comscore Earth Day: Look to nature to remove and sequester carbon — and restore a warming planet | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Editorial | Island Voices

Earth Day: Look to nature to remove and sequester carbon — and restore a warming planet

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  • Ulalia Woodside is executive director of The Nature Conservancy, Hawaii and Palmyra.

    Ulalia Woodside is executive director of The Nature Conservancy, Hawaii and Palmyra.

The ecological and biological richness of Hawaii is unmatched, with 27 of 36 of the world’s ecological zones, from tundra to rainforest to beaches. Our plants, animals, fish and corals are found nowhere else on Earth. The natural world is essential to our way of life, our economy and our culture.

While the Hawaiian language does not have a single word for “nature,” there are hundreds of words and proverbs for our reciprocal relationship with it. The health of the place reflects the health of the people. Past research by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) shows how pre-Western contact Hawaiians had a much smaller footprint on nature compared to present day. Every day was Earth Day.

As we celebrate The Nature Conservancy’s 40th anniversary in Hawaii, we continue to work with partners — from businesses to government to private individuals and communities — to protect Hawaii’s lands, ocean and freshwater to address the double threat of biodiversity loss and the impacts of a changing climate.

A public poll we commissioned last year showed that, even during the height of the pandemic, more than half of Hawaii residents felt climate change will cause them great or moderate harm, and more than 70% ranked the impacts of climate change — such as coral reefs dying off, reduced fresh water supplies, and flooding, drought and hurricanes — at nearly the same level of serious concern as COVID-19, drug abuse, cost of housing and jobs. The majority feels it is important to protect forests that provide fresh water, restore coral reefs, prevent invasive species spread and restore wetlands.

Nature can be quick to respond to change if the conditions are right. Through the pandemic, we’ve seen some places rebound with fewer people visiting. Scientists measured increased fish numbers and sizes at places like Hanauma Bay and Molokini, and honu (green sea turtles) nested on Bellows Beach for the first time in recent memory. But lasting results are going to take ongoing effort and investment.

We — and our natural areas — are experiencing the effects of climate change such as high temperatures, flooding, coral bleaching, and more frequent and severe storms. Hawaii is leading the way to address these impacts, from our early adoption of the Paris Agreement goal to aim for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, to one of the highest U.S. adoption rates of electronic vehicles and charging stations, to individual solar power installation, to our commitment to preserving and effectively managing 30% of Hawaii’s forests and coral reefs by 2030.

Fortunately, the natural world can help. Land, oceans, plants, soil and trees can remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester — or store it — without any technology or other human intervention. This underscores the need to continue protecting forests, wetlands and oceans, as TNC has been doing in Hawaii for the last 40 years.

TNC-led science has shown that natural climate solutions can effectively sequester carbon. Here in Hawaii, with funding from the Sustainability Business Forum and others, we are testing and demonstrating a forest carbon offset project at our 8,000-acre Kona Hema Preserve. Simply put, trees absorb carbon. One credit offsets one metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions. For example, three one-way tickets from Honolulu to Los Angeles emit one ton of carbon per person. Buying one carbon credit would offset the carbon emissions from those three flights, pulling the same amount of carbon dioxide emitted from the flights out of the atmosphere.

This is the first such forest carbon offset project in Hawaii, and is just one example of the many natural climate solutions that will help us set a resilient course for the future, in Hawaii and around the world.

As we all celebrate this 51st Earth Day, we can and must make bold choices and explore innovative solutions to restore our aina — and ourselves.

Ulalia Woodside is executive director of The Nature Conservancy, Hawaii and Palmyra.

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