The Decade of Mother Nature

The Decade of Mother Nature

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - From hurricanes to earthquakes. Eruptions to catastrophic flooding.

Over the last decade, Mother Nature made herself known to Hawaii in a big way, in some cases destroying whole communities and leaving millions of dollars in damage in her wake.

The 2010s tested Hawaii’s ability to handle natural disasters and offered a wake-up call for the decade ahead as we prepare for the changing weather of a warming planet.

The impacts are growing

In the summer of 2017, a series of "king tides" sent water washing over seawalls, swallowing up much of Waikiki Beach and flooding communities like Mapunapuna.

The following summer, Hurricane Lane barreled toward the state as a Category 5 storm before weakening into a tropical storm close to the islands, serving as a real wakeup call for the state and putting into question Hawaii’s preparedness for a large-scale disaster.

And just this past summer, sweltering heat — blamed by the second-largest ever recorded marine heat wave — plagued the state as more than 280 heat records were tied or set, causing residential electricity rates to surge as residents blasted their air conditioning units in search of relief.

These were just a few of the many major weather events that experts say have largely defined the last decade of climate change in Hawaii, putting the state in the middle of a "large, looming challenge."

“Things are already underway and the impacts are growing, unfortunately,” said Josh Stanbro, the city’s chief resilience officer.

“We’re already seeing it around us and we’re already locked in for a lot more change over the next decade. That’s why it’s really important for us to slam the brakes on burning fossil fuels now and transition to a clean energy economy so that we can avoid even worse changes that are coming.”

Hawaii responds to disasters

But climate change wasn't the only major event in the 2010s.

The state also saw earthquakes and an eruption at Kilauea that destroyed hundreds of homes and reshaped the coast of Hawaii Island.

The combination of these natural phenomena in Hawaii were unprecedented — and they’ve also given new meaning to Mother Nature and how we respond.

"We're an island community," Stanbro said. "We've always been super adaptable. You kind of have to learn and move with nature's whims, and nature's much bigger than us. Nature doesn't bargain. Nature doesn't compromise."

Our ‘biggest challenge’

For decades, scientists have known that greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere caused by human activity have been responsible for warming the planet.

But experts say climate change became a much more tangible concept in the past decade following unprecedented weather events that gripped both Hawaii and the rest of the world.

Hawaii, in particular, was thrust into the spotlight as a community on the front lines of what’s become a slow-moving disaster with warming ocean temperatures and sea level rise due to climate change.

From a record-breaking 2015 hurricane season that brought 15 tropical cyclones close to the Hawaiian islands to severe beach erosion that left some coastal properties teetering on the edge, experts say Hawaii has taken the brunt of many of the pronounced effects of climate change.

“People in Hawaii are very aware that as residents of an island economy that we’re seeing the impacts more clearly, more visibly before people in the global community,” said Celeste Connors, executive director of Hawaii Green Growth.

“We see it in the way that our beaches are changing in extreme flooding events.”

Experts say because Hawaii has been on the front lines, the state has also taken a leadership role in combating some of the effects of climate change.

"I think climate change is the biggest challenge that we face as a global economy," Connors said.

“That said, I’m very excited about the opportunity for Hawaii and the other islands to be leading this effort. This is where islands are, the scale is our asset. We’re more quickly able to innovate around water, energy, food, nexus projects and come up with these solutions that can be scaled.”

Hope for the future

Stanbro, the city's chief resilience officer, added that Hawaii was the first state to articulate 100% renewable energy goals in which other states followed suit. And on top of that, Honolulu also recently banned single-use plastics, a "huge generator" of greenhouses gases.

"I think at the local level, we've done some really good things to show the way for the rest of the nation, but we have to go faster and we have to accelerate that to a totally green, 100% clean energy economy," Stanbro said.

Looking ahead to the next decade -- which will be vital in the fight against climate change — officials say there’s still hope in reducing greenhouse gases to curb global warming, but everyone — including government officials and the general public — needs to do their fair share.

"What feeds my hope is future generations and current action. In other words, our younger generations are very aware of the challenge," Connors said.

“At the same time it’s our responsibility, our kuleana, to create these educational pathways to enable our students to operate in various levels of our economy whether it is academia or business or government or in the private sector.”

If Hawaii looks at alternative transportation methods — such as utilizing hybrids, electrical vehicles and public transportation — and other solutions to eliminating greenhouse gases, the state can make a big difference in the long-fought battle of climate change.

“We’re in a foot race against the clock on climate change, so over the next 10 years, it will determine whether honestly we have a planet that humans can live on or we don’t, and that challenge is up to us,” Stanbro said. “We have until 2030 to essentially cut in half our fossil fuel emissions, and if we can do that, we can still continue to live on the planet.”

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