As we recover from our fourth major winter storm of 2018, it is hard not to look forward to the warmer weather ahead. Two of our recent storms qualify as “100 year events” which, statistically, seems a bit much. Could this perhaps be due to climate change? That might or might not be provable, though the intensity and frequency of such storms is completely consistent with the ongoing shifts in land and ocean temperatures and the observed rise in sea levels. Can a small, at-risk coastal community such as ours afford to be “whistling past the graveyard”?

Last year’s climate and energy news was dominated early on by the decision by our current national leadership to abdicate the nation’s responsibility to address climate change by backing away from the Paris climate accord. What has changed in a year?

Last spring, the U.S. was joined by Nicaragua and Syria as the only countries not supporting the Paris agreement. Now, a year later, American Exceptionalism has peaked – both Nicaragua and Syria have joined the rest of the world’s nations. The U.S. stands alone. More than 20 of the administration’s high-level executive branch appointees are climate deniers. Fossil-fuel extraction off our coasts (including the Vineyard) and in the Alaskan tundra is being promoted, and safety measures regulating offshore oil drilling (for both workers and the environment) are being weakened. Solar power generation has been dealt a blow by the imposition of significant tariffs on imported panels.

Clearly, the world of Washington is in a grim state for those of us interested in ensuring that the climate change crisis doesn’t become a climate change catastrophe. What about the real world, the natural world that has locally been besieged by a blizzard following two very damaging northeasters?

Sea levels are rising at the fastest rate in over 2,000 years. Both measurement techniques and predictive modeling of sea level rise have significantly improved in the past 12 months, and indicate that in fact earlier forecasts of sea level rise are, if anything, conservative, and that we can expect several feet of sea level rise by 2050 and up to eight feet by 2100. Due to geography and ocean currents, we in New England will see 50 per cent higher levels than the average. The near-term result will be much more frequent and more severe local flooding.

A year ago hopes were high that green house gas emissions could begin to be reduced or at least the rate of increase could be stabilized as nations adopted policies reflective of their Paris agreements. This has not proven to be the case. In 2017, the world emitted 2 per cent more CO2 than 2016, and U.S. emissions are forecast to increase by 1.8 per cent this year.

To be sure, there have also been positive developments. The momentum to move our energy ecosystem away from carbon fuels to renewables has, if anything, grown stronger. The growth of wind energy generation capacity has recently exceeded that of gas-fired plants for the first time. The solar industry has so far seemed to be resilient under the challenges it now faces from threatened electrical utility companies. The advancement of electric vehicle technology has continued, as has the growth in sales of electric cars. At the state and local level, governments are providing leadership both in terms of adoption of renewable energy technology and in developing plans for adaptation to the changes (such as rising seas) that climate change is now assuredly going to bring us.

So what does all this mean for Martha’s Vineyard? We cannot control what will happen at the global level, but we can act locally in a way that will impact state and national efforts in at least a small way. We need to accelerate the use of renewable energy (including electricity, heating and cooling, and transportation) on the Island by working with partners such as the Cape Light Compact and the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative and supporting locally grown initiatives such as Vineyard Power. We need to partake in statewide programs (such as Green Communities) as well.

We cannot afford to wait in planning for the effects of climate change. Fortunately, the talent, energy and enthusiasm to undertake this planning exists already in our community, in organizations such as the Vineyard Conservation Society, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the Vineyard Sustainable Energy Committee, and Vineyard Power. We must be aggressive and innovative in developing resiliency plans and ways to finance those plans so that the Island will continue to thrive and remain the unique place that we all love.

We are vulnerable. We can’t afford to whistle past the climate change graveyard.

Rob Hannemann is a year-round resident of Chilmark. A former engineering professor at Tufts University, he is chairman of the Vineyard Sustainable Energy Committee.