More severe storms, more Lyme disease, more red tide, more damaging tree insects, more beach erosion, more school closures due to extreme heat; all of these and more are already being felt in Maine and all of them are, to some extent, a result of a warming climate.

The good news is that winters will be milder, growing seasons longer, and tourism is likely to grow in interior Maine during the winter as snow becomes less common in the lower New England states and tourists come to Maine to see the winter.

The question is not whether global climate change is happening, it's not even how to stop it from going further, according to George Jacobson, the Maine state climatologist. The question is how do we adapt and prepare for global warming and try to slow down its progress.

That was the message that Jacobson, other scientists and energy policy-makers spoke about at a global warming conference on Saturday, October, 30, at the Camden Opera House.

Experts Say We Can't Stop It: We Can Adapt

Jacobson, a biologist and ecologist who directed the Climate Change Institute for a decade before retiring from the University of Maine, spent his career researching climate, particularly forest responses to climate change over the past 60,000 years.

Jacobson said there is little discussion about whether climate change is happening in the scientific community.

"Climatologists don't argue about this. We don't talk about this," said Jacobson. "It's so elementary that we don't even talk about it. Meteorologists and weather people do, but I have never heard a scientist dealing with climate suggest nothing is happening with the two, or three, or even four times as much carbon dioxide going in the atmosphere."

"It is not perfect, but the basic message is there," said Jacobson, noting that scientists can't predict all the factors and timing involved in climate change.

"I think the press has fed into this by presenting both sides, as if there are two sides to this," he said. "And there are people in the business of keeping us from doing something because it will cost somebody something, but there is no doubt it is happening."

Weather and Climate Are Not the Same

Weather and climate are often confused, said Jacobson, and that leads to a lack of understanding and planning for the impacts of a long-term warming trend.

Last winter, which was considerably warmer than usual, was related to El Nino, the warming water trend that occurs periodically in the South Pacific. Likewise, La Nina, which is a result of colder-than-normal ocean water in the Pacific, will probably produce colder winters here for the next several years, said Jacobson.

He said we can expect a La Nina winter this year. We had one in 2009 when we had record cold temperatures of 50-below in Maine.

"This is weather, not climate change," Jacobson said. Climate takes the longer view over time and the longer-term climate trend data is clear.

"Maine is getting hotter and wetter in all seasons and all parts of the state," he said.

"The models show at least a 5- to 10-degree rise in temperature by the end of the century," he said. "That's a moderate assessment of temperature change, not an extreme prediction."

Midcoast Towns Should Start Planning for a Two-Foot Sea-Level Rise

The state of Maine declared that it would scale back carbon dioxide emissions to be at 1990 levels by 2010. For the most part, the state succeeded, said Jacobson, but the influences from elsewhere, even as far away as rapidly expanding China and India, will continue to affect the state.

"In some ways, we are very lucky," he said, noting that Maine will likely continue to have good weather, access to clean water, and is set up to adapt to the changes that are coming- if the planning starts now.

And there will be increasing negative impacts.

Spruce, the mainstay of the forest products industry in Maine, is likely to be edged out by trees that do better in warmer weather, like maples. Tree pests that cause economic harm to the industry, like the hemlock woolly adelgid that is currently moving northward, are likely to keep expanding as winters become less severe.

Health concerns related to pests such as deer ticks that carry Lyme disease and mosquitoes that can carry equine encephalitis weren't found in the state two decades ago. Lyme disease can be debilitating and equine encephalitis is fatal in 75 percent of the people who get it, according to Malcolm Burson, a policy advisor on adapting to climate change at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Burson, who also spoke at the conference, is the principal author of a recent report to the Maine Legislature, "People and Nature Adapting to a Changing Climate: Charting Maine's Course." The report was developed by people from business, economics, science, emergency management and others who have a stake in what happens. It focused on adaptations at the local level- like making sure wastewater treatment plants can withstand a dramatic sea level rise and that bridges and roads are engineered for that standard when they are repaired or rebuilt.

"We know that Maine has seen a 43 percent increase in severe storms over the past 50 years," said Burson. "Storms will get worse. We are getting a hundred-year storm two to three times a decade now in Maine. It is changing in front of our eyes."

Expect More Red Tide, Asian Crabs and Mud Slides

The warming trend is leading to more red tide outbreaks and the possible spread of lobster shell disease, said Burson, as well as the introduction of the small, but highly competitive, Asian shore crab.

"It's a nasty little creature that takes over the things that are eaten by what we eat, if you get my meaning," said Burson.

Marshes that serve as nursery habitat for commercial fish species are changing with sea level rise and high storms, and efforts to keep beaches from eroding end up stopping a natural flow of nutrients to the adjacent salt marshes, which end up dying. Some of these problems can be addressed through local zoning, he said.

Beaches and bluffs will continue to see some of the most obvious change, said Joe Kelley, a geologist and chairman of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Maine. Kelley has been called in to explain and try to predict the mud slides near the Samoset in Rockport and on Sandy Point in Stockton Springs. The ones near the Samoset took houses with them when they slid into the harbor.

"I can tell you with certainty that they will happen again," said Kelley, referring to the Samoset slides, where houses are built on unstable marine mud deposited during the last glacial period.

"One of the questions that comes up is who should take on the risk and the expense," said Kelley, noting that flood insurance wasn't available for houses built on ocean bluffs.

"Should the municipality take on the expense of protecting private homes?" he asked. "I don't know. These are the kinds of questions that need to be asked."

Burson said all of the data adds up to the need for action.

"We have had eight of the ten wettest years on record since 1970," said Burson. "We need to look at our basic infrastructure, storm water runoff, roads, bridges, culverts. What would happen if the wastewater treatment plant went underwater like it did in Kennebunk in 2007? On North Haven, they store effluent until the tide goes out during storms right now. It could be that we have to think about that elsewhere on the coast," he said.

"We need to assess our risk at the town level and manage it. Safety, liability, alternative transportation, user restrictions, all of that," said Burson.

"If I was living in Camden or along this coast, I'd be thinking about that."

The global warming conference was hosted by the Camden Conference organization and the First Congregational Church of Camden. The afternoon session of the Saturday conference was on global warming and China, which ties into the Camden Conference on foreign affairs that takes place in late February. This year the focus of the February conference is on Asia.