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Saturday, August 21, 2004



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ILLUSTRATION BY OLGA SHEVCHENKO
Richard Ziegler's book "Earthquest Hawaii 2054" portrays the effects of global warming and sea level rise, including the transformation of Waikiki into the "Venice of the Pacific" with gondolas.


Story sounds
environmental
alert

The effect of rising sea levels on
Hawaii is portrayed in an isle
professor's new book


Imagine Waikiki as the "Venice of the Pacific" with gondolas, Chinatown under water and Ala Moana Center turned into an ocean casino on stilts.

These effects of global warming and sea level rise are portrayed in "Earthquest Hawaii 2054" by author Richard Ziegler, Honolulu Community College professor emeritus.

"It's not science fiction exactly," he said, noting that the story is based on a United Nations report on global warming issued in 2001 by 420 scientists from 100 nations.

It said seas rose six inches in the 20th century, a rate 10 times faster than the previous 2,000 years, and a spike in sea levels would probably add another 1 1/2 feet of water in the 21st century, he said.

Though his story is fictional, he said he anchored it as much as possible to the report with the local impact of climate change shown through the eyes of a young Kailua couple.

He said his book "Red Sun" three years ago, about what would have happened if the Japanese had taken over Hawaii after Pearl Harbor, stimulated a lot of discussion.

Similarly, his goal with "Earthquest" is to alert the public to the dangers of global warming by making it a local issue.

"Obviously, there would be a megaconstruction project (a sea wall) to try to hold it (the rising waters) back.

"It would bring all kinds of conflicts and corruption and polarization," with richer parts of Hawaii, as well as richer countries, able to cope better than poorer ones, Ziegler said.

He was writing the 128-page book in December when he saw a preview of "The Day After Tomorrow," a movie about cataclysmic climate change.

"I thought, wow, there is going to be some interest in this," he said. He asked Floyd McCoy, Windward Community College associate professor of geology and oceanography, to review the book.

"I think he's dead on," McCoy said. "The sea level rises too fast, but that's fine, this is fiction. I have to credit Rick. He's a historian. He has gone through the U.N. report, read it and understood it. Very few people have.

"He's producing a story that's probably going to be true in 2054 -- not quite as he has it, but many aspects will be true. It's time for people to wake up and understand that," McCoy said.

"Chip Fletcher (University of Hawaii professor of geology and geophysics) has the same message. We all do. The sea is rising; the islands are becoming smaller. We have to be ready for water rising."

The U.N. report predicts a 20-foot rise in sea level if the Greenland ice cap melts, Ziegler said, pointing out even one to two feet would be a catastrophe. He said while serving in the Peace Corps, he lived on an atoll in Micronesia where the highest point on the island is 5 feet, "a mound built up."

His friends there say the rising sea is causing saltwater intrusion into taro patches. The whole nation of Tuvalu plans to evacuate the population in 30 years, he said.

His "Earthquest" story depicts a 19-year-old high school student who is trying to understand problems, causes and effects of global warming and sea level rise around the island.

Looking out the window at his neighborhood in Kailua, for example, the boy sees most or all of the houses "jacked up or walled off, and raised up onto stilts or platforms or even stone piles to lift them above the advancing ocean."

Ziegler weaves elements into the story about new technologies such as a hydrogen processing plant and movements requiring political power and muscle to achieve changes.

He said he "didn't just want to be gloom and doom," so he suggested shifting to a hydrogen gas economy for a nonpolluting fuel source and developing disease- and drug-resistant crops and better irrigation techniques.

He also injected some humor into a depressing picture, poking fun at some of Hawaii's leaders and how they might be viewed in 50 years.

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