Vineyard Haven resident Ben Robinson, responsible for introducing the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s Climate Action Task Force (CATF), has been recognized by the Clinton Foundation in collaboration with Island Innovation for his efforts in climate change–related resilience planning and adaptation.
Robinson is an elected member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and a member of the Tisbury planning board, in addition to his environmental work.
Robinson’s role in designing and organizing the CATF earned him a place in the top five out of 63 nominees, an impressive feat, with Island Innovation Awards acknowledging Island community efforts on a global scale.
Those who nominated Robinson for consideration conveyed to Island Innovation that he “has fueled a ‘movement’ … His vision, energy, tenacity, and intelligence, have attracted hundreds of volunteers and supporters Island-wide, actively pressing forward to adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change.”
Martha’s Vineyard Commission chair Joan Malkin was among those who nominated Robinson.
“Under Ben’s guidance and direction, the Island now has a vision forward with attainable goals, paid staff, an education program, a funded proposal to develop concrete, Island-specific resilience plans, and multiple adaptation projects underway. He is our constant reminder that we cannot take a step back at any juncture, and that each step forward is an opportunity,” Malkin wrote in the nomination application.
Robinson is credited with having a crucial role in moving the Island toward a successfully sustainable future. His promotion of conservation efforts and his continuing work on issues with local companies — from Eversource and the Steamship Authority (SSA) to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Army Corps of Engineers — has been met with much praise.
Despite the endless praise, Robinson keeps his eyes set on the long road ahead, working to navigate dealing with the realities of climate change. “Humbled” by the nomination, and appreciative of the recognition, Robinson was quick to point out that he is not alone in the efforts.
“In a lot of ways it feels a little early, giving out awards and patting each other on the back,” he said. “We’ve been at this for two to three years … And there’s still a tremendous amount to do.” A large part of that work, Robinson said, is reducing impact. “It’s not just transferring things to electricity, and away from fossil fuels,” he continued, “it’s actually reducing our energy and our material use.
“We haven’t actually replaced fossil fuel use, we’ve just added a way to take on a new demand through renewables.” That demand, Robinson explained, “is being filled with fossil fuels, so the problem is continually getting worse.” A veritable solution? Reduce and degrow.
But Robinson is not naive — getting people to greatly reduce their footprint, although great in theory, falls short in execution when they are met with the realization that those changes may impact the lifestyles they’ve become accustomed to. That, he said, “kind of cuts counter to the American way; growth for the sake of growth, progress is only progress if we’re growing.”
“This is a luxury economy, and we cater to people that are living well beyond their fair share,” Robinson said. “I think that’s something we have to start to recognize … what does our economy look like if we’re not solely catering to that excess use of materials and resources” by way of second homes and pricey vacations?
Citing findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Robinson explained that in order to avoid reaching a much-feared tipping point — when climate change is no longer in our control — the average American would have to “reduce their material and energy use by more than half.”
The issue is “not just climate change,” Robinson said at a recent Martha’s Vineyard Commission meeting, where he presented a CATF update, “but the impact of humanity on the planet puts incredible pressure on the ecological world around us.” Mitigating that impact, he said, involves active participation by the community in the overall goal to reduce, and when possible, switching energy sources from diesel and fossil fuels to wind and solar.
One of the CATF projects in process is an Eversource grid modernization, which aims to create “a reliable electric supply,” in part by the addition of increasing and replacing undersea cables to meet the needs of the Island by expanding electrical capacity.
When asked if he was hopeful about the future of the Island’s climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, he noted his aversion to the word “hope” — ”it’s not a very active verb,” he said. “To hope for something, you kind of take it out of your own hands.”
To Robinson, the direction in which the Island is heading is in the hands of the people. “There are a lot of small, individual things we can do that would start to add up,” he said, such as reducing meat intake, “considering not buying something that you can borrow from somebody,” and choosing to take public transportation. The most important thing, though, he said, is supporting policy. Real change, Robinson said “has to happen systemically … Individuals do have a role, but their role is only second to that industrial-level role of government policy. Support those government policies that are going to help us direct all of society, not just the individual.
“It really comes down to mindfulness,” he said, “and trying to be part of the solution.”