctic.

Grace Munger graduated from University of Maine and Stanford Business School. She patented a ropeless technology for fishing and went to found and run her own global company. Her foundation has given away $3.4 billion to marine research. She was credited with saving the North Atlantic Right Whale from extinction.

But it was her formative years as a high school activist that she remembers so well. And she still has the original presentation her class made in paper in her private library.

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