Column: It’s high stakes for climate change and time to act
Recent environmental disasters, coupled with mounting research, demonstrate the profound impact of climate change to health and prosperity.
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Recent environmental disasters, coupled with mounting research, demonstrate the profound impact of climate change to health and prosperity. We must act individually and collectively, locally and globally, to address the causes of global warming and to adapt, as best we can, to these daunting times. We must recognize that climate change is the result of human hands and so, it is with our hands that we must face what we have created.
Hawaii already has seen an increase in extreme storms bearing down on the islands, flooding, sewage spills, drought, erosion of coastal lands, demise of coral reefs from increased ocean temperature and acidification, changes to fisheries, an increase in human trash on our shores and only the beginnings of a rise in sea level. These changes threaten food, water and housing security and jeopardize health of the people.
Aside from the risk of infectious diseases that tend to follow natural disasters, as the result of shifting ecosystems, Hawaii continues to be at risk for an increase in tropical illnesses. Zika, a mosquito-borne disease, is a sentinel sign. As one of the medical officers for the Hokule‘a during its worldwide voyage, a key priority was to protect the crew from the rapid uptick in such diseases throughout Polynesia.
Not only are the frequency and severity of disasters related to climate change on the increase, moving forward, many regions around the globe will be at risk for several simultaneous natural disasters, according to Nature Climate Change, written by a consortium of academics after reviewing a large body of scientific literature.
While costs to address health impacts of climate change will be substantial, additional financial resources to replace infrastructure and remediate physical damage will drain the U.S. economy of hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment released by the federal government on Black Friday.
I recently spoke about climate change with Martin Lousteau, former minister of the economy and production for Argentina and former Argentine ambassador to the United States. I asked whether he thought that the escalating threat of global warming might bend the arc away from rising nationalism, back toward institutions of liberal democracy as a foundation for global collaborations such as the Paris Agreement. The U.S. was a founding party to the agreement, forged under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. However, by executive order the U.S. pulled out last year. Lousteau opined that the human condition has not yet evolved enough to embrace global concerns, especially those further into the future. Rather, more local and immediate matters such as jobs, housing, living standards and profitability will remain the primary drivers for human behavior.
As such, it is incumbent upon international bodies and governments at all levels to implement policy that will effectively modify human behavior in a manner that modulates utilization of natural resources, minimizes pollution and shrinks the collective carbon footprint. The World Bank and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) continue to advocate carbon pricing tax schemes, such as those implemented in Norway, Sweden and British Columbia. However, Washington state just rejected a referendum that called for fees on carbon emissions. I discussed carbon taxes with Joseph Curtin, a senior fellow for climate policy at the Institute of International and European Affairs, who advocates a “sector-specific mix of incentives and regulations … to spur the deployment of green technologies in the buildings, transport, power and agriculture sectors.” He points out that this approach has “already delivered dramatic breakthroughs for solar PV.” This is certainly the case for Hawaii.
For those of us who have the benefit of living in paradise, our responsibility is all the greater, not only to be global citizens, but also to focus on the unique set of challenges faced on the islands, specifically those related to our isolated position in the middle of the great blue continent that is the Pacific Ocean. Whether we put solar panels on the roofs of our homes before federal credits begin to decrease toward the end of next year, or shore up our buildings and keep emergency supplies on hand to better withstand a hurricane, there remains much to do at every level.