Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Is Maine's decades-long lobster boom about to end?

I recently reported on a new scientific study that suggests Maine's lobster boom is about to come to an abrupt end, with landings returning to historic levels over the next five years.

First: the lobster boom. From the 1940s to the 1980s,  Maine lobstermen reliably caught about 20 million pounds of lobster each year. But starting in 1990 – and for reasons that are still debated – the catch began to increase steeply, surpassing 30 million pounds in 1991, 50 million in 1999 and 80 million 10 years later. The catch has exceeded 100 million pounds every year since 2011, hitting a jaw-dropping 132.6 million in 2016 before ticking downward to 119.6 million in 2018.

But, as I reported in the Portland Press Herald, a new and improved version of the priority lobster population prediction model -- one that takes into account increases in water temperature and resultant lobster diseases -- suggests the boom is about to sharply end, with the most brutal downturns in landings occurring in the places where the boom has been the loudest. But there's a caveat: all of this could be wrong if the warming of the Gulf of Maine is driving baby lobsters to settle in deep water where they were once unable to survive.

Enjoy the article for details.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Speaking on American Nations at UMass Amherst, Oct. 31

I'll be presenting on American Nations: The History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on October 31, starting at about 10 am.

It's one of the keynote addresses at the university's "Combating Polarization" symposium. It's free and open to the public, but you do need to pre-register via the links here.

My co-presenters include Sara Konrath of Indiana University, who studies empathy and altruism, and UMass Amherst's own Jamila Lysicott, assistant professor of social justice education. The idea is to better understand what polarizes communities -- a public university campus, for instance -- and how people can constructively interact in such an environment.

There are full details via the top link above.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Will Maine issue a pardon to the late tribal attorney Don Gellers?

Last week I covered the extraordinary pardon hearing for the late Don Gellers, the Passmaquoddy tribe's first attorney, who represented them successfully in matters ranging from racial discrimination in barber shops to police abuse and murder in the 1960s. Then he filed a treaty breach case that effectively started the tribe's land claim against Maine, and was arrested as he walked back into his home as part of an elaborate conspiracy involving the attorney general's office, the leadership of the Maine State Police and, at least tacitly, state judges. He fled the country in 1971 to avoid serving years in prison for the "constructive possession" of some joints allegedly found in the pocket of a jacket in his upstairs closet -- a charge that had already been decriminalized in the state.

You can read about the pardon hearing -- where one of the three pardon board members had to recuse himself because of his links to the case -- at the Portland Press Herald, and about the case in detail in the first thirteen chapters of the 29-part Press Herald series, "Unsettled." But I also spoke with Maine Public radio's Irwin Gratz for an interview that aired this morning and, presumably, again this evening during the local blocks within "All Things Considered."

Gellers died in October 2014, shortly after "Unsettled" concluded. Here's his obituary.

[Update, 1/10/20: Governor Janet Mills, a former Attorney General and career prosecutor, granted Gellers a full pardon and admonished the state's handling of the case.]

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Can a Maine-based project help farmers worldwide fight climate change by storing more carbon in their soil?

I recently reported on an applied research initiative at Maine's Wolfe's Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment that has the potential to help save the world.

Some 14 percent of human greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, and reducing that figure will be essential to mitigating climate change. One way to do that would be to help farmers have healthier, more carbon-rich soil, as that would in effect suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, while boosting farm yields, revenues, and resiliency to flooding and drought. As I reported in the Portland Press Herald, doing that is ultimately a matter of good, very high resolution data, which is hard for smaller farmers to get in an affordable, integrated fashion.

The OpenTEAM initiative -- a partnership between the Center, Stonyfield Organic, the US Department of Agriculture, and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research aims to change all that via the field testing of new hardware, software, and data sharing systems.

Maine is suddenly at the forefront of efforts to confront climate change, with statutory requirements in place to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent and become carbon neutral by mid-century.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Maine's governor wants the state carbon-neutral by 2045. What will that take?

At the United Nations, Governor Janet Mills pledged to make Maine carbon-neutral by 2045, tasking the new Maine Climate Council to come up with a plan to do so via an executive order.

So what does being "carbon neutral" mean, and what would Maine likely have to do to achieve such a status -- something no other state and only one foreign country has thus far achieved? I explored this in the current edition of the Maine Sunday Telegram, which published last Sunday.

In short: Bhutan, the only country that's already carbon-neutral, is 71% forested and has about 50 people per square mile. Maine is 90% forested and has just over 40 per square mile -- a carbon sink with not that many people and a huge structural advantage right out of the starting block. It's still going to require massive changes in how energy is produced and the types of vehicles and heating devices we use to consume it. Details in the story.