Honolulu climate meeting could signal sea change in U.S. stand on global warming
On Wednesday and Thursday the Bush administration will host a "Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change" at the East-West Center in Honolulu. Present will be 16 countries that represent the world's largest greenhouse gas polluters.
Climate change events
A series of free events are scheduled Wednesday to help encourage U.S. action on climate change.
» 9 a.m., demonstration outside East-West Center.
» 4:30 p.m., Blue Line Project with students chalking the one-meter sea level rise, meet at Old Stadium Park.
» 7 p.m., Climate Teach In at the University of Hawaii Law School. See
If the United States finally drops its blinders and agrees to dramatic cuts in its greenhouse gas emissions, this meeting could be a defining moment in history. Or it could be another nonevent, or worse -- a cynical diversion. The United States has refused to join the rest of the world and the United Nations to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions and rising global temperatures. The Bush administration fiddles while the globe burns.
Hawaii is extremely vulnerable to impending sea level rise and ocean acidification. We need this to be a defining moment.
For seven years the Bush administration has blocked and delayed action on mandatory cuts in carbon emissions. It has refused to accept scientific consensus that aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas are needed immediately to prevent an unraveling of our climate. During those seven years, the Arctic summer ice melt quadrupled, Katrina leveled one of America's favorite cities, and the Greenland and Antarctic ice melt accelerated beyond almost all estimates. Last year was the second-warmest year on record. The gathering storm clouds of catastrophic climate change grew much, much darker.
We will never get those seven years back. But in the next few days, the United States could start to fix these problems and restore our relationship with the rest of the world. The only way to solve global climate change is through a united international effort. It begins with a commitment by our country to meet the challenge. A simple commitment to do our fair part would leverage an agreement for billions of people globally to do their part. The timing of such a commitment is critical. Without our country's full participation in carbon cuts, serious negotiations going into the G8 Summit this summer and future U.N. climate meetings will continue to be futile. The U.S. commitment must be authentic and significant.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak in the next 10 to 15 years and be reduced below 50 percent of the 2000 levels before 2050 in order to stabilize their concentrations in the atmosphere. Developed countries as a group must reduce emissions 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 -- standards that European countries now propose for themselves.
Hawaii as host to a major international meeting tackling climate change has strong significance for three reasons.
» Our islands have so much to lose. Sea level rise alone will dramatically reshape our islands. University of Hawaii experts estimate a conservative one-meter rise would inundate much of the coastline, including our ports, many of our favorite beaches, all of Waikiki, Honolulu's reef runway, Hawaii's wastewater treatment facilities, and many historic sites and populated areas up to a mile inland from the current shoreline.
» Hawaii played a major role in the history of climate change science. For more than 50 years, researchers on Mauna Loa sampled the atmosphere to track the steady and foreboding annual increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. These greenhouse gas concentrations are now higher than they have been for 800,000 years.
» Hawaii has been at the center of pivotal global events before. In 1941, the bombing of Pearl Harbor galvanized U.S. commitment to fight in World War II, leading to an all-consuming effort that stopped aggression and genocide and helped stabilize the world. The threat now before us, though silent and at times imperceptible, is no less far-reaching. Hawaii once again may be the catalyst for a universal struggle for stability in the world.
With Hawaii's vast portfolio of indigenous, clean energy options, we have the opportunity to be a global role model. Hawaii is already leading by example by enacting an enforceable statewide cap on our greenhouse gas emissions last year (Act 234).
This law requires Hawaii to reduce its non-aviation greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels before 2020. We have much more to do, but Hawaii has taken that first step by committing to greenhouse gas reductions.
Now the United States must take its first step. This week's Major Economies Meeting at the East-West Center is the United States' opportunity for real action. Watch closely. Our clock is ticking.
Jeff Mikulina, Sierra Club, Hawaii Chapter; Travis Idol, Charles P.M.K. Burrows; Ahahui Malama Ika Lokahi; United Church of Christ Environmental & Energy Task Force; Charmaine Crockett, KAUPA; Jane Dewell, KAUPA; Lawrence Souza, Athena Project; Josh Stanbro, Evolution Sage; David Turner, Hawaii Interfaith Power and Light; Kevin Vaccarello, Sustain Hawaii; Henry Curtis, Life of the Land; Stephen Meder; Professor Duane Preble; Professor John Harrison; Shannon Wood, Windward Ahupua'a Alliance; Marjorie Ziegler, Conservation Council for Hawaii.