If Dorothy Reilly was asked what she believes was the most important thing in the world today, her answer would be to stop and reverse climate change.
An environmental activist on the East End for decades, Ms. Reilly founded grassroots organizations, served on municipal sustainability boards and often spoke at community centers about the importance of keeping the planet healthy. And now, at 68, she has no intention of stopping her efforts anytime soon, especially as average temperatures continue to rise around the globe.
This core belief motivated her to begin the creation of an ad hoc environmental conservation group called Drawdown East End, based on the principles of the nonprofit Project Drawdown. Experts at Project Drawdown formulated a ranked list of 80 solutions that reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and Ms. Reilly plans to localize those solutions within her group.
“In all of my actions, I’m influencing the health of the planet, and so I want to bring solutions to people. I personally don’t want to bring all the problems to people because we’ve heard that so much, and I think that paralyzes us,” she said, adding that a positive approach is necessary to sustain productivity and motivation.
The idea of starting Drawdown East End was sparked last April at the Southampton Art Center’s Earth Day weekend. Ms. Reilly, who helped coordinate the weekend event, showed a video to guests of Project Drawdown’s founder, Paul Hawken, talking about his subsequent book, “Drawdown.” When watching the video herself, she said she was intrigued by Mr. Hawken’s optimistic attitude and the way he viewed combating climate change as an opportunity rather than as an obligation.
“The way that he speaks in all this is a chance for us to be creative, to be collaborative, to come to solutions,” she said. Ever since that introduction to the community, she has been itching to do more. “It’s been growing in me in a way that I am so passionate about and I just want to share my enthusiasm with everybody that I can.”
Ms. Reilly, who goes by “Darr,” spearheaded the effort to form Southampton Town’s Sustainable Southampton Green Advisory Committee years ago, and served as the group’s first chairwoman. She also founded the local nonprofit EarthMatters, which evolved into Women’s Initiatives for a Sustainable Earth, or WISE, that had hosted workshops on personal empowerment and sustainability-focused community engagement.
She and other local environmental advocates are in the process of forming Drawdown East End with one primary goal: to propel the local community to do its part in reversing global warming. The group is still in its preliminary stages, as Ms. Reilly and her co-director, Mary Foster Morgan, search for a venue to hold weekly meetings and compose a mission statement and vision.
Members of the group, currently at 10, aim to educate the community on ways they can significantly reduce their carbon footprint and how they can go a step further to push for legislative change. They have large-scale plans to collaborate with all local elected officials, school districts and environmental and conservation groups to work toward a more sustainable future.
Some members have already met with Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming and Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca, and reached out to members of Southampton’s Green Advisory Committee to schedule a meeting with them.
“What’s great about the whole Drawdown concept is its ability to give every individual a way to take and recognize action on climate change at the local level and make this very overwhelming problem a much more manageable challenge from the local level up, rather than from the global perspective down,” Mr. DeLuca said in an email, adding that he is looking forward to a future partnership.
In recent months, Ms. Reilly has been facilitating discussions about Mr. Hawken’s “Drawdown” book that the Rogers Memorial Library, in partnership with the Southampton Arts Center, has been holding since January. An initial introduction discussion was followed by five workshops, in which community members each picked a Drawdown solution and presented ways that it could be integrated into the community.
At the latest workshop on March 22, about a dozen people showed up, most of whom were involved with local civic organizations and have advocated for environmental protection. They discussed solutions related to marshes, composting, food waste, microgrids and policy, all within a local framework.
By the end of the three-hour meeting, attendees were motivated to continue the discussions and schedule another gathering soon.
Mark Haubner, the Riverhead representative for the North Fork Environmental Council, said at the meeting that their next step should be to create an inventory of all environmental conservation and sustainability groups on the East End. “Once we get that moving, then the network becomes more self-organizing,” he said.