By Mia Ambroiggio 

Although these climate hazards will affect all areas of life in Maine, changes will be felt very differently across communities and households. Existing vulnerabilities in Maine communities will influence the ability of these community members to adapt to these hazards, ultimately amplifying the harm caused by climate change. 

Everything is connected


Climate change is extremely interconnected with every natural and social system. In turn, how those systems interact with and impact each other is connected to climate change. In Maine, we are encountering warming trends that are higher than the global average, with the Gulf of Maine warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans. Maine communities are already experiencing the effects of climate change in our day-to-day lives. Our winters are becoming warmer and shorter, and extreme weather events and sea level rise are resulting in the flooding of our coastline communities, which harms our shellfisheries and agricultural spaces. Everything is connected. 

Scientists believe that public health threats, such as heat-related or respiratory illnesses, will be worsened by warmer, more extreme temperatures. Droughts, floods, and ecosystem changes will influence our food systems on a global and local scale, altering our access to food and potentially increasing food prices in our communities. As climate change increases, so will the need for social services; however, during extreme weather events, these services may be inaccessible to those who depend on them. 

Although these climate hazards will affect all areas of life in Maine, changes will be felt very differently across communities and households. Existing vulnerabilities in Maine communities will influence the ability of these community members to adapt to these hazards, ultimately amplifying the harm caused by climate change. 

Identifying vulnerability 

It is critical that frontline communities – those who will be affected first and worst – are prioritized when exploring ways for cities to adapt in the face of climate change. Social and climate vulnerabilities are complex and intertwined, and it is vital that this relationship is not overlooked. In the process of implementing climate action, vulnerability assessments are key. A vulnerability assessment provides a comprehensive overview of social vulnerability and how it relates to climate risk. Factors that contribute to a community being socially vulnerable include, but are not limited to, age, health, language, race, ethnicity and income. These social vulnerability factors influence one’s access to resources, and therefore the ability to effectively respond to and recover from climate hazards. Further, many of these vulnerabilities overlap, making it even harder for vulnerable communities to stay afloat in the midst of climate change. Pre-existing privileged communities, those who are white and wealthy, will feel the effects of climate change the least, while the livelihoods, housing security, food security, and health of marginalized communities will be hit the hardest. 

Vulnerability assessments inform cities and towns on where they should be focusing and who they should be prioritizing, resulting in greater knowledge and greater capacity for local governments to take meaningful action regarding climate hazards. This is an integral step to pursuing equitable climate action. 

Community-owned climate action 

In addition to frontline communities being prioritized in climate action planning, it is important that community members – especially those who will be disproportionately affected by climate change – have a voice in how climate action is carried out in their own communities. This will build resilience through connection and information, and can help municipalities effectively learn from, serve, and support their most vulnerable. 

Across the state, communities are at different stages of preparing for and adapting to climate change. Regardless of a community’s stage of climate action planning, community members’ voices can have an impact.