Create a climate for change

Wildfires are burning out of control in California, Oregon, and Washington. More than 5 million acres have been ravaged, the equivalent of 88 Martha’s Vineyards. Their toxic smoke filled the air for thousands of miles. We felt the effects of the fires here in smoky sunsets and sunrises.

Meanwhile, at one point last week, there were six storms in the tropics, including one massive Category 2 hurricane, Sally. This week we felt the wind and strong surf from Teddy’s trajectory along the East Coast. The hurricane season has been so active, we’ve made it through all the named storms in our list, and are on to the Greek alphabet.

You’d think the massive amounts of rain dumped by these storms would drown out the climate deniers. But there he was last week, the climate-denier-in-chief, President Donald Trump, arguing with California leaders. Wade Crowfoot, California’s natural resources secretary, pointed out to the president that climate change played a role in that state’s devastation. By now, you’ve seen the exchange.

Trump: “It’ll start getting cooler.”
Crowfoot: “I wish …”
Trump: “You just watch.”
Crowfoot: “I wish science agreed with you.”
Trump: “Well, I don’t think science knows, actually.”

Fortunately, there are leaders on Martha’s Vineyard who are taking the issue of climate change seriously — seeking counsel from scientists at Woods Hole Group and Horsley Witten Group.

The Times launched a partnership with Island Climate Action Network (ICAN), which is supporting efforts toward sustainability for the Island. We’ve committed to reporting on climate change and sea level rise initiatives, and sharing some of ICAN’s efforts, such as putting nonbinding referendums on special town meeting agendas in Aquinnah and West Tisbury. These seek support of the Island becoming 100 percent powered by renewable energy sources by 2040, and reducing fossil fuel use to zero by that same date. You can read more about their efforts at bit.ly/RenewMV, and watch for the next Climate Solutions box, appearing with Greening Martha Oct. 1.

ICAN is not alone.

Last week, Vineyard FutureWorks wrapped up a 10-day Virtual Island Summit, an online gathering of islands from around the world. The idea behind it was to find solutions to help the Vineyard move forward in its efforts toward sustainability. Wind power, solar energy, and electric ferries were among the topics discussed.

Meanwhile, the town of Chilmark last week established a permanent committee that will look at the effects of climate change in that town. “Basically, in the next 30-year period, we’re looking at temperatures rising by 2° to 4° Fahrenheit on average throughout the year,” selectman Jim Malkin, who chaired a working group on climate change, told the board, “about a six-inch mean sea level rise, storm severity will increase slightly, rainfall 3 to 8 percent increase, drought periods significantly [increased] — 20 to 50 percent more likely.”

Beach erosion, overwhelmed docks, and wildfires were also mentioned by Malkin.

Vulnerability studies done for Island towns show climates similar to Maryland by 2050, and like North Carolina by the end of the century, something the Aquinnah vulnerability report points out would kill any cranberry harvest which requires 100 nights of frost. All of the municipal vulnerability studies point to specific areas of concern for sea-level rise, like Beach Road in Vineyard Haven (which makes you wonder why the state is moving forward with a $5 million shared-use path that does nothing to address the vulnerability of that road to sea level rise), the wharf area in Edgartown, and the south-facing beaches in Chilmark and Aquinnah. In Oak Bluffs, the municipal vulnerability report points to the historic Campground cottages being susceptible to flooding and the potential for fires.

Why do we have to pay attention? It’s the very future of this Island that’s at stake. Climate change and sea level rise will have a lot to do with land use plans and environmental zoning, reducing developable land, and thinking about density. In nearby Falmouth, for example, they’re already contemplating life without Surf Drive, according to WCAI.
So how can we reimagine our waterfront areas? What are the solutions for Beach Road properties, which desperately need a makeover, but are among the most vulnerable?

Climate change can seem overwhelming and unreal. The easy path is to deny its existence and go on with living life. But we have a responsibility to understand it and to figure out what we can do as individuals. There are big steps, like voting for candidates who are willing to tackle the issues, voting for initiatives that make changes, and attending town meetings where you can push the local government to take action. And there are smaller steps in our everyday lives, like shutting off lights when you leave a room, composting food waste, and planting home gardens, among them.

One thing is for certain: Burying our heads in the quickly shifting sand isn’t a choice.