Not your grandfather’s Camden

By Pearl Benjamin | Jun 13, 2019

Our town’s scenic beauty and historic landscape are in danger.

As global temperatures increase as a result of climate change, species shifts are already drastically changing Camden’s natural environment. Sea level rise threatens to damage harbor shops and residences. Tick-borne diseases are on the rise, and our older population will face increased public health risks. Landmarks and tourist attractions like the Camden Snow Bowl will be forced to close when rainy winter days become more common than snow days. Almost every one of Camden’s defining features are in danger. We all need to understand the impacts climate change will have on our town if we are to take steps towards preserving its beauty and prosperity.

As part of a commitment to helping our town meet its obligations under the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, students in Watershed School’s Global Climate Change class recently completed a vulnerability assessment for the town of Camden. The report, "Facing the Future: A Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for Camden, Maine," was presented to community members last week, and serves as one of many critical climate change reports Watershed students are providing to the town, to help it meet its carbon reduction goals and prepare for impending ecological and economic threats. Every Camden resident and business owner should read the complete report when the town makes it available. Until then, here is a quick review of what we are up against.

If the world continues on its current high carbon emissions path, Camden’s climate is projected to resemble that of New Jersey’s by 2050. Our average annual high temperature is projected to increase by about three degrees celsius, adding 19 more warm days and 17 more warm nights each year. Our coldest winter temperatures will be about 6 degrees warmer than those we experience today. Precipitation will increase 9 inches, with more than half of this falling as rain and sleet between December and February. Our sea level is expected to be a foot higher in just 30 years.

Camden’s coastal location may soon be more of a liability than an asset, impacted by damaging consequences of sea level rise like flooding and storm surges. Businesses around the harbor face the highest risk. Depending on the carbon emissions scenario, a one foot sea level rise would flood the boardwalk portion of the landing. A two foot rise would flood 27 properties on the harbor as well as the parking lot and the harbormaster’s office. This shouldn’t be news to harbor-front businesses and homeowners. Watershed students already warned the town about this in our 2017 report "Getting on Board: Preparing for Sea Level Rise in Camden, Maine."

Camden’s winter economy depends on snow, but while we’ll have more precipitation in the coming years, the air won’t be cold enough for it to snow. It won’t even be cold enough to MAKE snow, putting every ski resort in Maine, including our own Camden Snow Bowl, at risk. The Snow Bowl recognizes its future is at stake because of climate change. Along with more than 100 ski resorts, it signed the Climate Declaration, supporting national action on this issue. Other impacts on winter recreation and tourism include a shorter riding season for snowmobilers, and earlier ice-out on ponds and lakes, impacting ice fishing, skating, ice boating, and our Toboggan National Championship event.

Camden’s natural environment will be severely impacted by these changes. Tree species that are important to our economy, like sugar maple and balsam fir, will decline or withdraw entirely. Species like the bearberry and mountain sandwort, which occur on the bald summits of the Camden Hills, will likely disappear. Native animals will decline with the flora. Our beloved moose, loons, brook trout, and chickadees will head north, replaced by an increase in species more commonly found to the south. Headed north along with them will be disease-carrying insects. Tick-borne diseases are already on the rise, and lyme disease is now the most common infectious disease in citizens across the country. The “hot spots” for lyme disease in Maine include Lincoln, Knox, and Waldo counties. As the territories for insects like ticks increase in size and move northward with increasing temperatures, so will the rates of disease.

Both increased precipitation and drought can result in contaminated water supplies. Camden citizens could become vulnerable to infectious diseases spread through contaminated water because, although our stormwater system and sewer system are separate, groundwater still infiltrates leaking pipes and joints, and wet weather occasionally cause overflows of sewage at pump stations. Heavy rain events and more precipitation will make this problem worse.

Camden’s agricultural community will also be affected by the impacts of climate change. Farmers will face a constantly changing climate that will make planting and monitoring crops difficult. Fisheries will also be impacted – lobster catches will decrease as the warmer water grows more hospitable to the bacteria that cause lobster shell disease.

Our research shows that almost every feature that makes Camden so special will be altered by climate change. So how do we preserve the town we know and love? Our best plan of action is to follow the carbon reductions targets established in Governor Janet Mills’ bill LD 1679, An Act to Create the Maine Climate Council to Assist Maine to Mitigate, Prepare for and Adapt to Climate Change. When this bill is passed into law, the entire state of Maine can begin work on reducing its carbon footprint and make an impact on global carbon reductions.

Our report provides preliminary information and is meant to be expanded and detailed in further projects. Its purpose is to help Camden begin to prepare for the impacts of climate change by anticipating the impacts to come rather than having to react to them. It’s also meant to inspire those in our local government and residents who are eligible to vote to take action on our behalf. Students have put in the work to educate our community about the dangers of our changing climate. Now it’s time for adults to step up and follow our lead.

Pearl Benjamin is a student at the Watershed School.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Katie Drinkwater | Jun 16, 2019 17:25

Posted by Dee Urquhart:  Very well written article Pearl. Your assessment project was a great assignment! I look forward to the full report. Thank you!

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