Hot weather not just a day at the beach
RISING temperatures have us all running for the beach this summer. Is it global warming, or just another sunnier, hotter day in Honolulu? There is scientific consensus that the threat of global warming is real, and that the early effects are evident worldwide.
Consider that 2005 was the warmest year ever recorded, and the most recent 10 years (1996-2005), with the exception of 1996, are the warmest years on record. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has noted that global temperatures have risen 1 degree Fahrenheit during the last century, and predicts that they will rise from 3 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.
Left unchecked, rising temperatures could contribute to rising sea levels and significant habitat disruption in Hawaii, among other things.
Sea levels in Honolulu, Hilo and Nawiliwili have risen 6-12 inches during the past century, and the IPCC predicts that global sea level will rise between 8 to 28 inches before 2100. Eight to 28 inches -- that means that coastal businesses, residences and habitats could be severely affected.
GLOBAL warming is one of the largest threats to endangered species and biodiversity. Because so many native plants and species in Hawaii are highly adapted to specific locations, slight changes in temperature and rainfall levels could cause significant disruption to Hawaii's fragile ecosystems and habitat. According to a study published in Nature magazine, researchers who studied 20 percent of the Earth's surface area found that 18 to 33 percent of the species studied could be extinct by 2050, if global warming continues at its current rate.
Human activity is the largest contributor to global warming pollution. Emissions of carbon dioxide -- the leading cause of global warming pollution -- are on the rise in Hawaii and nationwide: between 1960-2001, carbon dioxide emissions rose 179 percent in Hawaii, from 6.8 million metric tons in 1960 to 19 million metric tons in 2001. Eighty-six percent of this increase comes from transportation and power generation, and combustion of coal and natural gas accounted for the other 13 percent and 1 percent, respectively.
OIL COMPANIES, automakers and most electric utilities continue to work to confuse the issue and mislead the public about common-sense solutions to global warming. For instance, ExxonMobil gave at least $15 million between 1998 and 2004 to groups working to confuse the public about the broad scientific consensus on the causes of and solutions to global warming.
The good news is that Congress is taking action to propose real, long-term solutions to reducing global warming pollution and meeting our energy needs. Rep. Henry Waxman of California has introduced the Safe Climate Act, HR 5642, which would require the United States to reduce global warming pollution 15 percent by 2020, and then by 60-80 percent by 2050. Rather than continuing our dependence on dirty sources of energy, the bill calls for increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency, and cleaning up global warming emissions from cars.
FORTUNATELY, Hawaii's representatives have recognized the gravity of this issue -- Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Ed Case have cosponsored the Safe Climate Act, and Sen. Dan Akaka has cosponsored the Comprehensive Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act. Now is a critical time for our leaders at the Capitol and in Washington, D.C., to take action to stop the worst effects of global warming.
Moira Chapin is the Hawaii field organizer for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. U.S. PIRG is a national, nonprofit environmental and consumer advocacy group. Michael Guidry is a junior researcher with the Department of Oceanography at the University of Hawaii. For more information about the Safe Climate Act, please visit www.uspirg.org