top of page
Search
  • Writer's pictureEmma Morgan

Climate Change is Rebranding “Vacationland”: How will Maine Respond?

Long Island Resilience Fellow, Emma Morgan, unpacks the multifaceted "Vacationland" motto promoted on license plates across the state of Maine. The slogan has sparked controversy and conversation among residents as it advertises the pristine nature of the state, without addressing the detrimental impact climate change has had on it. Maine continues to be an increasingly popular vacation destination and climate refuge.



Since 1936, Maine license plates have cheerfully advertised Maine as “Vacationland”. While today it is endeared by most, there was much debate over its message when it was first proposed as the state’s license plate motto. Senator Roy Fernald was firmly against the motto, stating:


“I think it is an asinine proposition and I believe that we will find in another year that on a great many of the plates that section of the bottom will be obliterated and the word ’Vacationland’ will be stricken off. I don’t think it lends anything to the dignity of the number plates nor do I think that it lends any dignity in the advertising medium of the state (Mills, 2022).”


Despite his strong beliefs, the slogan was approved by the state’s senate, as it was believed to tie in neatly with the initiative to market Maine as the ultimate vacation destination.


Fast forward to 2024, and Maine is still a vacation destination for many. It is also becoming a migratory destination for those fleeing climate disasters. A Maine Public Radio series “Climate Driven: A Deep Dive into Maine’s response, one county at a time” explored the effects of climate change on all regions of the state and what communities are doing to prepare. A segment of this series focused on Piscataquis County, which has been shown in climate models to be one of the top five climate-advantaged counties in the entire country. During this radio segment, James Rising, a member of the Climate Impact Team (an international climate modeling research organization), stated that “Climate change is going to make life a little bit better for the people of Maine. It’s going to make disease and disability and death all less likely as a result of [generally warmer winter temperatures]”. Rising and his team estimate that all Maine counties will see less deaths, even when accounting for hotter summers and storm events. Other enticing impacts he noted include decreased energy costs, a longer growing season, and potential gross income increases (Bever, 2022). All these factors combined may contribute to an increase in people seeking Maine as a potential climate refuge.


While Maine may become more hospitable in some climate change models, it is not immune to the negative impacts of climate change. Climate modeling research also shows that Maine will endure increased flooding events, inland rainfall, and sea level. These impacts were felt during the January 2024 storm events that ravaged the coast of Maine with record-breaking tides and significant flood damage. With these trends in mind, it is critical to continue to implement sustainable solutions to protect Maine communities from impending severe climate events. Maine needs to balance addressing these current climate risks with anticipated climate change migration challenges.


In 2019, State Representative Kent Ackley proposed to amend the cheery “Vacationland” motto to a more demanding version: “Staycationland”. His hope was to encourage visitors to not just vacation in Maine but to set down roots in Maine, ideally younger families to sustain aging communities across the state. His efforts were unsupported, and the “Vacationland” motto persisted.


Regardless of the plate motto, climate modeling data suggests that Maine will be a desirable location for future generations. Based on Ackley’s motivations for the “Staycationland” proposal, the additional promise of a climate haven seems like it would be good news for Maine’s aging communities. Yet, major work is still needed to support new families seeking to live, work, and raise children in Maine. Communities are not prepared for the estimated influx of people.


A Northeast Safe and Thriving for All (NEST), a project funded by a planning grant from NOAA, explored the impacts of climate migration to the Upper Northeast region of the U.S. The project report investigated the existing vulnerabilities in this region and how to navigate these challenges within the context of climate induced population change. Housing availability and affordability was one of the top concerns that experts identified (NEST, 2023). It’s estimated that the Greater Portland region needs 24,000 new housing units by 2030 to meet current demands (Great Maine Neighborhoods). Establishing affordable housing is necessary to sustain Maine’s workforce. It also is an opportunity to implement an equitable and sustainable development framework for all groups, especially Indigenous, Black, and low-income white families who are often left at the expense of economic gain. Without sustainable changes that consider both current and future populations, the gap in inequality in communities in Maine will only continue to grow.


As the longest running slogan out of all fifty states, it may be time to revisit the label established in 1936 and ask how we want to rebrand Maine moving forward. Maine can lead the way through the effects of climate change by establishing the necessary resources and infrastructure to protect current communities and people seeking refuge. Through a coordinated and collaborative effort, Maine has the opportunity to build resilient communities, address inequality, and welcome climate refugees home.

 


References:

Bever, Fred 2022. For all its perils, climate change could make Maine’s frigid interior more hospitable. Maine Public. For all its perils, climate change could make Maine's frigid interior more hospitable | Maine Public


Great Maine Neighborhoods. Greater Portland Council of Governments. Home | GreatMENeighborhoods (greatmaineneighborhoods.org)


Mills, Paul 2022. Vacationland: The way license plate slogans should be? The Sun Journal. Vacationland: The way license plate slogans should be? (sunjournal.com)


The Maine Climate Council. Maine Climate Science Dashboard. Climate Data | Maine Climate Plan


A Northeast Safe and Thriving for All (NEST) 2023. NOAA_NEST_REPORT_2023.pdf (d3esu6nj4wau0q.cloudfront.net)


Schafir, Reuben 2020. Whose idea was it to call Maine ‘Vacationland’? Portland Press Herald. Whose idea was it to call Maine ‘Vacationland’? (pressherald.com)




About Emma


Emma grew up in North Stonington, a small town in southeastern CT. She attended the University of Connecticut where she studied Environmental Science with a concentration in sustainable systems. At UConn, she had the opportunity to work on a coastal restoration research project. This experience sparked her interest in coastal community conservation and land management. Prior to moving to Portland at the beginning of 2024, Emma spent the previous year living in New Zealand where she worked as a baker, hiked every weekend, and swam in every body of water that she saw. Emma is excited to explore Maine next and to continue to work on the challenges of conservation and land management through her position with the Resilience Corps.

17 views

Comments


bottom of page