For the past few years, talk of the planet's imminent demise due to climate change and rising ocean levels has permeated the media to the point where the notion is firmly in the collective consciousness of the nation and the world.

But while documentaries on global warming have won awards and politicians debate ways to regulate carbon emissions, there has been a noticeable lack of progress to actually address the problem.

Although the purpose of the special energy and waste forum hosted by the Martha's Vineyard Commission Wednesday at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven was to allow the public to weigh in various ideas presented in the Island Plan, a more stern theme seemed to permeate the meeting.

Namely, the time for talk about climate change and renewable energy has ended and the time for action is now.

"We don't have a lot of time. Experts estimate a seven to 20-foot rise in ocean levels by 2050, which could mean that roughly one-third of the Island would be under water. We're talking about New Orleans-like floods," said Paul Pimentel, a member the Island Plan energy work group.

Mr. Pimentel described the human race as standing in front of two divergent paths. One path, so far the one less traveled by, leads to energy reform and progress, while the other leads to complacency and further harm to the planet.

"We are at a point in time where 50 years from now people will look back and ask one of two questions. They will either ask: What were they thinking? They saw the facts and they just kept on consuming and going the same way they were going. Or they will ask: How did they figure it out? How did they take their society and shift things around and choose to live in a world of hope?" he said.

The commission is in the early stages of drafting the Island Plan, an ambitious set of planning guidelines that will attempt to chart the Island's course for the coming decades. The plan will seek to find a way for the Vineyard to manage its economy and resources in a manner that better sustains its environment, character and quality of life.

Architects of the Island Plan have been broken into six groups, each of which focuses on specific planning concerns like water resources, housing, development and growth, natural environment, livelihood and commerce and energy and waste - the subject of Wednesday's forum.

While other groups have been asked to address issues which are largely specific to the Island, the energy group has been charged with tackling the decidedly larger issue of climate change.

In that vein, members of the planning group invoked the familiar refrain of think globally, act locally, but they also did more than just offer bumper stickers and a mailing list. Instead, the group presented a list of specific goals and action plans and then asked for feedback from the audience.

Commission member and moderator Linda Sibley asked the audience to hold up cards indicating whether they approved or disapproved of ideas as they came up. A blue card signalled someone strongly agreed with the plan, a red card indicated they strongly disagreed.

Some of the goals presented were broad in scope, such as reducing the Island's energy needs by half over the next 50 years through increased efficiency of energy use, as well as the pursuit of local, large-scale generation of energy and the conversion of all the Island's waste into resources.

But there were also more specific ideas, such as promoting the use of hybrid vehicles, requiring energy audits and upgrades for new development and requiring all new pools to be solar heated.

While the blue cards were the clear choice of the evening, there was a smattering of orange and red placards. Most of the people who raised concerns said they supported the broader concepts of renewable energy, but questioned some of the more specific ideas about how those goals could be reached.

Vineyard Haven resident Art Flathers said he worried that creating energy regulations would infringe on citizens' rights.

But Mrs. Sibley argued that without some type of regulations residents might never change their ways.

"Does that mean we should start looking to rescind some of our building codes? I don't mean to be argumentative, but there is a reason that building codes are regulations and not suggestions," she said.

When Mr. Flathers retorted that building codes help protect the health and safety of the public, one woman picked up the theme.

"When we talk about global warming we are talking about safety. The safety and well-being of everyone," the woman said.

The sharp exchange was the exception to the evening, as most who attended are directly involved with the crafting of the Island Plan and favored taking aggressive steps to curb carbon emissions and lessen the Island's dependency on fossil fuels.

Mr. Pimentel said climate change is not the only problem associated with a continued dependency on fossil fuels and foreign oil. The explosive population growth around the globe is rapidly decreasing the availability of cheap energy, he said, and reserves could dry up in the next 20 years.

"In the best cases, Martha's Vineyard, which is at the end of the supply line, is in for shortages and $10 a gallon for gasoline. It will hit our tourist economy hard and our year-round economy even harder. I cannot even imagine what it will mean for people living in marginally sustainable parts of the world," Mr. Pimentel said.

He said the Vineyard currently burns about 4.4 trillion Btus - units used to measure quantity of heat equal to the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water. The Vineyard also emits 330,000 tons of carbon and sends 40,000 tons of waste off-Island, he said.

The goal of the Island Plan calls for reducing Btus to 3.1 trillion by 2050, cutting carbon emissions to 50,000 tons and eliminating the export of waste from the Island altogether.

Mr. Pimentel conceded that the goals are ambitious.

"Will it be easy? No, it won't be. But is it do-able? Yes; it's do-able, and entirely necessary. It's long past the time to start taking about what we should do - it's time to actually start doing," he said.

Work groups have already discussed things like replacing incandescent bulbs with more energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs and requiring new buildings to be 50 percent more energy efficient.

Other ideas include the creation of an energy infrastructure, making public transit more compelling and offering incentives to motorists to drive less while making it easier to walk and bike around the Island. Mapping the Island's wind, solar and ocean energy sources, establishing an Island energy utility, and developing large scale wind or solar powered technologies are also under discussion.

At the end of the meeting, audience members offered their own ideas for energy conservation.

One woman suggested that Islanders band together to try and purchase a block of hybrid cars at a group discount. One man suggested that all the Island's school and public busses be replaced by vehicles that run on diesel fuel. Another man suggested towns adopt an energy efficiency policy requiring future municipal buildings to be energy efficient.

John Abrams, president of South Mountain Company in West Tisbury, said despite the gloomy forecasts, there is reason to be optimistic about energy reform on the Vineyard.

"As recently as two years ago a lot of people just weren't into things like solar and wind energy systems. And now there is this sense of urgency, there is so much more awareness. It gives you hope," he said.