350 Downeast Encourages Small Steps for Big Change

Rotary Club Vice President Dale Miller stood with Dr. Mark Brown after his presentation on Tuesday, Jan. 23. Brown spoke on a new organization called 350 Downeast and what can be done locally to reduce our carbon footprint. (Photo courtesy of Lois Jackson)

By Sarah Craighead 



There are high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in earth’s atmosphere. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), carbon dioxide levels fluctuated between 180 and 280 parts per million (ppm) for the 800,000 years leading up to the industrial revolution, when mankind began burning fossil fuels. Today, they’re over 400 ppm. 

 One organization has taken its name from a more optimal level of carbon dioxide. 350 is a worldwide grassroots organization with a network that spans 188 countries and focuses on returning global carbon dioxide levels to 350 ppm. 

On Tuesday, Jan. 23 Dr. Mark Brown spoke to the Machias Rotary Club about the work of the local chapter called 350 Downeast. Brown holds degrees in forestry, entomology and ecology.

“We’re looking at getting off our carbon addiction,” said Brown. “Using fossil fuels puts carbon in the atmosphere, that drives the global warming, and it also drives warming and acidification of the ocean.”

Maine has a strong natural resources economy, much of which relies on the Gulf of Maine, one of the fastest warming bodies of water in the world. Brown said the measures we can take to reduce climate change here will also be good for Washington County’s economy. “They help protect our tourism industry, not to mention fisheries, forestry, blueberries and everything else we do,” said Brown.

In southern New England, lobster landings have fallen dramatically due to warming waters. Locally, there is an increase in year round tick activity. Warmer winters mean that profitable recreational activities such as snowmobiling and ice fishing take a hit.

350 Downeast states that they envision “communities in coastal Washington County relying completely on renewable energy sources in support of a vital economy that preserves the environment for current and future generations.”

“We want people in the future to enjoy what we’ve got here,” said Brown.

Brown suggests several small changes individuals could make to help turn the tide of climate change. He and his wife have chosen to eat vegetarian once per week because livestock production is a big contributor to carbon dioxide. “If we all did a little bit, it would help,” said Brown. 

 Individuals could garden, which helps because all plants remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Purchasing as much locally-grown food as possible can reduce the amount of trucking Washington County relies on. Even composting food waste instead of putting it into the landfill in plastic bags helps the environment. 

Households and businesses could consider installing solar panels on their homes to reduce or eliminate their electricity usage. 

Brown said it’s a common misconception that we have too many cloudy days to profit from solar, but in fact, we have more sun than Germany, and Germany is the number one producer of solar power in all of Europe. “In ten years or less [solar panels] will be paid off, and you’ll have no electric bills after that,” said Brown.

To celebrate Earth Day on April 22, retired NOAA climate scientist Dr. David Goodrich will be speaking in Machias at the invitation of 350 Downeast. Goodrich is the author of “A Hole in the Wind: A Climate Scientist’s Journey Across the United States,” and served as the director of the U.N. Global Climate Observing System in Geneva, Switzerland. Goodrich will be speaking at the University of Maine at Machias and signing books there as well.

The 350 Downeast chapter or “node” was formed in the fall of 2017, but is already seeing strong attendance at its monthly meetings. To encourage participation across all of Washington County, they will be using a video conferencing tool to include a member from Eastport at their coming meeting. For more information about 350 or other Maine nodes, visit www.350.org/local