In 2013 can any community on earth surrounded by the ocean remain passive in the face of unmistakable climate change? If you don’t trust your own memory and sense of the weather to tell you something’s changed, there’s more than enough accurate, trustworthy analysis and predictions out there. But there’s no substitute for direct experience like ours of the last two years. This has been not slow and steady change that we can adapt to smoothly but more like sudden chaos. If Hurricane Sandy had slipped just a little further up the east coast last fall and hit our shores during high tide, would our reconstruction work be easily wrapping up now, in time for spring and summer on the Vineyard?
The sea level rise around Nantucket and our Island over the last 50 years has been significant, half a foot or more, and it’s just the beginning. The increase in number and intensity of ocean storms, northeasters and the rest, has been exponential, even just this season. With higher ocean surface as well as atmospheric temperatures, storm systems soak up more water vapor and deliver more snow and rain. And any toddler knows if you fill the bathtub higher the mess on the floor will be bigger when you whip up a storm for your toy boats before mom comes back.
We have been warned now for the past 25 years that this was coming. Now all of a sudden we have a real, in-progress, slow-motion emergency on our hands. Really, it’s only slow motion in-between the storms and the next sudden bigger price hike in food and commodities for us here. Last year’s devastating, crop-ravaging drought is expected to be with farmers in the biggest breadbasket regions again this spring as the growing season starts.
Aside from the alarming fact that our six Island towns have not fully agreed on a truly coordinated Emergency Disaster Response Management Plan, what other responsibilities do we as Islanders have in the face of this now full-blown climate crisis? Are we really willing to just wait and see, on an Island? Are we really going to just sit back and leave the fate of this wonderful place with all its history and potential in the hands of others?
Climate chaos is the unfortunate, unintended consequence of the same historical legacy that has shaped much of the tenor and quality of life here. For over 100 years we were making a tragic mistake burning all the fossil fuels we have. True, we didn’t know that until 1988, but what have we been doing since then? It is not too late to start paying attention as if our near-term future is at stake because we can, in fact, do something about this. Dedicated scientists and economists are telling us now that every month counts. It is precisely the fossil fuels we burn or don’t burn in just the next few years that can make the difference in sea level rise and a host of other climate and economic trends that are threatening this Island.
So who is more capable of writing the next chapters in the history of Martha’s Vineyard Island? Those of us who love and who have personal, legal and ethical responsibility for this land and community, or others tied to vested interests with a trajectory that will destroy this gem as we have known it for 300 years?
How should we respond? Most likely many here are already quietly working in their own areas to be aware and ready. How can we help them? Quite possibly if there were a coordinated vigorous effort to get all Islanders all the critical and pertinent information available, then we each could more clearly see what we could contribute. For one thing, trends and decisions being shaped in Washington DC on energy policy and economic priorities will directly affect Vineyarders’ near-term fate more than ever before. Martha’s Vineyard with its close personal ties to presidents, their advisers and confidants could have an outsized influence on those trends if we rose with one voice. It would seem that it is our moral responsibility to do so.
Closer to home, there is so much work to do, officially and personally, for us to be prepared and informed. A new venue for critical information sharing and community planning has recently been added to our resources here on the Island. It is called 350 Martha’s Vineyard. All are welcome to visit the Facebook Page and get involved.