‘The ocean connects us all’

Islanders must galvanize collective action and work toward increased sustainability.

Participants at an Island Summit talked about a lot of issues, including making the Steamship Authority ferries electric. — Rich Saltzberg

The M.V. Island Discovery Team is working on ways to encourage a collaborative sustainability effort among islanders from around the world.

As part of the Virtual Island Summit, which saw hundreds of Island communities come together in an online think tank, the M.V. team shared their surprises, questions, and Vineyard-centered takeaways from the 10-day summit during a final insights session Tuesday, organized by Vineyard Futureworks.

M.V. team member Phil Wallis said he was initially concerned that with so many large nation-states and government entities participating in the discussion, it would be hard to find takeaways that related directly to Martha’s Vineyard.

“I was fearful I would be learning cool stuff, but that it might not be as applicable to our wonderful Island of Martha’s Vineyard. My key insight was that it was very relevant,” Wallis said.

From the approximately 500 Islands and around 10,000 people who participated in the Island Summit, Wallis said, there is much to share surrounding sustainability success.

He noted how many young people there were in each of the online sessions, and said, “Youth have an incredible commitment to changing this world through collective action.”

Team member Joe Gammal highlighted the importance of that collective action, and pointed out that individual communities’ successes surrounding sustainability are often only possible when the larger whole is considered first.

He identified one of the webinars he attended, where folks discussed a community energy company in Scotland that is providing energy for the entire nation.

If Martha’s Vineyard could become an entrepreneur and provide energy to places like the Cape, Gammal said, that could galvanize locals to support more sustainability initiatives that would also benefit the Island economy.

Gammal said that despite there being so many individual islands that each have their own hurdles to jump, a collective effort encourages folks to keep working together and focusing on the big picture.

“There is the idea that the ocean connects us all — many countries, one ocean. And there is so much painting of doom and gloom going on, but something that keeps us active and engaged is the understanding that we aren’t in this alone,” Gammal said. “There are others around the world facing these challenges. No matter what we do to be a sustainable Island, we don’t succeed unless the larger ‘we’ succeeds.”

Team member Phil daRosa said he thought the implementation of more electric energy and alternative energy production on-Island would be a huge step forward in sustainability.

He said he took part in a webinar where a discussion was had on an electric ferry in Denmark, dubbed E-ferry Ellen, and wondered if an electric ferry could be a possibility for the Island. 

“Is the Steamship actually considering something like this? They could retrofit all their ships, and it would obviously benefit the environment and the marine ecosystem, or they could build a brand-new electric ferry,” daRosa said. 

DaRosa also said the ferry webinar inspired him to think about the implementation of more wind energy on the Island. If there were more local ownership of wind turbines, daRosa said, people might be more willing to look past the aesthetic impact and toward the possible environmental and economic benefit. “That, to me, was kind of an ‘aha’ moment. The people that are opposed to windmills here are obviously opposed mostly to the aesthetic, but there are so many benefits to the broader picture,” daRosa said.

Gammal said electric ferries would make a strong statement to Island visitors, or people who are moving here to stay, by showing them that the community is serious about sustainability.

“If we also follow that up with stuff on-Island that is consistent with things like electric ferries, people might see that this isn’t just new ferries, it’s a whole new mindset and way of thinking,” Gammal said.

By implementing some of these ideas on Martha’s Vineyard, which has an ecosystem that is self-contained, and an opulent community base, Gammal said, the Vineyard could serve as a sort of incubation lab for new sustainable initiatives.

“How do we make the Vineyard an early application lab for other places in New England and around the world?” Gammal asked.

With courage and risk-taking, Wallis said, these types of moves forward could “completely change the game,” and could stimulate conversations that might be difficult to have, but are essential to creating the best path for Martha’s Vineyard.

“We want to kind of open people’s hearts and minds. Maybe our whole theme here is that this is so cool and exciting that we need to get people educated,” Wallis said. “That idea of courageous action with experienced experimenters is a good one. Be bold, and recognize that we are not first on many of these initiatives. There are other places with experience that we can follow.”

He also encouraged Islanders to work more closely with our neighboring community of Nantucket, which is facing many of the same challenges as the Vineyard. “Why don’t we just pick up the phone and talk about these similar issues with Nantucket? Our biggest challenge is getting more people to realize what incredible opportunities and partners there are out there,” Wallis said.

Team member Doug Ruskin said he thinks engaging the youth of the Island should be a central goal, whether by encouraging them to participate in local government, or simply to attend a town meeting.

“It appears to me that they can’t find a way to participate more fully. I don’t have a ready answer for that, other than just constantly bringing it up and pushing the issue,” Ruskin said. “If the youth doesn’t pick up the ball and start running hard, I don’t see how a lot of these issues get fulfilled.”

Wallis suggested engaging youth service organizations like the Islandwide Youth Collaborative, ACE MV, and Martha’s Vineyard Community Services to create a stronger presence in the school system.

“How do we create meaningful interaction, maybe beginning in high school, so these kids can think about life more holistically?” Wallis asked.