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Maine and the Changing Environment: Perspectives from Youth

Rashmi Mohan | Rural Youth Organizer: Kennebec County

As an environmental science major - and now, recent graduate - I have always been interested in how the environment and nature around us changes as a result of anthropogenic climate change. I spent a few of my college years researching the long-term effects of climate change on forest ecosystems, invasive species, and plant phenology (the study of the timing of seasonal changes). These past few months, however, I turned my attention to the human impact of climate change. Specifically, I wanted to know more about how young people experience climate change in Maine. Over these past few months, I have interviewed local Mainers, ages 15-22 from Colby College and Waterville Senior High School, about how they experience the changing climate and how it impacts their lives. The following is what I have learned from these interactions:


The most talked about topic during these interviews was snow, or lack-thereof. People seemed shocked and disappointed at the noticeable reduction in yearly snowfall. David Ramgren, a chemistry major at Colby College, reminiscing on his memories with his older sister mentioned the following: “Looking back at photos of my sister and I, we would get massive snowfalls and it would be consistent throughout the winter. In the last ten years, that has really gone away.” A mathematics and Russian major at Colby College, Eric George, talked about a trail in South Portland that he frequently used to walk to school. He talked about how he loved sitting and playing in the snow and watching people skate on the nearby frozen pond as he went. Now, that doesn’t happen anymore because it’s gotten too warm for the pond to freeze and snow to fall at that time of the year. India Sky Hernandez, a student at Waterville Senior High School, has a birthday in winter. She noted that in the past, there would always be snow on her birthday, and she would go sledding and play in the snow with her family. With the warming of the climate, the snowfall happens later in the year, and the feeling of Christmas and India’s birthday are not the same anymore. Joaquin Withers, another Waterville Senior High School student, has similar sentiments about snow. He used to cross-country ski from December to early April; however, this past year,  “it only snowed two or three times, and there was no snow in December and very little in January.” Joaquin mentions how during Christmas, when his family would cut down trees, “we’d walk through the snow and make snow angels and I’d go sledding with my brother.” Many of these traditions and connections are lost because of the lack of consistent snow in Maine. 


Although the snow seems to be decreasing, one person, Abi Thurston, seems to notice a distinct increase in the amount of rain in the wintertime. Abi talked to me about how there is a lot more rain and a lot less snow now than there has been in the past. According to her, there used to be snow for three to four months of the year, and now there is only sporadic snowfall every now and then. The frequent rains and snow melt are causing roads in her community to flood to the point where people can’t get to work, small businesses are suffering financially, and homes are being damaged. Abi talked about how a local bakery that she works at sometimes can’t open because of roads being closed due to flooding and they lose any revenue for that day. Being in a rural area, Abi also talked about how the response to these problems is not always quick and prompt and that sometimes roads are closed for long periods of time, which drastically hurts the community. 


Although pollution is not as directly connected to the changing climate as snowfall or rain, this is a climate-related issue that is important to Maine youth and, therefore, must be addressed. Ashley Vigue, a women’s gender & sexuality studies and psychology double major at Colby College, discussed in detail the changes that she noticed to the Kennebec River. Ashley grew up in Waterville and loved sitting by, walking down, and enjoying nature by the Kennebec River. For the 16 years that she lived in Waterville, the river was always clean, clear, and filled with vibrant wildlife. Since moving to Vermont and returning for college, she has noticed that there are significantly more boats in the water and, as a result, a lot more oil in the water. Additionally, there is trash and needles along the river and the wildlife is almost nonexistent now. Similarly, Joaquin Withers mentioned how he frequently found beer cans and bottles in backyards of houses. Although they are usually cleaned up quickly, Joaquin notes that there is still some discomfort and sadness in seeing trash on the ground and seeing the environment disrespected in such a way. This brought up a memory about when he lived in Texas. He was with his family in the car and asked what to do with an empty can, to which he was told “throw it out the window” in response. 

Do Youth Feel Supported and Respected?

Many of the people whom I spoke with did not feel like young voices were respected and valued in today’s climate conversation. India Hernandez noted that “it’s very hard to be taken seriously when you are younger and talking about the climate crisis.” Eric George says “No, at least not people under eighteen. People who can’t vote are not valued.” Both he and Ashley Vigue talked about how young people have a harder time getting their voices out there today, like Greta Thunberg who was ridiculed for speaking out about the climate at sixteen years old. David Ramgren explained that “youths are talking about the climate a lot, but I think we are a bit unrealistic about what can happen and what can get done” and don’t have enough life experience to create attainable goals for the climate. Joaquin Withers noted that although young people are not currently respected in the climate conversation, they are going to have to become respected because young people will be dealing with the climate crisis in the future. Abi Thurston is optimistic about youth voices in the climate conversation. She says that she generally respects and values the stories of the people her age and sees youth as the voices of change. 

How Can Young Mainers be Supported in the Climate Crisis?

From my interviews, I found that one of the biggest ways to help support young people through the climate crisis is through education. Many of the people I interviewed felt as though they did not have enough mandatory environmental science or climate-related courses in school or college. Ashley Vigue suggests utilizing social media to create more digestible and accessible information and infographics for people to learn about the climate crisis. She also suggests connecting different political movements together in a way that young people can easily be active in and support all of them. Both India Hernandez and Joaquin Wither suggest creating more courses in high school about climate change and having high schoolers learn about how the climate crisis impacts them locally. All interviewees believe that more time and access to the outdoors would be beneficial to the climate conversation. They believe that an emotional connection with the environment is what fosters a desire to protect it.

What does the environment mean to the youth of Maine?

This is a word cloud of the discussions that I had with interviewees about what the environment meant to them.


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