Global warming threat looms large over Hawaii


POSTED: Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A comprehensive White House analysis of global climate change predicts potentially severe consequences for Hawaii and other Pacific islands. A rising sea level and frequent storms are likely to threaten future generations of islanders unless strong preparations are made to minimize global warming while preparing for the worst.

The threat was largely ignored by the Bush administration, which was forced by a lawsuit to issue a draft report of the strongly-worded study released yesterday by the Obama White House. The report, mandated by Congress, should give the needed support for legislation aimed at capping carbon emissions and reducing the caps through 2050. The bill could reach the House floor as early as next week.

The report concludes that warming of the climate is “;unequivocal,”; and the warming over the past half-century “;is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.”; The average global temperature rose by 1.5 degrees since 1900, but that could rise an additional 2 to 11.5 degrees by 2100, with the highest change occurring in the Arctic and in the middle of continents.

The report foresees “;enormous effects”; on Pacific island communities, including Hawaii, where sea levels are creeping up the beaches. Sea levels that used to reach extreme highs every 20 years now hit such levels in five-year intervals, caused by melting Arctic ice. Honolulu Harbor experienced its highest daily average sea level ever recorded in September 2003, the report notes.

The hot and dry weather of the past week is not the report's prognosis for Hawaii. Instead, it forecasts greater frequency of heavy rains and hurricane-level winds in the Pacific “;with major implications for coastal communities, infrastructure, natural habitats and resources.”; The downpours in this century are expected to occur during the summer months rather in the normal rainy winter season.

“;Flooding will become more frequent due to higher storm tides, and coastal land will be permanently lost as the sea inundates low-lying areas and the shorelines erode,”; the report predicts. In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, it adds, “;The loss of nesting and nursing habitat is expected to threaten the survival of already vulnerable species”; now listed as endangered or threatened.

Among the effects of climate change are “;sea-level rise, increasing water temperatures, rising storm intensity, coastal inundation and flooding from extreme events, beach erosion, ocean acidification, increased incidences of coral disease, and increased invasions by non-native species.”;

At risk are tourism and fisheries in the Pacific, which accounts for 70 percent of the world's annual tuna harvest. Coral reefs, which net Hawaii $360 million a year in tourism, “;are particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change because of the increases in water temperature,”; it says.

Policies obviously are needed to limit climate changes by reducing emissions. That will not eliminate the need for adapting to an environment that is certain to change in the decades and generations ahead.