Martha’s Vineyard in 2040: A test case for the Green New Deal

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An aerial photograph of West Tisbury. Katch envisions an Island saved by our collective efforts to reduce our energy consumption. — Neal Rantoul

On Dec. 12, 2019, physicist Philip Duffy, director of the Woods Hole Research Center, spoke to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission about “The Current State of the Climate Crisis.” He maintained that “the only tech that could work for [planetary] carbon dioxide removal … is deliberately large-scale land management.” He thought that Martha’s Vineyard could be a good test case because it had little industry and short driving distances. 

Today, 21 years later, farms, forests, and fields appear to be almost everywhere outside the towns. Except for birdcalls, the rustle of leaves, babbling brooks, and occasional human conversations, the terrain is strikingly silent in contrast to 20 years ago, because internal combustion engines have almost ceased to exist. So have furrows in the farmland, because it has not been tilled, allowing for more microbial life, so important to healthy soil. Cover crops like clover abound, protecting that rich soil from drying out in periods of low rain. Since crops grow abundantly in healthy soil, there is less use of heavy equipment that can disturb the land than in the past, and electricity powers the few devices necessary, eliminating both air and sound pollution. This regenerative, organic approach draws down substantial amounts of carbon, further enriching the soil to produce nutritious foods. Human conversation is often between older farmers showing high school and college students how to create a livelihood by using farming practices in concert with nature. These young interns are getting academic credit from agricultural programs by developing projects under the mentorship of the farmers. 

Even more land is being conserved by such agencies as the Land Bank and Sheriff’s Meadow than was the case 20 years ago; these areas are enjoyed by all manner of sentient beings, while substantially contributing yet more to carbon drawdown. 

Another striking example of climate mitigation in the past two decades has been an overall decline in energy consumption, resulting in reduced pollution. Approaching the Vineyard in a highly reliable, electric, low-rise ferry, the only sounds heard are the lapping of waves and the calls of gulls. Emerging from the ferry, the vast majority of buses, trucks, and cars run on electric motors, because gas stations are now as extinct as the old Mobil pump on North Road in Chilmark. Electric vehicles are able to be fast-charged over electromagnetic pads at all town halls and libraries in the time it takes to pay a tax bill or to check out a book. 

By the early 2020s, the six Vineyard towns had become Massachusetts Green Communities, providing state funds for public building upgrades such as insulation, solar panels, and heat pumps, and subsidies for town electric vehicles with the charging infrastructure for them.

By 2030, Martha’s Vineyard finally gained much of its electric power from Vineyard Wind’s 84 offshore turbines, a project that had been delayed in 2019 by the federal government. Together with affordable solar panels and heat pumps on many private homes, almost all the power needs of the Island have been met through renewable sources.

Thanks to these land management and energy strategies, the goal of the “Martha’s Vineyard 100 Percent Renewable Community Resolution by 2040” has been met. All six towns adopted this resolution by 2021. Scientists and concerned citizens worldwide are coming to see how this little Island achieved its test case for the Green New Deal. 

Jed Katch, Chilmark, is a retired special education teacher, and is currently affiliated with Biodiversity for a Livable Climate (bio4climate.org), which fosters conferences with practitioners who are restoring ecosystems to reverse global warming. Katch is working on opportunities for high school students and young adults who want to learn about regenerative land management.