On the pursuits of justice and sustainability: Reasons for optimism


In the past few years, we’ve seen a groundswell of citizen activism around climate change (jump-started here on Martha’s Vineyard by our own Plastic Free MV middle schoolers). This week, we saw a fair verdict handed down in Minneapolis, with the eyes of a riveted nation watching. 

We believe both herald promise and hope, but also signal that the work is just beginning. 

Earth Day promise

As we celebrate Earth Day, we know the dire reports from the rest of the country and the world: glaciers and the polar ice caps melting at a rate scientists had thought we’d avoid for decades, the increased number of violent storms, and wildfires. One of the big environmental notes we took away from the pandemic: When we cut way back on fossil-fuel-powered cars and means of travel and production, we very quickly saw clear skies, clean air. The journal Nature Ecology & Evolution coined the term “anthropause” to describe the global reduction in human activity (especially travel), and noted its positive effects on wildlife. We swear we saw and heard it here on the Island as well: Were there more birds singing? More turkeys ambling around our streets?

The news on climate change and global catastrophes can be hard to bear every day, and can make it hard to figure out what to do next. We think Islanders have a better chance of addressing the challenges we face, and making changes in our lives, if we stop to note the positive actions Vineyarders around us are taking.

We asked several Islanders hard at work to make Martha’s Vineyard more sustainable what they saw as reasons for hope.

South Mountain Co. co-owner John Abrams wrote that he felt the way environmentalist Paul Hawken must have when he said, “If you look at the data and you’re not pessimistic, then you’re not looking at the data. But if you look at the millions of good things small groups are doing all over the world and you’re not optimistic, then you haven’t got a pulse.”  

Abrams thinks there’s an “environmental consciousness shift” underway on Martha’s Vineyard. “I’m rarely low on hope and optimism, but this year they’re particularly strong,” he wrote. “Although each small gesture of change we make has only a minor impact, the importance of these changes — the true impact — may be that they build our political consciousness and activist inclinations. The big harvest, the one that matters, is in policy. Without massive national policy change, every small step forward is swept away by three large steps back. Local leads to national and international. The combined result of good work happening on the Vineyard and in countless communities worldwide has caused the Biden/Harris administration to launch in a transformational way that none of us expected.  Scrape away the muck of the excessive injustice obscuring the good stuff, and we find a kind of national leadership that we haven’t seen in my lifetime. Whole lotta hope in that, right?”

Kate Warner, who works with Island Climate Action Network (ICAN), and is the mastermind behind our “Climate Solutions” boxes (see “Greening Martha” in this section), listed the bright spots we now have before us: Two towns (West Tisbury and Aquinnah) have passed the “Renewable by 2040” resolution, which pledges that each town will have transitioned to all-electric for energy needs by 2040 and to get that electricity from renewable sources. Edgartown, Tisbury, and Chilmark will vote this spring. How about it, Oak Bluffs?

Warner notes that the new state climate law will soon allow towns to vote to be net zero for all new construction and major renovations. 

“And Vineyard Wind is on the horizon,” Warner wrote. “It will provide more clean energy than all the currently installed solar arrays in the state.”

Many mentioned the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s (MVC) creation of a dedicated climate action task force (CATF), and its appointment of Liz Durkee as its first official climate planner as a positive harbinger. 

“The climate action task force at the MVC has set an ambitious approach,” Ben Robinson, the chair of the CATF, wrote, “and the number of participants already gives me hope we will see the courage to make the choices today, although hard, that will set the stage tomorrow for our shared future.”

Durkee has a full plate. The CATF is “very actively addressing climate mitigation (greenhouse gas reduction) and adaptation (addressing climate impacts). I am working on the same issues,” she wrote.

The CATF climate resilience committee is working on a comprehensive Vineyard and Gosnold Climate Action Plan, focusing on themes including land use, transportation, food security, energy transformation, and economic resilience, Durkee said.  

“I have hope that we can turn many climate-change challenges into opportunities. For example, mitigation and adaptation actions will create jobs. Many, many individuals and organizations are working on climate issues. The CATF is planning a Climate Week in November, and we hope to engage the entire community — youth, businesses, nonprofits, towns, etc. — to promote awareness of climate issues, what is being done, and what every one of us can do.”

“We all will have a role to play,” ICAN’s Robinson wrote, “and the more we come together on what needs to be done, the more successful we may be. Our resilient Island will need to band together.”

Since the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, the year-round population of Martha’s Vineyard has almost tripled. Our summer population has soared; boats ferry trucks, cars, and people from 5:30 am to close to midnight. 

The “anthropause” may have driven home the point that it is time, this minute, to drastically cut back on carbon emissions, on luring travelers endlessly to our shores, if we want a habitable Island.

