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Almanac Archive for Oct. 1, 2020

Global Issues at Town Meeting   |   Cape nitrogen lawsuit   |   View in your browser

The Conservation Almanac
     Environmental Issues at Town Meeting
          Lawsuit Challenges Cape Towns to Address Nitrogen
                VCS Annual Meeting Video
Global Environmental Issues on the Warrant at Town Meeting 

Last spring, in an effort to minimize public health risk during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Island towns pared back Town Meeting warrants to the bare essentials, approving the budget while keeping the meeting as short and simple as possible.
Beginning with next week’s Special Town Meeting in West Tisbury, warrant articles addressing two of the most significant environmental issues facing the planet – climate change and plastic pollution – will now resume their halting, winding march through the Town Meeting process. Article 10 seeks to transition the town to 100% renewable energy, while Article 20 would end the use of polystyrene. Both articles are non-binding resolutions, statements of the town’s shared ambition to do the right thing today to ensure a better future.
The 100% Renewable resolution is a product of the Vineyard Sustainable Energy Committee (an umbrella group of each town’s energy committee), with support from the MV Commission Climate Action Task Force, and the Island Climate Action Network (ICAN).  
The voluntary polystyrene ban is a VCS initiative, part of our broader plastics reduction efforts. If you are curious to learn more, for example why we chose to single out polystyrene among all the other harmful plastics, please see this introduction to the resolution.
The West Tisbury Special Town Meeting begins at 4:00 pm on Oct. 6 at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs. The Town of Aquinnah will vote on both resolutions in November, and Oak Bluffs may have a fall Special Town Meeting as well. Stay tuned!

Think globally, vote locally
The USA produces more carbon emissions and plastic per capita than almost any other country.


Annual Meeting: 20/20 Clarity for Conservation

Thanks to all who joined us for our Annual Meeting of the Membership and Board of Directors. The 2020-21 slate of Directors was unanimously approved by the Membership, including this year’s additions, Jeff Agnoli, Jack Fruchtman, and Abigail Higgins. Welcome aboard!
If you missed it, please check out the presentation by Executive Director Brendan O’Neill for a short overview of current happenings in conservation on Martha's Vineyard, along with reflections on past milestones and present-day challenges. For introductory remarks by outgoing president Jim Athearn and incoming President Jennifer Blum, poetry from Warren Woessner, and all the rest, see the entire meeting video.

Nitrogen Pollution is Obviously a Problem
     . . . but is it "pollution"?    

Frustrated by insufficient progress in reducing nitrogen impacts on Cape Cod waters, the Conservation Law Foundation made waves recently by filing a lawsuit against the towns of Barnstable and Mashpee. The nonprofit legal advocacy group is seeking a suspension of construction of new Title 5 septic systems, as well as the inspections required before a property sale, until the towns commit to meaningful, near-term measures to address the problems of nutrient effluent. For details, see the Cape Cod Times.
The Times article frames the issue as a battle between environmentalists and the realtors whose business would be put on hold, which is unfortunate (though quite possibly accurate). Annoyed quotes from the head of the local realtors’ association (“It’s a shame a special interest group from off Cape Cod is trying to manufacture drama . . .”) are pitted against the very real concerns of local environmentalists. As Barnstable Clean Water Coalition executive director Zenas Crocker put it:  

“We know where the problem comes from and for decades we have had an ostrich-like, head-in-the-sand approach to the problem . . . Unfortunately, in my view we are poisoning the patient a little bit at a time and we are gradually killing the golden goose.”
It’s going to be hard to top the squeezing in of three metaphors – two involving large birds – into one short statement, so instead we will note something else interesting about CLF’s lawsuit. Whether their strategy ends up working or not, the theory being invoked, that Title 5 must limit nitrogen and phosphorus as pollutants, appears very analogous to the long-running legal battle over whether the federal Clean Air Act applies to greenhouse gas emissions. Neither carbon in the air nor nitrogen in the water are toxic to life in an immediate, physiological sense; however, the science is beyond dispute that both are the key drivers of processes that will ultimately result in great environmental harm. Scientifically, the case for regulation is obvious, but law is made by humans, and forever open to interpretation.
One can only hope the CLF lawsuit never reaches the level of partisan politics where a large group of “skeptical” eutrophication deniers promote the argument that nitrogen can’t possibly be bad because it makes plants grow faster.

Above: Cyanobacteria bloom in Brewster, photo by Gerald Beetham for the Association to Protect Cape Cod

Activist Terry Tempest Williams Joins Church Service

Terry Tempest Williams, environmental activist and thinker, and current Writer-in-Residence at Harvard Divinity School, will join the West Tisbury Congregational Church for their regular Sunday service on Oct. 18th (held over Zoom). For more info see this flyer, and to join in the service just head over to the Church website and click the big red button.

Solace & Insight
The Art of Conservation 2020

"For me this photo is very calming. The warmth of the sunset on your face and hearing the waves crash against the empty shore line. Walking up and down the beach looking for that perfect shell that will complete your collection, and seeing birds swoop down to pick up their dinner in the water. Being at the beach brings me solace, and having determination to not lose hope, to looking forward for summer to come. Since I am a swimmer and the YMCA is closed, it brings me hope that I can look forward to swimming in the “Big Blue.” That is why this photo that I took is very comforting."

Sylvi Carroll, describing "Aquinnah Sunset," a First-Place winner in the Middle School division of this year's Art of Conservation



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