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Youth project draws the line against climate change


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POSTED: Saturday, October 24, 2009

Today, students statewide will be literally drawing the line on climate change. Using blue chalk, thousands of students from over 30 schools statewide will be drawing a line that indicates the risk of flooding with a 1-meter of sea level rise.

The purpose of the Blue Line Project is to highlight the vulnerability of Hawaii — and other island communities — to climate change while nations negotiate a new international agreement to rein in the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

A student effort of this scale to draw the effects of a 1-meter sea level rise has never been done before — in Hawaii or elsewhere.

This is an unprecedented opportunity for students to engage in a critical issue of their lifetimes. The blue line represents the future we are leaving these students — and it may be the best-case scenario unless a strong international agreement is reached this year.

Through the Blue Line Project, Hawaii's youth will be able to send a message to global leaders in anticipation of the December Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen. Students will be uploading their chalk images and slogans from today's event to an interactive map at bluelineproject.org.

The project, which will take place at 18 locations statewide today, is part of a larger international effort coordinated by an organization called “;350.org.”; The 350.org campaign is intended to raise awareness for the most important number for the Earth's future, 350, which represents a “;safe”; target for the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere in parts per million (ppm).

The Blue Line maps showing the likely extent of flooding in Hawaii from a 1-meter sea level rise were developed by coastal experts from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, led by Chip Fletcher, professor and chair of the Department of Geology and Geophysics.

It is fitting that Hawaii participate in such an international day of action — and not just because of our extreme vulnerability. Hawaii has actually been home to climate science for more than half a century. A small lab on top of Mauna Loa has been methodically recording the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since 1957. The results show a steady, methodical ticking upward in the concentration of carbon dioxide — today it is near 390 ppm. We are overwhelming the atmosphere's natural balance of life-sustaining gases.

James Hansen, NASA's chief climatologist, has argued that if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere remains above 350 ppm, we will no longer have a planet “;similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.”;

This week, 18 leading scientific organizations — including the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society and the American Statistical Association — sent a letter to U.S. senators as they debate national emissions policy. The scientists wrote how the climate is changing and stated “;rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver.”; The scientists' letter warned, “;If we are to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, emissions of greenhouse gases must be dramatically reduced.”;

Reversing the emissions trend poses enormous challenges. Hawaii is taking steps toward solutions, both through the 2007 Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires our state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and through policy initiatives to facilitate clean energy and efficiency, such as the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.

Blue Planet's mission is to accelerate positive solutions such as these to end Hawaii's debilitating oil dependence.

But getting our house in order isn't enough to solve this global problem. Sure, we can solve our own energy security problems. But our environmental security may well be determined by those global leaders meeting some 8,000 miles from our islands.

If we hope to bequeath a Hawaii similar to the one that we know and love, domestic and international policies must be established that immediately ratchet down the amount of climate-changing emissions that are dumped into our shared, life-sustaining atmosphere.

The blue line that students chalk today won't last long. But the impression should be indelible — both with the students and with global leaders as they literally chart the future of our coastlines.

Join us in drawing the line on climate change. Find out how at bluelineproject.org.

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Jeff Mikulina is executive director of Blue Planet Foundation.