In terms of climate change, 2021 was a chaotic and destructive year with almost constant record-breaking extreme weather events. The heat wave in western Canada last summer exceeded what models predicted as possible this soon. It was 121.3 degrees Fahrenheit in Lytton, British Columbia, on June 29. Over the next few days the town burned to the ground in a wildfire. Wildfires across the globe, spurred by the higher temperatures, pumped 146 per cent more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2021 than the emissions from all the European Union countries combined. Torrential rain events flooded more parts of the world than ever. In some places, more rain fell in just a few days than normally falls in an entire year. Massachusetts saw its wettest July ever — by a lot. We just witnessed horrific tornados rip across Kentucky and other states, leaving 165 miles of debris and devastation. These new levels of extreme weather have been made possible by the destabilizing effect the burning of fossil fuels has had on our atmosphere.

And it’s not just the planet’s atmosphere that is in serious trouble because of human activity. We have also degraded the natural environment around us to such a degree that in some places entire ecosystems are in collapse. But more troubling than the extreme weather events and individual ecosystem crashes are the tipping points we are reaching. Even if all pollution and degradation ended today, it may be too late to undo some of the damage we’ve done. The accepted scientific consensus is that we will not meet the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change goal of keeping global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), and without urgent and radical changes in how we consume both materials and energy, sometime in this century we will likely breach 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit). Breaching this threshold would be catastrophic on a planetary scale.

National and international efforts to combat climate change are not yet close to meeting the severity of the problem. That means communities everywhere need to consider what they can each do, if we want a livable future.

On Martha’s Vineyard, work has begun to address this immense challenge. All the Island towns have established climate committees and overwhelmingly passed aspirational goals to move away from fossil fuels.

Regionally, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission climate action task force continues its work. To meet the energy goals approved at Island town meetings, the task force determined that the Island will need almost three times the electricity we use today. To that end, Eversource has begun the process for installing a fifth undersea cable to the Vineyard by 2025. It will also decommission the diesel generators currently used on the Island and replace the oldest of the existing cables. With these upgrades in place, we will be able to meet our energy transformation goals. The task force and Eversource are also discussing grid resiliency and modernization, including more solar power sourcing, battery storage and smart metering.

The task force has embarked on developing an Islandwide climate action plan. Funded through a Massachusetts Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program grant, the plan is designed to be community-driven. Broad public participation is vital if the plan is to be both meaningful and implementable. The task force hopes Islanders will look for ways to participate this winter and coming spring. We aim to have a draft plan by next June.

Scientific and engineering inquiries and other studies are being undertaken so that our plans and decisions are based on real data. With the aid of a Coastal Zone Management grant, the MVC and the Center for Coastal Studies has identified more than 700 storm tide pathways across the Island. This information is useful in coordinating emergency responses and will help determine needed Island infrastructure upgrades. The pathways data will also be linked to the National Weather Service, to provide real-time storm event mapping so road closures and other issues can be effectively communicated. To better understand natural solutions and help guide land use policies, Falmouth’s Woodwell Climate Research Center and the climate action task force are embarking on a comprehensive study of the Island’s carbon cycle and climate risks. The Army Corps of Engineers and Nantucket are joining the Vineyard in conducting a first-of-its-kind carrying capacity and supply chain resiliency study. A climate action fund has been established through the Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation, to help fund ongoing climate research and work.

While progress has been made, the task force and the town climate committees cannot do the work alone. It remains up to all of us to reimagine how we live and work so that we are in better balance with the natural systems that support us.

Wealthy countries and communities are responsible for most of the pollution and resource consumption that fuels climate change. The Vineyard is just one small place, but in reality it’s very much part of the wealthy world, and many Island livelihoods have become dependent on the behavior that threatens us and everyone else. This is uncomfortable and not sustainable. We must ask ourselves important questions about how we reduce our energy and material use, how we conserve our natural resources, and how we transition our economy away from one based on excess consumption. Living on an Island, where space is finite and access to the mainland not guaranteed, we know we must become more resilient to weather the coming threats.

Urgent action is required if we are to make the transitions necessary in the time frame science requires. There are many people across our community already contributing to this work, and the numbers are growing. If anything gives me hope for our future, it is our ability to rally together in the face of adversity.

Ben Robinson is chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission climate action task force. Donations to the task force can be sent to Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation, P.O. Box 243, West Tisbury, MA 02575.