With the United States planning to pull out of the Paris climate accord and Al Gore’s new movie, climate change is a hot issue this summer.
The topic is also sharply in focus at Acadia National Park, where an exhibit at the Sieur de Monts Nature Center explores current and future climate change consequences at the park including the flooding of salt marshes, the survival of a parasite that is killing hemlock forests and the threats of rising temperatures on summit plants, trees like red spruce and balsam fir, and nesting sites of Puffins, Arctic Terns and Loons.
Lynne Dominy, chief of interpretation and education at Acadia, said it is important that the exhibit helps people understand the environmental changes that may occur over the next several decades in the park.
Dominy said the displays are based on science, but they allow people to make their own decisions about climate change.
“The main message is to be educated and to make responsible choices,” she said. “You have to understand we live on a complex planet and that things change. It is important to be a part of that and to understand where we are going and make responsible choices.”
Scenes of climate change consequences are also on the big screen in Maine and elsewhere in “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” the new movie by the former vice president that’s being released 10 years after the Oscar-winning “An Inconvenient Truth.”
The movie trailer includes President Donald Trump pledging during the campaign to end the federal EPA and cut billions in climate change spending. In a speech on June 1, Trump said he was ceasing all implementation of the Paris accord – a global agreement aimed at reducing global warming and pollution – because he said it imposes too many draconian financial and economic burdens on the United States.
The Trump administration has also opted to dissolve the 15-member Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment, after its charter expired, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.
The panel is intended to advise policymakers on how to incorporate the government’s climate analysis into long-term planning, the Post reported.
Acadia National Park exhibit looks at climate change consequences
While the Acadia exhibit may clash with the Trump administration’s views on global warming, Acadia officials said the administration has not told them to take it down.
The exhibit at Acadia, including preliminary design by students at the College of the Atlantic, look at climate change consequences all the way out to 2050.
One display, called “What’s for dinner in 2050?,” says that shrimp, cod and lobster might migrate north to colder waters to survive and that visitors’ grandchildren might instead be eating summer flounder, longfin squid or Asian crabs.
“Changing Ocean Waters” warns of the effects of carbon dioxide, a gas emitted by coal-fired power plants and other sources that traps heat and contributes to the greenhouse effect and the warming of the atmosphere and oceans like the Gulf of Maine.
“Birds like the Harlequin Duck might not be seen in Acadia if their primary food, mollusks, and crustaceans, disappear as the Gulf of Maine becomes more acidic,” one display says.
Displays such as “Open ocean tomorrow?” ask visitors to consider some scenarios of climate change consequences in the park. “As sea levels continue to rise, scientists question if some of Acadia’s salt water marshes might permanently flood, creating an open ocean where a tidal marsh once existed.”
The exhibit, which includes a 3D topographic map of the park and some interactive features, also has interviews with local people.
In a video taken by a College of the Atlantic student, for example, climate change consequences are voiced by Maine residents including COA graduate Ed Monat, who operates a “dive-in theater,” as a marine educational boat cruise, according to an article in the COA Magazine.
“They are helping to express that there is an ongoing change with our oceans, with our forest and with our air and water,” Dominy said. “It tries to help people understand our relationship to those resources. The planet Earth is our home. We live on it and we have an impact and an influence on what happens and the things around us.”
The initial design for the center was completed by students in a College of the Atlantic class. The students worked with Dominy and others and the final design was by the exhibit’s project manager, Michael Kelly, who teaches at Northern Arizona University. Students at New Mexico Highlands University worked on some of the technology used in the exhibit.
Dominy said it took four years to complete the exhibit and funding came from a range of sources, but mostly from visitor fees, she said.
The renovated Nature Center opened last year in time for the park’s centennial and it draws about 80,000 visitors each season.
The content in the exhibit is designed to be able to change if needed, she said.
“Science informs different things at different times. If we find that some off the information has changed because science is telling us something different, it enables us to change it for a low cost.”
The exhibit replaced a more traditional nature center.
No more stuffed Bald Eagle on display, but still a mounted Snowy Owl
Anne Warner, a seasonal ranger in the division of interpretation who has staffed the center one day a week this summer and last, said some visitors are kind of bowled over by how different the center appears.
“There are a few people that miss the Bald Eagle,” Warner said. “This is a park with a lot of repeat customers. They do say, ‘Well, gosh I surely do miss those stuffed animals. But for the most part the response is very positive.”
Warner said that the center includes a mounted Snowy Owl, a bird that a display says is increasingly visiting Acadia in the winter to search for rodents, which, as winter warms, are declining in the owls’ Arctic habitat.
Dominy says the exhibit is not intended to be just about climate change and does not tell people how to think.
“We have been careful about not deriving text that tells people what they have to believe about the science,” she said. “We are trying to be respectful of people’s opinions.”
While the content could be revised at some point, there are no plans to update the exhibit to include the president’s pledge to withdraw from the Paris agreement, or to feature any other material that could stem from the politics surrounding climate change consequences.
“We don’t use our exhibits or our staff to do anything political,” she said. “That is not our role. Our job is to stay focused on what is important for the future of Acadia National Park … We just focus on the visitors and how we can help their relationship with this place.”