A fossil-fuel-free family

The Taylors of Aquinnah embark on multiyear plan.

Noli Taylor and her family installed solar panels on their home — just one of the many steps they are taking toward becoming fossil fuel free. Courtesy — Noli Taylor.

Noli Taylor has always been invested in eco-friendly living, but now she wants to take it a step further.

Taylor and her family, residents of Aquinnah, are working toward being a fossil-fuel-free family, meaning they will not rely on carbon fuels for things like cooking, bathing, and transportation. Although Taylor said there are “endless reasons” why she is focusing on this goal, she said her main ambition is to bequeath a healthy earth to her children where they can live comfortably.

“We are genuinely concerned about the threat that climate change poses to our children and our community here on Martha’s Vineyard,” Taylor said. “Obviously we can’t make huge changes right away, because we are just one family. But every bit helps.”

Taylor said the real changes will come from “top-down policy change” and a shift in the global paradigm. She quoted young climate activist Greta Thunberg: “You are stealing your children’s futures before your very eyes.”

The Taylors, Noli and Isaac, along with their two kids, 7-year-old Tillie and 10-year-old Emmett, have created a multiyear plan that lays out the necessary steps to gradually shift away from fossil fuels and toward more dependable sources of energy.

“We know the changes we need to make, but it is often more difficult to implement those changes than people think,” Taylor said.
Taylor said efforts to minimize her carbon footprint have been informed by decades of scientific research representing just how much of an impact the use of fossil fuels has on our world. “The popular and accepted science tells us to get off fossil fuels. People discount that science because they don’t see it as being possible, but it is,” Taylor said.

Taylor said her family has already reached some impasses that have required creativity and persistence to overcome. “So many things in our life are based off fossil fuels,” Taylor said. “My husband owns a landscaping business that is pretty fuel-dependent.”
According to Taylor, it is difficult in today’s society to step away from fossil fuels entirely, but even a seemingly minute change is a step in the right direction.
“We are doing what we can in the next decade to make some of those changes. We don’t have a lot of disposable income, so it is going to be a lot of work for us,” Taylor said.

But even in the first year of their fossil-fuel-free journey, Taylor said, her family has already made significant progress. The biggest change they have made so far is putting solar panels on their home.

“We were using so much energy because of my husband’s home business and just normal use, we never thought we would be able to afford solar,” Taylor said.
The family worked with South Mountain Solar, a local solar power company, and were surprised to see that the cost for the system was reasonable, and would pay for itself after six years, and then generate an income. 

“We are very hopeful with this big new change, and we want to show other families that it’s not out of reach,” Taylor said. “It’s worth making those calls about solar, and it helps you get your head around how much energy you use daily.”

Another goal the Taylors are working toward is reducing their lawn footprint by 10 percent every year. This means experimenting with regenerative gardening, lessening the use of gas-powered landscaping equipment, and planting more locally sourced trees, vegetables, and flowers.

Taylor said she recently added fruit trees from Middletown Nursery to her home garden, and has been experimenting with ways to increase soil health, crop yields, water resilience, and nutrient density in all her plantings. They even bought an electric push mower so they could mow the lawn without using fossil fuels. Taylor’s husband is looking at converting the small diesel pickup truck that he uses for work to an electric vehicle. “We are thinking about how we can actually convert fossil-fuel vehicles into electric vehicles with a kit,” Taylor said. 

The family is also looking at installing fuel-efficient heating pumps in their home to reduce energy use.

Although Taylor is taking steady steps toward eliminating the use of fossil fuels in her home, she said there are many obstacles that make it difficult, if not impossible, to achieve complete fossil-fuel freedom.

“There are a couple of things that aren’t out there on the market yet, like big dump trucks for my husband to use for his business, which might be electric in the future,” Taylor said. “Either that technology isn’t available, or it is very expensive.”
Taylor’s efforts at home have coincided with her work at Island Grown Initiative (IGI) , where she serves as community food education director. She said IGI helps educate the community about ways to produce healthy food and benefit the ecology of the Island. 

The food people choose to eat, according to Taylor, can either contribute to atmospheric pollution and energy usage, or diminish pollution and benefit the local economy. “Our food represents so much energy, it’s really staggering to think about. Growing the food, transporting it, packaging it — it all adds up,” she said.

Taylor suggested trying to buy close-to-home food as much as possible, which will reduce your carbon footprint, and support local farms and establishments. Taylor said growing more food on the Island is one thing people should be doing as much as possible. “How can we change our approach to land care as farmers to reduce the carbon footprint of land and draw carbon into the soil and out of the atmosphere?” Taylor asked.

She said larger community efforts can have a great impact, but making a difference starts with your own habits. Even the smallest changes can make a big difference for both the earth and your wallet. “People don’t realize how much money they spend on energy,” Taylor said. “I used to leave my lights on all the time, or I drove around so much when I should have been carpooling.”

Now the Taylors are trying to think about every aspect of their energy usage, and trim down wherever possible.