Published April 14, 2020 by Rebecca Goldfine

Beckett Slayton ’21 Helps Maine Plan for Climate Change

Last September, junior Beckett Slayton joined the state's inaugural Maine Climate Council, lending his perspective to important decisions that will affect future generations.
Beckett Slayton

For its first seven months, the Maine Climate Council—which has a roster of nearly 200 people—conducted five-hour monthly meetings in Augusta. The COVID-19 crisis has not slowed it down. The last meeting Slayton attended, via videoconference, lasted six hours. "That was quite something," he said recently, via another videoconference call.

The goals of the Maine Climate Council are to recommend policy proposals to help the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050, fortify its resilience against changes wrought by greenhouse warming, and identify job prospects in a greener economy. 

Slayton, who grew up in Blue Hill, Maine, was invited to apply for a council seat as a youth by Hannah Pingree, who heads Governor Janet Mills’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future. Pingree recommended him to the position after overhearing him give a presentation on electric school buses. (This was part of the capstone project for his summer fellowship last year with the Brunswick-based Coastal Enterprises, Inc.)

Slayton joined the council along with seven other college students. He is the only one from Bowdoin. "The council has been outspoken about wanting youth involvement," he said. "As a youth member, I see my role as pushing the council to view proposals through a broader lens and not get bogged down in politics or the feasibility of things."

Fittingly, since he had spent weeks researching electric school bus fleets, Slayton was placed on the Climate Council's transportation subcommittee, which has about thirty members.

"Transportation accounts for 54 percent of all of Maine’s carbon emissions," Slayton said. "Far and away, it is Maine’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter. And in order to reduce those emissions by 80 percent in a state as rural as Maine requires coming at it form many different angles and creative funding solutions."

Joyce Taylor and Sarah Cushman, the two chairs of the transportation subcommittee, said Slayton's participation has been critical. "In 2050, Beckett will be thirty years into his career," said Taylor, who is the chief engineer of the Maine Department of Transportation. "So it's important for someone like him to have a voice in their future."

Both Taylor and Cushman praised Slayton's contributions, especially when the topic turned to the electrification of automobiles. "He’s been great to work with," Taylor added. "He’s thoughtful, he reads the studies and looks at the information. He is helpful because he is not judgmental, and he’s fit into this group—which frankly is an intimidating group of people who have been picked because they either represent a community or an industry, are experts in their field, or are advocates."

The Climate Council is filled with stakeholders from across the state—leaders in business, energy, the environment, government, and technology—and at times Slayton admitted he has struggled to feel he has a legitimate voice. 

"I am in room of experts in their field, and sometimes I don’t feel like I have a place to speak on these things," he said. One way he has tackled his lack of experience is to emphasize the stakes of younger generations. Earlier in April, he organized a webinar with twenty Maine high school and college students, through the Maine Youth For Climate Justice group, to gather ideas on transforming the transportation system. "One way I have tried to strengthen my voice is to try to speak for my generation," he said.

As an environmental studies and government and legal studies major, Slayton says he's interested in working one day in the area of environmental policy. He added, however, that climate change will more and more bleed into most every area of policy. "It has become increasingly clear to me that almost any future policy field will involve consideration of climate and environmental protection," he said.  

After seven months of participating in the initial stages of policy making, Slayton has gained a new insight into government in action. "It has shown me that coming up with a climate action plan is a slow and difficult process," he said. "We can talk for a long time about ideal solutions to these questions, but the reality is when you're working with public policy, questions of money and feasibility will infringe on a lot of what we do." 

And that, he added, has piqued his interest in private sector solutions. Next year, he plans to pursue an honors project on that subject and carbon accounting in Maine's agricultural sector.