Climate Change Connections: Tipping points

The Island faces particular challenges in the climate change battle.


“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” —Albert Einstein

When looking around, especially after these last storms, it would be hard for there to be any denial about climate change, but there are still elements of denial that loom in the background, here and all over the globe. Some examples of denial include:

  • Delaying: We can fix it later with more carbon-catching techno-engineering.
  • Deflection: It’s not our problem, only that of the individual.
  • Downplaying: Keep on burning fossil fuels, because we have all these fixes. We can put the genie back in the bottle.
  • Distraction: This is all about controlling people’s lifestyles.
  • Division: Advocates fighting with one another.
  • Doomsayers: This is so bad, there is nothing we can do to change it.
  • Deniers: They say it has happened in the past, and you can see that for yourself.

A recent article about the Vineyard in Yankee Magazine titled “The Tipping Point” explores facts about the challenging tipping points the Island is facing. The point was made that our Island was formed from glaciers 10,000 years ago, and that it is made largely of sand, and that we are surrounded on all sides by water, so it is not surprising that we are dangerously vulnerable to extremes of climate change. Another relevant noted fact: “The Vineyard’s south-shore beaches have some of the most aggressive erosion rates on the Eastern Seaboard.”

From a human perspective, the article says, “Bigger storms have impacted the Island’s comings and goings, forcing the cancellation of more than 1,700 ferry trips between 2018 and 2020 alone.” Considering that “we now have a year-round population of 23,000, and it swells to 10 times that size in the summer,” ferry availability is most critical to our entire way of life.

Islanders are seeking our true north, that is, finding our course, to address these tipping points. Vineyarders have always been a scrappy bunch, and we still are. For instance, we have many climate change organizations, and exemplary people being urgently proactive.

Here are a few examples of our forward-looking bent:

  • Aquinnah has banned the use of fossil fuel in new construction.
  • The restriction of the size of future houses has been approved in West Tisbury.
  • Julia Livingston, chair of the zoning bylaws review committee in Edgartown, and her colleagues are proposing new climate change-related bylaws.
  • The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has a planting day every April to stabilize Lobsterville Beach.
  • In April there will be a tree planting in West Tisbury, and another one in Oak Bluffs.

Vineyard Power, an Island energy cooperative, has partnered with Vineyard Wind, which is developing a large-scale renewable energy project. Sixty-two wind turbines have been installed. As Richard Andre, the president of Vineyard Power, put it, “That’s what we have here … a way we can get off fossil fuel and into renewables is through offshore wind.

“According to Vineyard Power, the nine lease areas south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket will have a total capacity of about 17,000 MW (megawatts), or enough energy to power 8.5 million homes and eliminate 35 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of removing 6 million vehicles from the roads per year.”

I asked Andre, “In defining what true north means in this battle with climate change, how does that translate to you?”

Andre’s answer: “I’m responsible for Vineyard Power’s management and strategic development, which includes implementing an Island-wide energy transition program as part of our community’s aspiration to eliminate fossil-fuel usage by 2040 through energy efficiency initiatives, building and transportation electrification, developing solar and battery storage projects that will enhance energy resiliency, and developing a trained, Island-based energy transition workforce.

“My interest in environmentalism started 25 years ago with interest in building energy-efficient homes that required no fossil fuels, developing renewable energy systems such as solar and wind, and eating local, organic food, with a focus on our family farm.

“My biggest worry is our continued use of fossil fuels, overpopulation, and the impact these have on humankind. My greatest fear is that we have waited too long to act, but I remain optimistic about our youth and future, and that, if we act now, we just might fix it!”

Many people and organized forces have led, and are still leading us down the path of effective climate change resolve. Kate Warner spent years being a pioneer in the field of solar energy on the Vineyard. She is now the energy planner at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission as part of the Vision Fellowship. Kate told Yankee Magazine, “There’s more of a community that’s involved in this than before, working on all these different fronts, and that’s encouraging, because it’s hard to stay optimistic about this when you look at where things might be headed. I’m frightened — climate change is happening a lot faster than we thought it would. But, we have to keep trying. You need a big group, and I feel like we have that right now.”


  • Read the article in Yankee Magazine, January/February 2024, “The Tipping Point.”
  • Watch the TV documentary “The Biggest Little Farm,” about the equilibrium between nature and us.
  • Educate yourself on wind farms and solar energy.