...a largely unspoiled Martha’s Vineyard, where natural and human communities thrive and flourish together with minimal conflict; a sustainable future ensured through preserved land, clean water and a protected biological heritage.

A few years ago, the Vineyard Conservation Society (VCS) tasked itself with adding to its traditional mission statement (roughly, “What does VCS do?”) a new vision statement (“Why do we do it?”).

Informed by our long history in environmental advocacy, as well as more recent trends, in particular the explosive rate of growth that has put unprecedented pressure on both the Island’s people and natural resources, the VCS staff and board came up with the words above.

Key to that vision is one word: sustainable. It acknowledges that our fundamental goal — a better environment for all — is not so much an end state as it is a process. Working toward sustainability means charting a better path today, tomorrow and the next day.

Which brings us to the subject of annual town meeting season, occurring across the Island, beginning tonight in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury, and concluding in Tisbury on May 28.

Unlike in recent years, VCS is not directly sponsoring or leading the advocacy for any specific warrant articles. However, this spring’s town meetings do provide ample opportunities for voters to directly weigh in on questions affecting our Island’s future.

Viewing the warrants through the lens of environmental protection, we see two easy calls. First, Article 8 in West Tisbury would implement the “Specialized Energy Code” for new construction. It is slightly stricter than the existing code, and a reasonable way for the town to make progress toward its climate goals while reducing utility costs and improving comfort for its residents.

Second, Edgartown’s Article 98 would ban the commercial use of gas-powered leaf blowers. Everyone is well aware of the aggravating din of commercial leaf blowing operations. Fewer though may know that gas-powered lawn tools in general, and leaf blowers in particular, spew a shocking amount of air pollution, causing an out-sized effect on human health and furthering climate change.

These two articles stand out as particularly straightforward, and present clear environmental benefits. However, the rest of this spring’s questions are not so simple, as they seek to reckon with the consequences of the Island’s overarching issue — overly rapid growth and unsustainable development — in more fundamental and expansive ways.

Today’s supercharged real estate market has caused one obvious problem: the affordability of housing. Less obvious, perhaps, is that the driver of this market, an insatiable appetite for vacation homes which are increasingly used as investments, has led not just to high prices but also a burgeoning demand for all the associated inputs: building materials, construction and related trades, landscaping work, septic pumping, waste hauling, “property management” services (caretaking, in the humble language of a bygone era), and more.

This has created a profound distortion in the Island economy, which now simultaneously has too many companies and workers providing these services and too few. We should think it strange that our narrow rural roads are patrolled daily by a brigade of commercial vans and heavy trucks, yet it can be so difficult to find someone to repair a broken window.

We should also question the underlying economic forces that make the circular argument that “we need more jobs in the trades because it’s the only way to earn enough money to live here” sound sensible. We should consider that the most compelling case for growth, that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” becomes less true as inequality increases. And, even if it holds true, we should be concerned that perpetual growth is impossible on a finite Island whose economic success (never mind quality of life) is directly tied to its natural environment.

Attempting to grapple with those questions, and the economic distortion behind them, is the thread uniting the most challenging issues at this year’s town meetings. Some efforts focus on the demand side of the equation: placing limits on short-term rentals (West Tisbury and Edgartown), banning new fractional ownership schemes (Oak Bluffs and Edgartown), and limiting the scale (if not the rate) of development through caps on building size and the amount of impervious surfaces on a property (Edgartown).

In contrast, Oak Bluffs is trying to help on the supply side by allowing a more accommodating business environment for trades and professional services through the creation of zoning “overlay districts” in residential areas and expansion of its home business provisions. Ultimately, all are responses to the problems and opportunities associated with today’s real estate market.

In most of our living memories, the most important driving force for growth on Martha’s Vineyard has been the market for vacation homes, whether to own or rent, short-term or long. That market has been flying high for so long, and with seemingly ever-increasing altitude, that it may be hard to imagine it ever coming back down to Earth. But a tourism economy that is centered around enjoyment of a place’s natural beauty or rural charm is inherently fragile. We are engaged here in a sort of extraction economy, collectively exploiting a natural resource to make a living. It is possible to harvest the resource sustainably, but it is easier to mine it roughly.

As we approach the limits of what this Island can support, it seems inevitable that today’s explosive growth will slow at some point. The real questions are, will it slow because we took active steps to rein it in, or because the market crashed from over-exploitation? And what will the Island look like when it happens? When the high-flying real estate market eventually returns to Earth, will it be with a soft landing or a crash?

VCS applauds the efforts of town boards, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and concerned citizens who continue to do the heavy lifting of planning for a more sustainable future. Now it’s the voters’ turn. Town meeting asks all of us to participate in making specific decisions about the issues of today, from as simple as changing the power source of leaf blowers to as complex as zoning overlay districts.

However, it is equally important that we consider, as best we can without the benefit of a crystal ball, the long-term impacts of what is put before us. It’s a big ask, but we know Vineyard voters are up for it. There’s too much at stake not to be.

Jeremy Houser is director of science and policy at Vineyard Conservation Society.