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.