POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Apr 5, 2011
According to the latest Gallup Poll on issues of concern to voters, the environment is the least of our worries. Among those worried about the environment, the least pressing item was climate change.
Perhaps we in Hawaii might want to rethink that. After all, we do live on islands, which by definition are surrounded by water, which is actually rising.
The horrifying pictures from Japan show the power of rushing tsunamis, but here in Hawaii it is the creeping rise of the ocean as it permanently moves higher that should be a concern.
While Hawaii is making efforts to cut fossil fuel consumption, produce our own energy and contribute less to global warming, there seems little recognition that our climate has already changed.
Chip Fletcher is a 20-year veteran of the University of Hawaii and past chairman of the geology and geophysics department at UH-Manoa. Last year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency honored Fletcher for his work in climate change science with the UH Center for Island Climate Adaption and Policy.
“Global warming is front and center in Hawaii, it is here and we are living with it — it is absolutely present,” Fletcher says.
Asked how Hawaii is coping, Fletcher adds: “There is no formal governmental plan of any sort related to global warming in Hawaii.”
Last year he put together a briefing sheet on how Hawaii’s climate is changing. You should read it at http://goo.gl/tVSQJ because, as Fletcher explains, global warming is already changing Hawaii.
“Global warming is evident in Hawaii: Surface temperature is rising, rainfall and stream flow have decreased, rain intensity has increased, sea level and sea surface temperatures have increased, and the ocean is acidifying,” Fletcher writes.
He warns that predicting sea level changes in Hawaii is tricky because “winds and ocean currents affect sea level,” but reports that research indicates “sea level may exceed three feet above the 1990 level by the end of the 21st century.”
Already, Fletcher says, a new study of Greenland and Antarctica melting, combined with thermal expansion of seawater, “indicates a global sea level rise of over one foot by 2050.”Honolulu International Airport’s reef runway is 8.6 feet above sea level.
Global warming in Hawaii also means less fresh water for farming and more salt water backing up into streams. Taro farming, Fletcher says, is vulnerable to the impacts of global warming.
Too bad for Hawaii: Global warming is also producing more severe rain storms, which causes floods.
“Global warming appears to be taking Hawaii into a time of declining fresh water resources while enduring more intense rainstorms,” Fletcher wrote.
Cities are starting to take note and change their plans to include a new hotter, drier and stormier climate, with Chicago and Seattle leading the list.
In Hawaii, we have passed some resolutions. The state Office of Planning has monthly meetings on it — but there is no clear sense of either urgency or need for preparation.
Fletcher thinks now would be the time for Gov. Neil Abercrombie to order all state departments to assess the impacts global warming will have on their own department missions and make some plans.
Or as Bill Cosby liked to joke: “How long can you tread water?”
Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.