Coffee and climate conversation

Climate Café invites young and old into discussion about climate change.

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Mocha Mott’s gave away free coffee on Sunday, Jan. 27, to anyone attending the Climate Café, which, besides the public, included Richard Andre and Erik Pecker from Vineyard Power, Adam Wilson from Bay State Wind, and Dan Schnell from Cape Light Compact. But most impressive, it was facilitated by three students from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School chapter of the Protect Your Environment Club.

Sophomore Maria Menezes, 15, explained what attracted her to the club. “I feel like teenagers are pretty aware of climate change and all the issues it comes with, but I feel like I didn’t know enough, and so I wanted to learn more and what I could do as a high schooler, an individual, as a kid to make an impact and spread the word,” Maria said. Junior Caroline Hurley, 17, said she joined the club “in order to know more about how the climate is changing and find solutions to all these different problems. One of the big things is renewable energy and how the Vineyard as a community can use solar and wind, and how that can affect our daily lives.”

The first question was Hurley’s, about what type of resources we have on the Island already. Andre, president of Vineyard Power, started things off. “The most prolific is solar. That’s something everybody can do. There are a lot of state incentives to help us do that. Massachusetts is one of the leading states in the country for solar. You can also see what most of the towns have done with big solar projects, like Tisbury, West Tisbury, Aquinnah, Chilmark. And finally, private enterprises like Vineyard Power, we’ve done the solar parking canopies at Cronig’s.”

Tyler Chronister, one of the attendees at the cafe, told the group about his use of renewable food oil to run his car, and said even older cars “love it.”

“Vegetable oil is what I use instead of diesel fuel. I get it from the local restaurants,” Chronister said. He passed some oil around in a jar that was the color of dark honey. “If it’s lower than 50° it will gum everything up, so you have to do a couple of things to convert the oil, which is relatively easy and straightforward,” he added.

Attendees also learned that Cape Light Compact’s power supply is 100 percent renewable, and its rates are cheaper than Eversource’s basic rate. One of the things they are hoping to begin next month is a program where one can opt into 50 or 100 percent of local renewable energy. They also have an energy-efficiency program that anyone can tap into for a free home energy assessment. Everyone is eligible for a 70 percent incentive for additional insulation if it’s found you need it, and low-income folks get a 100 percent incentive. They have extremely discounted LED bulbs, which, with a free home energy assessment, you can swap out for free.

Andre talked about wind energy, saying, “Off the coast of the Atlantic and Martha’s Vineyard is an area with one of the strongest ultra-wind resources in the country.” Helen Parker expressed concerns about the visibility of the wind turbines, and a lively discussion ensued among the adult crowd.

However, there is nothing like the youth voice for a sobering perspective. Maria Menezes jumped in: “A teacher said something about 2030, that if we don’t do something about what’s happening right now, then it’s bad. I started thinking about my future, and I realized I want to have a family one day. I want my kids to be able to do what I do, like go to the beach. It’s really terrifying to me as a kid who will be around in hopefully 80 years,” she said. “I think that looking at a view is a lot less important than keeping the earth alive and doing well. That’s just how I deal with that. I know there is a greater purpose. It sounds really bad, but a lot of people won’t be around and that’s when we’ll have to deal with the consequences, and I think that’s more important.”

After energetic hour, the third facilitator, Ingrid Moore, a 15-year-old freshman, reflected, “Today was awesome, so many people were invested in it, and a lot of people showed up. People seemed to really enjoy it, and they learned stuff. It was fun too.” Caroline Hurley said she thought what was most successful was “seeing the different perspectives of people who have so much knowledge of renewable energy, including people who just walked in off the street without knowing about the café, who stayed and contributed to the conversation and were invested. We can see how we can work together and make a change.”

The Protect Your Environment Club is a collaboration with many players. MVRHS teacher Louis Hall, Charter School teachers Jonah Maidoff and Jane Paquet; Shannon Hurley, Islands education assistant at The Trustees; and Josey Kirkland, education coordinator and camp director at Felix Neck. “This collaboration’s aim, in my view, is to demonstrate that our youth have a voice and are an important contributor to the local community discussion. They are the future, and we hope to provide them with the scaffolding to take ownership of these important issues,” Shannon Hurley said. “We must include our youth and provide them with a seat at the table in conversations concerning climate change, its impacts. As conservationists and environmental educators, it’s our duty to provide them with the skills and tools they need to feel comfortable and prepared for the challenges ahead.”

The Charter School chapter will run the next Climate Café, about food justice, at Rosewater Market and Takeaway on Sunday, Feb. 10, at 2 pm.