Experts painted a sobering picture of Hawaii's future in the face of projected climate change using models depicting Waikiki and Honolulu slipping under water as they appealed to lawmakers to take action now to protect the state's irreplaceable resources.
"We might expect and plan for one foot of sea level rise by the year 2050 and one meter or three feet of sea level rise by the year 2100," explained Dolan Eversole of the University of Hawai'i at Manoa Sea Grant College Program.
As far away as that may seem, officials say there are very real effects Hawai'i is already experiencing.
They say global warming is threatening everything from our Native plant and animal species to our coral reefs.
"All of these changes are increasing threats to our food and water security to our ability to maintain our infrastructure over time," described Deanna Spooner, coordinator of the Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative.
Here in Hawai'i the biggest impact of global warming is the projected rise in our sea level. Experts say it's inevitable, but just how much it will affect us will depend on how we prepare now. They say there's little we can do to mitigate climate change without major reductions to greenhouse gas emissions, but they say it's not too late to adapt to the expected impacts by designing and building our communities to be safer.
"We can't stop Mother Nature, but we can triage and put our resources where they're best spent to protect beaches like Waikiki or Kailua that are critical to our economy and make sure our fresh water supply is maintained so that we can all have water to drink," said Representative Chris Lee, the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee Chair.
Experts say lawmakers need to create a prioritized framework to determine which communities to focus on first, because climate change impacts vary and specific areas need to be addressed before it's too late.
"There's uncertainty in everything we do in life, and I think that the fact that there's uncertainty around the science of climate change is not something that should discourage lawmakers from pursuing climate legislation," Eversole said.
"People have been seeing what's happening with North Shore homes falling into the ocean and Kuhio Beach with Waikiki dumping millions and tons of sand in there and we keep having to repeat that process. The lack of community awareness, I think that's the biggest problem right now, so that people start understanding they can actually have an impact themselves," said Senator Mike Gabbard, the Senate Energy and Environment Committee Chair.
A joint House and Senate Majority package bill will be introduced at the start of the Legislative session next week to essentially create an advisory board to help prepare for all the facets of climate change –from shoreline erosion to depleting fresh water supplies.
As for what individuals can do, experts say energy conservation is the best way to reduce greenhouse gases and every little bit makes a difference.
"I think the most important message is that it's not too late for Hawai'i to plan for the future and if we start planning now and we start implementing policies and adaptation activities now then we will have a much more secure future for our children and grandchildren," Spooner said.