Climate change will have a gradual but profound impact on many things that make Maine what it is, from the kinds of trees in our forests to the creatures who live on our land, fly in our skies and swim through our waters.
The University of Maine last week released a report about climate change suggesting, for example, that maple and oak trees gradually may replace pine and fir in the Pine Tree State. It said deer and bobcats may become more prevalent in the state and perhaps moose and lynx will diminish in number. Even our beloved loons may thin out if, as UMaine scientists project, the state gradually warms by five or 10 degrees over the next 100 years.
That's right -- 100 years. And, yes, the faculty members and 75 others who followed Gov. John Baldacci's direction and studied climate change in Maine would tell you they're making estimates about the future weather.
You could call it a guess, but it's a well-educated one, seeing that Maine temperatures already have warmed by a few degrees. Admittedly, it doesn't feel like that this winter, after a frigid January and with snowbanks surrounding us that are four and five feet high.
The UMaine study states that a gradual warming trend does not equate to calamity. The scientists, however, found that change is occurring, that it's inevitable and there's not much Maine alone can do about it, except prepare and adapt.
That's why we are pleased with what's happened in our state so far.
Maine became a leader on the climate-change front in 2007, when it joined other Northeastern states in a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that will, among other things, cut carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants. Those emissions are a significant contributor to global warming. Baldacci that year also asked UMaine to look into the issue, and last week's report was the product of that directive.
Looking so far into the future can be a difficult thing to do. It may even seem silly, seeing how dramatically things can change in our state's economy or even with our nation's security. But Maine's largest industries have a lot riding on climate change. For example:
* The researchers suggest that a five- or 10-degree warming trend could profoundly affect skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing and other industries and winter activities. That's the down side. The upside is that "shoulder seasons" in Maine, basically fall and what passes as our spring, could present more opportunities for tourism-related businesses.
* Maine has relied for centuries on its abundance of pine and fir trees to sustain logging and paper-making industries here. But maple and oak trees aren't all bad. Charles Colgan, a University of Southern Maine economist, said simply: "There may be opportunities for different kinds of forest products."
* Maine shellfish and what's left of our cod could be affected negatively if the ocean waters warm. But, flounder and other species could move in. In fact, lobster migration patterns already seem to have shifted because of slightly warmer ocean waters off the Maine coast.
Add it up and we're not exactly sure where this is headed.
But we believe in that Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared." Let's keep the issue alive. Climate change is coming. Maine's leading industries and businesses have a lot riding on being ready for it.