To the Editor:
We can no longer talk about climate change. We are now in a climate emergency. This summer we have seen a turning point in our weather. Not one or two raging wildfires somewhere in the world, but rather a continuous stream of fires: Greece, Italy, Spain, Tenerife, multiple Canadian locations, Hawaii, Chile, Washington State, and on and on. There are high temperatures across the globe on land, and for the first time, across our oceans. An ocean temperature of 101° off parts of Florida this summer? I thought it was a joke. It’s no joke. It’s unnerving; no, terrifying. Reading of the occurrence and aftermath of the Maui fires, and looking down the Atlantic at the possibility of Hurricane Lee, I can’t help but turn to our home turf and ask, Are we really ready?
In one sense, Yes, and in another, Hell no.
I was introduced to Bainbridge Prepares (bainbridgeprepares.org) on Bainbridge Island in Washington State just a few weeks ago, and it lifted my spirits to see another Island that is dealing with multiple aspects of these climate emergencies. Having lived with the threat of catastrophic earthquakes for years, they are understandably ahead of where many here would like to be. They recognize that the burden of a disaster falls on first responders, leaving neighborhoods to rely on themselves. Bainbridge has a network of 725 trained volunteers across multiple neighborhoods; they have created strategically located “disaster hubs” to provide essential emergency services, including medical care, information dissemination, limited shelter, food, water, and emotional support. Their approach offers a possible road map for the Vineyard. In fact, we have some of this starting to happen on the Vineyard. Aquinnah has created a community hub to respond to emergencies. Other towns are talking about how to create a resilience center. What’s missing is resources (funding and people) to make these initiatives happen.
Thinking beyond a wildfire or a hurricane — all this is happening inside of the bigger climate emergency that we are in. If you think recycling, buying an electric car, and installing solar panels are all you can do, I urge you to educate yourself. There are many good places to start: Read Greta Thunberg’s “The Climate Book,” especially her chapter “DeGrowth,” and Section 5, “What We Must Do Now.”
You can join the West Tisbury climate advisory committee’s Book Club, or the Oak Bluffs climate committee’s education sessions at their library. You can familiarize yourself with the MVC climate plan, and support your town’s efforts to implement it through one of the regular town committees such as the planning board, the conservation committee, and others. You can join Bill McKibben’s organization, Third Act (thirdact.org). And finally, if you do nothing else, you can insist to your elected officials that the climate emergency be front and center in the upcoming presidential election. And if you can, you should continue recycling, running an electric car, and installing solar panels. It all helps.
If we collectively get involved, if we make this a central conversation on the Island, and if we work together as a community, the children of the Vineyard and their children may actually have a viable Island to live on in the future.