Finding Hope to Reverse Climate Change

All across the world, kids walked out of school on Friday, May 24 as part of a Global Climate Strike to highlight the importance of action to prevent catastrophic climate change. 

In Southampton, about a dozen students met up on the front lawn of Southampton Town Hall with adult allies of the strike, inspired by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who, after a prolonged strike last fall is now inspiring students to take to the streets on Fridays throughout the world to raise awareness about the dangers of a changing climate.

The movement is supported by the hashtag #fridaysforfuture.

But the mood in Southampton wasn’t dire, and that’s due to its organizers: a new group called Drawdown East End, inspired by the book “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Devised to Reverse Global Warming,” edited by Paul Hawken.

Drawdown is the point at which greenhouse gas concentrations begin to decline on an annual basis, an ambitious goal in a field where simply keeping those concentrations from continuing to rise has been a struggle.

The book outlines 100 steps that can be taken, mostly on a grassroots level, in communities across the world, in a wide range of areas from agriculture to energy production to transportation, food waste and new methods of capturing atmospheric carbon.

“This is an opportunity for us to come together as communities to be creative collaborators and build a whole new society,” said Dorothy Reilly, who helped to organize the Drawdown East End group with a series of discussions at Southampton’s Rogers Memorial Library earlier this year. “Climate change is our teacher, and it’s saying to us, ‘hey pay attention here.’ We’ve been hearing so much about demise, about the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) report, the extinction report, and we get numb to this. We’re more worse off when we’re more closed off. We come to this as position of opportunity.”

Edson Brolin and Dorothy Reilly at the May 24 rally.

Ms. Reilly said that Drawdown East End is encouraged that Southampton Town is already participating in New York State’s Climate Smart Communities project, and that the town passed an an important sustainability plan in 2013. Southampton has also pledged that its electric infrastructure will be 100 percent carbon free by 2025 and all its energy use will be 100 percent carbon free by 2050. 

She said Drawdown East End is urging Southampton Town to vigorously implement the sustainability plan, and is also working on encouraging Southampton Village and Suffolk County to sign on to the Climate Smart Communities project.

The group is also encouraging Southampton Town to appoint two new committees, one to use Drawdown’s scientifically ranked plan as a lens through which to prioritize Climate Smart Communities goals — the group has pinpointed 40 solutions that are actionable locally — and another committee to recommend education and policy focusing on the sectors in the Drawdown book, beginning with Food & Agriculture. 

While there weren’t many chatty young people in attendance at the May 24 event, those in attendance got a big boost from Southampton High School Principal Josephine DiVincenzi, a former science teacher.

“I’m not someone who usually promotes students not being in class, but you’ve got more at stake than we do,” she told the kids, adding that she’s appalled by the disregard for the scientific consensus on the human origin of this climate change.

“This is a crisis. We have very few years left to turn this around,” she said. 

Climate strikers gathered in Southampton.

Ashley Ambrocio, who will be studying science at Stony Brook University this fall, said that she hopes people will pay attention to the dangers we face and embrace solutions to reverse climate change that they can implement in their own lives to reverse climate change. 

Riverhead 11-year-old Berger Carrera put his concern succinctly: “We need to save the world.”

A young woman named Victoria, who is transferring from Suffolk County Community College to Stony Brook University this fall, said she was happy to see people of all ages at the rally, including her 13-year-old sister and a friend.

“It’s important that young people say something,” she said. “That’s the generation that’s going to make a difference.”

Vinny McGann of the Eastern Long Island chapter of the Surfrider Foundation shared a story of a 12-year-old named Marie who came to Surfrider last year looking for help with a project to get restaurants to stop using plastic straws. Since then, he said, 60 restaurants in Suffolk County and a similar number of restaurants in Nassau County have stopped giving their customers plastic straws, and the move has spurred statewide attention to reducing plastic and styrofoam use.

“We’re getting there by mini-steps,” said Mr. McGann. “Insanely good things are happening because Marie fluttered her wings.

Climate strikers gathered in Southampton.

Mary C.F. Morgan of Orient, a founder of Slow Food East End and an active member of Drawdown East End, shared an open letter from the Drawdown group to the community and its elected officials asking for action.

She added that she sees parallels with the Slow Food work — a decade and a half ago, she said, there were no farmers markets and very little local aquaculture on the East End, but since then a local food scene has begun to flourish, which not only helps local farmers and local food consumers, but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions because local food isn’t transported long distances.

Orson Cummings, a writer in Southampton, shared his successful quest to get Southampton Village to ban gas-powered leafblowers in the summer. In the process of doing his research, he found a study by the automobile consumer company Edmunds, which showed that a gasoline-powered two-cycle backpack leafblower produced the same amount of emissions in half an hour of yard work as a Ford F-150 Raptor pickup truck would produce on a 3,887 mile trip from northern Texas to Anchorage, Alaska.

He told the kids at the rally about his quest to get the attention of local government officials, and of how receptive they are when people show up and speak up at their meetings.

“I think everything’s going in the right direction,” he said.

Edwina von Gal of the Perfect Earth Project admitted that she was preaching to the choir, but she also had an optimistic message.

“Every week, something more dire is announced, but wherever your skill set lies, there’s definitely a place for you. The earth is a closed loop. Can you make your property a closed loop?” she said, pointing out that every action people take on their own property is a microcosm of the change necessary in the world, including how they deal with their food and landscaping waste and the chemicals they use or chose not to use in their gardens.

She then led the crowd in a wonky chant of “no biomass leaves my land.”

Democratic congressional candidate Perry Gershon, who is for the second time seeking Congressman Lee Zeldin’s First Congressional District, which includes the East End, had just returned from a trip to the Arizona border with Mexico.

“Climate is a big driver of why people are coming to America,” he said . “If we don’t do something about the climate, we’re going to be overrun with immigration. It’s a worldwide humanitarian problem, and it’s only getting worse. We need to come together and do something to reform our behavior.”

Edson Brolin also shared a big piece of the solution — known in Drawdownese as a “magnifier” — a proposed fee paid by suppliers of carbon-based energy, which would be paid to individual citizens to help them make changes in their lives that reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. The proposal, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, was introduced this January in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Arborist Bill Miller of Sag Harbor showed up in a suit, holding on to a small branch covered in green leaves. He urged the kids to study the writings of Henry David Thoreau.

“A rich, well-lived life does not require the oxidation of carbon atoms,” he said, adding that Thoreau “spent a lot of time on his belly studying ants” and never drove a car.

“Has any one of you looked really closely at a twig. Oh My God, that’s OMG,” he said. “Infinity is in a twig. This thing is taking carbon out of the atmosphere, or it was until I broke it off.”

“There is a drawdown date,” he said, “but where will we (humans) be?”

The Drawdown East End group meets on Mondays, and is looking for new members to help spread the word about their work. For more information, contact Dorothy Reilly at darrreilly@gmail.com.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

One thought on “Finding Hope to Reverse Climate Change

  • May 26, 2019 at 3:53 pm
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    Beth you captured what I thought might not be capturable – the incredible interest, optimism and engagement of our local community from Quogue, to Orient to Montauk in addressing global warming. There was an explosion of heartwarming moments that will be ‘magnifiers’ in themselves as each goes out and shares what we learned and experienced. It felt like we came together as a community and with our presence, strengthened one another, old and young, Shinnecock, latino, and white. Thank you for sharing this story, that others may feel themselves included by reading though they could not be present. Thank you all that attended, spoke, and made it happen, especially Mary Morgan whose brain-child it was.

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