The effects of climate change on Martha’s Vineyard within the upcoming decades will include, among other things, continuously eroding infrastructure due to frequent so-called nuisance flooding, and damage to the local economy in the wake of one or more highly destructive weather events. This applies under any projected climate change scenario, including full and timely implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Furthermore, there is a strong possibility that we could experience a significant recession within the coming decades, while concurrently suffering debilitating political and social upheavals as a nation. This could be the context within which we will implement adaptation to climate change effects on the Island. While this should not determine our response over the coming years, it should inform our efforts. Above all, it adds even more urgency to make the best possible use of the short window of opportunity we now enjoy.

Just as feedback loops, cascades and tipping points in the world’s natural systems can confound the predictions of climate science, the social, political and economic factors of our times are interrelated, and can become self-reinforcing, interacting with climate disruption to create a truly ominous prognosis for the political, social and economic foundations of human societies — including ours.

We face conditions within the coming decade which on their own account are already extremely dangerous, but which could react with and reinforce one another in a veritable witches’ brew of dysfunction and disruption. It is important to note that most of these trends are long term, deep seated social and economic factors which will not be resolved one way or the other by an election or two. They include:

• Unsustainable deficit spending, and relentless government, corporate and private debt burdens;

• Further intensification of trade wars in an inextricably interdependent world economy;

• Political polarization leading to ever greater shortfalls in governance;

• Broad-spectrum loss of confidence and mistrust of government.

• Trends towards dictatorship undermining the rule of law;

• Increased abject poverty, inequality and social rage/unrest.

To these interrelated forces must be added the predictable effects of climate change, which will increase in intensity and are already baked-in for decades if not centuries to come:

• Drought in some of the world’s breadbaskets, leading to large-scale commodity crop failures followed by price increases and shortages of staple foods or outright famine for the many people already struggling to feed themselves in this country;

• Large, internally-displaced populations moving from threatened coastal and droughtstricken areas of the country;

• Great waves of migration from countries rendered uninhabitable by climate change and war;

• Scale and frequency of simultaneous large-scale natural disasters overwhelming disaster agencies and affecting insurance, manufacture, shipping and trade infrastructure locally, nationally and internationally.

In short, the economic, social and political impact of climate change cannot be overemphasized.

The timing of severe disruption is difficult to predict, but is more likely than not within the next 10 to 20 years. The structure of our local economy and current way of life cannot be presumed to be indefinitely immune to these forces. While the Island may be temporarily buffered by its high concentration of the disproportionate economic and political resources of much of its seasonal population, these resources could falter if the systems sustaining them collapse. Assuming an intact political, social and economic framework at the national level, or a vibrant seasonal/tourism economy at the local level beyond the upcoming decade or two could be overly optimistic.

To make matters worse, the international community is failing spectacularly to mobilize significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and the predicted effects (along with some that were insufficiently accounted for in the past, such as methane release from melting permafrost or undersea hydrates, or the rapid and permanent loss of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets) are proceeding apace, in some cases, far faster than anticipated. In other words, our planning must also include consideration of a high-emissions scenario, and allow for the possibility that its effects are closer than we think. Under a business-as-usual emissions scenario, the greatest possible self-reliance of a year-round population on Martha’s Vineyard becomes the overriding priority. We have an advantage here, since this mentality is deeply engrained in New England generally, and all the more so in our Island’s history and character.

If this is the case, what are the implications for the Island’s current efforts to address climate change adaptation?

It is important to note that the funds we spend now, whether state grants, loans or local tax revenues, may be diminished or unobtainable even just a decade or two from now, depending on the robustness of the national economy, and we should plan accordingly. For example, instead of building for the short term, and risk having non-viable infrastructure (and debt) in the future without the means to do anything about it, every major expense the Island undertakes from here on in should ideally endure in a high-end sea level rise scenario, even if it requires a greater current investment to do so. This would mean not only choosing among different climate change adaptation projects, but evaluating these in a comprehensive fashion alongside all other upcoming town and Islandwide needs and priorities and balancing present and future benefitsand needs appropriately to secure our future.

Marina Lent lives in Edgartown. Adapted from her submission to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on climate change.