Climate change course seeks to educate and inspire

West Tisbury library offers three-session course in combatting rising temperatures.

The EN-ROADS Climate Simulator allows users to manipulate societal factors and see their effects on climate change. It is used in the second session of the "Combating Climate Change" course offered by the West Tisbury library.

The West Tisbury library is offering a three-session course for those interested in learning more about climate change, and how to use that knowledge to combat the devastating impacts it has on society.

The first session, on Oct. 13 at 4 pm, discusses the basic science behind climate change, and delves into environmental studies that show how rising temperatures are brought about. 

The second session, on Oct. 20, introduces the En-ROADS Climate Solutions Simulator — a graphic, interactive program that allows various factors and figures that contribute to climate change to be manipulated by the user. The course was developed by the Elders Climate Action group, which seeks to take action in policy and in everyday life to ensure a sustainable existence for future generations. The En-ROADS simulator was developed collaboratively by Climate Interactive, Ventana Systems, and MIT Sloan.

The third and final session, on Oct. 27, deals with how each individual can make changes in their own life and in their community to make a difference. 

The two facilitators of the course, Bari Boyer and Tony Lee, spoke with The Times and gave a synopsis of the three sessions as a whole, and how they impart awareness and understanding that leads to eventual change and personal growth.

Boyer and Lee met in 1984, and since then have worked together to spearhead grassroots educational efforts in their communities.

Boyer, who lives in Chilmark, said Islanders are more aware of climate change than some mainland communities because they see the effects unravelling on their shores daily.

With sea level rise being one major effect of climate change, Islanders are on the frontline, Boyer said. “We see it happening on our shores all the time. The rising sea levels, the increase in our seasonal temperatures. It all starts out with an awareness that people on the mainland might not have,” Boyer said.

One thing Boyer stressed about the climate course was that it makes those who attend it see individual choices as part of a larger whole. The En-ROAD simulator allows folks to adjust factors such as transportation, land emissions, energy supply, and building and industry in order to understand the complex and interconnected nature of climate change. 

For instance, by increasing the amount of trees planted (afforestation), and decreasing the amount of methane pollution in the simulator, the overall temperature increase by 2100 is decreased by up to half a degree Celsius. 

“This computer model allows us to see all the different factors that affect our climate, and how changing these factors can affect the rate of change we see in global temperatures,” Boyer said.

On one hand, Boyer said it can be overwhelming to see the larger picture, but it is also empowering to know how changing just a few societal norms can have a huge impact on our climate and our future.

“Let’s say we all stop eating beef. What cumulative effect would that have on our climate?” Boyer asked.

The course encourages people to personalize their takeaways by making changes in their own lives, or by activities that make us consider what ramifications our actions might have on our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

“Whether it is writing a letter to a future grandchild about the environmental issues that are happening now, or really anything that gets you thinking,” Boyer said. “In our family, we have a house that is on propane gas in Chilmark, and now we are looking to convert to all-electric.”

Boyer said one discussion she had during her course session last time dipped into the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it forced everyone to rapidly adapt to a new way of living.

If folks can change their daily habits and schedules to adapt to the pandemic, Boyer said, why couldn’t they change their ways to fight climate change?

“One of my observations since the COVID crisis is that we have been able to adapt to different ways of living very quickly. COVID is invisible in a way similar to climate change, but we have made those changes and seen those effects move us forward in a positive way.”

Facilitator Tony Lee said the course was produced out of an overwhelming concern about climate change and the future of our planet. “Well, actually, the planet will still be here, but we won’t if climate change keeps progressing,” Lee said.

He said climate change and other environmental factors create serious threats to human civilization, and these threats are backed by numerous scientific studies.

“There are some very serious, well-thought-out projections saying that 100 million people will be on the road looking for a new place to live because of the impact climate change has,” Lee said. “There are so many problems with water, air, floods, and hurricanes. We are looking at these massive crises in the future, and no one is doing anything about them.”

One thing Lee highlighted from the course was that “there is no one single silver bullet” to stop climate change. “It is going to take action at all levels. Globally, with the Paris agreement, nationally with more climate policy, and at the state level, where places like California and Massachusetts have been leading in the development of solar and wind energy,” Lee said.

He noted Vineyard Wind as being just the first of many projects that could be lined up on the East Coast, and that project may serve as the leading energy source for all of New England.

Lee said he was “amazed” at how largely our dietary habits can change the amount of pollution being put into the atmosphere. “It is so important to change our diets and move away from a meat-based diet, and go vegan or vegetarian. The whole agricultural industry and the effect it has on carbon dioxide and methane pollution is huge,” Lee said.

One thing that Lee said surprised him during the climate course was discussion about the opposition, and climate change deniers. 

“The climate deniers are very well-organized, and have been very successful in stopping the progress in the U.S. on climate change,” Lee said. He said it is up to society to spread knowledge and awareness about these issues, so people understand their legitimacy and importance.

The ultimate goal of the course, according to Lee, is to move everyone into productive action through education. 

“People really need to educate themselves and others, then act personally in any way you can,” Lee said. “Put pressure on your elected officials to enact climate change reform, and do what you can in your own life to make a difference.”

To sign up for the free course, email wt_mail@clamsnet.org. The class is limited to 10 participants.