As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) prepared its next climate assessment and Brett Kavanaugh edged closer to the Supreme Court, conservationists in Maine came together on October 3 to celebrate the positives in what has been a difficult year for environmental protection. Spearheaded by Maine Conservation Voters and Maine Conservation Alliance, there was plenty of optimism to take away in spite of the current political climate.

Mainers know the value of the environment, and they know that climate change is hitting harder here than in many places. The Gulf of Maine, central to the fishing industry, is warming faster than almost any other body of water on the planet. Pollution is affecting our air and water, and our wildlife is bearing the brunt of encroaching industry. The federal government is neglecting its duty to our natural surroundings, and so grassroots activism like that on display at this evening event is going to be decisive moving forwards. And based on this showing, there is still plenty of reason to be hopeful.

Amidst attendees including several Representatives, Congresspeople and other legislators, it was keynote speaker and former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy who stole the show with a passionate speech looking ahead to the challenges the environmental movement faces with determination. With 30 years of experience, including four years as the 13th EPA administrator under her belt, McCarthy knows as well as anyone the challenges the United States and Maine face from climate change. She has led initiatives to cut air and water pollution, reduce fossil fuels and helped implement the Clean Power Plan, but is seeing much of her hard work rolled back under the Trump administration. Nevertheless, her message to the keen audience was one of optimism and vigor at a time when it is most critical.

“Nothing good ever started at the federal level,” she told the crowd gathered on Portland’s Thompson’s Point. “We do not have to tolerate what’s going on in the federal government.” And perhaps there was never a more convenient time for such a motif.With the fall elections approaching fast, it’s critical that everyone, in Maine and across the country, gets out and votes for what matters most. And that’s our children’s futures, McCarthy told the room.

“We have a job to do, and it’s called being responsible to our children,” she said to rapturous applause. In Maine, as anywhere, the environment affects us all, and we find ourselves at a crucial juncture if we are to ensure these effects remain positive for our future generations. And in a democracy like ours, that starts with voting.

“Now is not the time to disinvest,” McCarthy summarized. “We have dealt with challenges that have been difficult in this country. We just have to continue to persist.”

Maine is defined by its natural environment, as indeed are large parts of this country. While we face an unknown tipping point in global climate, the current administration seeks to roll back the efforts of McCarthy’s team and tell us that the Gulf of Maine is not warming because of human emissions, that February days are not warmer, and that southern species of tick and mosquito are not more prominent here than previously before.