We will have to face hard, complex questions with no easy answers: How long can we continue to add more boats to bring more cars carrying more visitors? How can we sustain ourselves as an Island with limited resources? Is it time to explore ideas for a more year-round economy that will rely less on people traveling to the Island?

Justice in Minneapolis

Sociologists will point out many parallels between the early activism for environmentalism and the rising up of people over the past year demanding racial justice. 

It’s been 60 years since Martin Luther King’s galvanizing speech on the Mall. In 1970, 10 percent of Americans took to the streets to mark the first Earth Day, and to demand policies that would protect our environment as a basic human right. 

Politically inspired crowds are often ahead of politicians; it happened with protests about the Vietnam War, and it’s still evolving with women’s rights. The surge in support for Black Lives Matter has been a long time coming. 

Civil rights leaders know that this isn’t the end by a long shot. But justice for George Floyd was handed down in Minneapolis. And the power of citizens advocating for both environmental and racial justice has made it clear that we have epic struggles ahead of us, but that we are up to it.


  1. Can you give us the data on ”more birds singing and more turkeys ambling” Data on more violent storms and more wildfires please(and link the fires to something other than poor forest managment)The Editor always ask me for reference but this writer says it so it must be true. Also clearer skies and cleaner air. Please measure by some metric due to the year pause due to Covid. Data not feelings is important. BLM support in the US is down from 39 to 28 percent by the way.

  2. If ENGELMAN says it, it must not be true.

    BLM support IS down since George Floyd was murdered… among whites. An analysis is in the link below. Black support has remained virtually constant in the last 4 years, in the mid-80s percentile. “Some of the biggest drops in support (for BLM) among white Americans occurred among older people (between the ages of 50 and 64), Republicans and men.” The most current data, as of April, 2021 (from during the Chauvin trial but before the verdict) says support is at 37% among whites (sourced from fivethirtyeight.com). Most white people have never supported BLM to begin with, so no surprise there. The irony that ENGELMAN demands a data source from this newspaper for simply asking the questions: “Were there more birds singing? More turkeys ambling around our streets?” is obvious. But then ENGELMAN goes and pulls numbers out of his hat, and a very old hat with a vehement bias against BLM, to untruthfully declare: “BLM support in the US is down from 39 to 28 percent by the way”. ENGELMAN is using fake numbers to bolster his agenda. There are several Christian, conservative, systemically racist websites that provide anyone with anything, except true and current numbers and facts, so I challenge ENGELMAN to provide a reliable, CURRENT article/source from where he gets his (fake) data.

    Throwing around untruths like fake numbers to bolster a more christian, white privilege, systemic racism, and climate change denial agendas, turn all parts of the discussion into biased and ignorant baloney. I understand comment moderators cannot spend time verifying every comment for truthfulness, but I do not know why these proven blatantly false comments are continuing from the same person. The arrogance of feeding more false proclamations only increases every time this newspaper lets an untruthful someone get away with it.


    Finally, if anyone does not know that air, noise, light pollution were noticeably diminished during the pandemic shut downs, they live under a dark, noisy, and polluted rock.

  3. “Is it time to explore ideas for a more year-round economy that will rely less on people traveling to the Island?”


    At the turn of the last century, the whaling industry having sounded for the bottom never to return, my great-grandfather William C. (on the barely-past-summer-visitor Nevin side of the family) was a Philadelphia lawyer and sometime Edgartown Selectman who joined in the promotion of tourism to rescue the Island economy. From one unsustainable dependency to another.

    Milton Mazer, in his wonderful 1976 book ”People and predicaments: Of life and distress on Martha’s Vineyard”, lays out sources of stress here on this Island. (In his encompassing view, seeing that psychological problems surface when people are under stress, he asked why should a psychiatrist bandaid psychological distress on a one-by-one basis, wouldn’t it be better to address the sources of distress in the community? Whence the ‘experiment’ begun in 1961 which became MV Community Services.) Seasonal unemployment and poverty ranked high among sources of stress. Well, there is no industry here to support year-round jobs. There is no industry because of the cost of shipping; he cites the well-intended furniture-making venture that planted equally ill-fated pine trees in the State Forest—which were not furniture grade wood anyway.

    He also describes an Island culture that strongly prefers a flexible work schedule. Workmen are putting shingles on a roof (his roof?). A pickup goes by, a voice goes up: “The blues are running!” Hammers and toolbelts drop and the crew is gone for the rest of the day, at least.

    What has changed? Bits and bytes are cheap to ship. Imagine a contract shop doing technical writing for off-Island firms. Or graphic design and illustrations, all digital. Couple that with a creator shop with 3-D printers. Tools and other things that we need, make them ourselves. Not just trinkets for tourists. Perfect the fabrication of things wanted abroad, but don’t make and ship them, license the CAD files to makers elsewhere. This is an opening universe of possibilities.

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