Controversy, primarily around land use and land development issues, has been a defining trait of the Vineyard community in recent years. So it is remarkable and gratifying to see signs that the Vineyard is uniting around the common goal of conserving energy, improving efficiency and thinking about the future.

One catalyst is certainly the skyrocketing cost of fuel. But there is also a dawning awareness of the deadly seriousness of global warming. The report released last November from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared that human-generated global warming (caused largely by the release of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel use) is strongly affecting life on earth. Changes are impacting coastal wetlands and coastal flooding patterns, agriculture and forestry and many aspects of human health.

For the Vineyard, the impacts could be profound. How we choose to respond is the challenge of our times. Rising sea levels will impact our natural habitats, coastal ponds, homes, businesses and infrastructure. Hotter, dryer summers will affect energy use, food production, wildfire hazard and the incidence of tick borne illnesses. More severe and more frequent storm activity will change the Vineyard’s real estate and resort economy.

We are urged to recognize this as a danger of global proportions, and we do. We are also frequently reminded to act locally, and we can. The Vineyard Conservation Society has been promoting energy awareness for decades. Now more than ever, we believe that a radical recommitment to energy efficiency and conservation must be a centerpiece of our individual and collective response.

There are real, meaningful actions that we can take on both the personal and the community level, beginning by critically examining our individual energy use, and by finding ways to reduce it. Last year’s Living Local event showcased a range of strategies. An extensive list is available by going to the VCS Conservation Almanac site, almanac.vcsmv.org.

We must also undertake community-wide action to meet the challenges ahead. We see a convergence of concerned citizens, town leaders, regional planners, nonprofit organizations and local business people, all working toward the common goal of increasing energy conservation and efficiency in transportation, appliances, homes, and public spaces. A number of efforts are already under way, with others in the planning stages:

• Energy committees in several Vineyard towns are working to develop policies to encourage energy conservation and efficiency.

• The nonprofit Vineyard Energy Project, with extensive community input, has created a 10-year energy plan aimed at substantially reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

• The Martha’s Vineyard Commission Island Plan is evaluating and highlighting opportunities for energy conservation and alternatives.

• The town of Aquinnah has secured the approval of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to establish an energy DCPC. This could become a model for the rest of the Island.

• Cape and Islands Rep. William Delahunt has introduced a proposal to establish an energy research area in waters southwest of Nantucket, which has the support of town leaders in Edgartown.

• Active discussions among the Island’s waste management professionals are aimed at minimizing the shipment of solid waste off-Island, thereby reducing the consumption of fossil fuel and other costs.

Across the Island, people are pursuing a range of ideas for exploiting renewable energy that vary widely in scope and scale. Some have already been implemented, others are proposed, and still others are highly theoretical, but all are the subject of vigorous debate, indicating an engaged and concerned community.

The proliferation of these initiatives and conversations is encouraging. We are confident that they will ultimately yield viable projects to reduce our energy footprint in ways that are consistent with protecting the Vineyard’s environment, character and quality of life.

Meanwhile, we can start with a small gesture. We can all demonstrate our commitment to energy conservation by participating in the VCS co-sponsored Lights Out Martha’s Vineyard event, part of the national Lights Out America campaign. The goal of this action is to create a groundswell of support for a major shift in national energy policy by having citizens across the country turn off all nonessential lighting on Saturday, March 29, between 8 and 9 p.m.

Yes, the challenges are global and visionary leadership is needed at the state and federal level. However, our responses must begin locally, where our actions can make visible, measurable differences in our own community. The Vineyard Conservation Society is committed to promoting energy efficiency and conservation here at home, as part of a global effort to conserve resources and limit the severity of climate change. We encourage you to join us.

Brendan O’Neill is executive director of the

Vineyard Conservation Society.