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PODCAST: Chief Resilience Officer breaks down city’s plan to combat climate change

Climate change is an issue that affects all of us, especially in a place like Hawaii — islands...
Climate change is an issue that affects all of us, especially in a place like Hawaii — islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.((Image: Hawaii News Now))
Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 4:06 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 21, 2022 at 7:41 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Climate change is an issue that affects all of us, especially in a place like Hawaii — islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

From issues of flooding and coastal erosion to rising temperatures, these impacts affect our livelihood and the places we live.

That’s why the city along with the residents of Oahu voted to create the Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency, to find actionable ways to become more resilient and lessen our harm on the environment.

Matthew Gonser is Honolulu’s Chief Resilience Officer and Executive Director. He sat down with Hawaii News Now for the Repairing Earth podcast and broke down the city’s plan in reaching a more sustainable future.

What do you say to those who don’t really understand why climate change is such a critical issue?

There’s a tremendous amount of evidence, research and historical information. Certainly, when we’re talking about projections or future conditions that can feel a little bit squishy. But we know what happens when we’re not prepared for things. We’ve seen other issues where people are talking about a crisis and then we’re not proactively doing anything — whether it’s affordability or housing and most recently, the Red Hill crisis.

We just need to keep having discussions. We know the science and the connections between what causes climate change and what those changes and those impacts are. We have a responsibility to elevate that work and invest in the community and in people because we’re not just preparing for the worst. There’s a lot of things that don’t work for people today, and we can’t just perpetuate the same. For us to maintain what we love, it is actually going to require change from us.

The issues of tackling climate change can be very daunting. How do you not fall into doomism? What keeps you hopeful?

I’m in this day in and day out. We’re constantly teetering between hope and despair with climate change. Adaptation is not just preparing for the worst but thinking about how we can improve upon environmental and community conditions. And really, the antidote to despair is action. Engaging with community, getting outside, observing, getting involved, getting your hands in the dirt and taking that action.

Being part of something is where we can come together, keep our community cohesion, and keep that social resilience that is needed to engage in the work. So as much as COVID has unfortunately kind of pulled us back and made us hole up a little bit, we need to find ways to stay connected with each other because at the end of the day, these are people issues. If we can invest in community, this place can continue to love us into the future.

What are some ways we as individuals can make a difference?

On the household side, there’s so much that we can do in terms of just getting out and considering all of the times that you have to take a trip, what are the options that are afforded to you to take that trip? All the times that you’re thinking about what you might be able to eat, what locally could we start to bring into our households, into our diets? And some of those things start to then build positive feedback where we’re investing in ourselves and our own health.

We definitely want to empower people with information, ways that they can save money, increase their own efficiency, increase their own health. We do not want to put all the responsibility on individuals and households. That is not fair. And there’s a lot of things that government needs to lead on.

Speaking of government, Oahu now has it’s own Climate Action Plan. What are some of the goals you hope to achieve?

By 2045 to be carbon negative. In essence, how do we make sure we’re not emitting greenhouse gas pollution, and finding ways where maybe we can even reduce those emissions through land-use practices and natural systems.

Are we on track to meeting that goal?

We do measure year over year. One of the biggest indicators for our progress is our own greenhouse gas emissions inventory. We’ll be releasing the 2020 inventory soon. There’s always a year’s lag just because of the need to access the data and process it.

Since the plan only came out last spring and last summer. It’s difficult to tell yet, but we’ve already seen a growth in things like rooftop solar PV, increased renewables on the grid, and all these things start to add up to reduce the emissions.

We at the city, we’re trying to lead by example by investing in our own operations and efficiency and certainly as we proceed with the current contract that we have, we’re going to start seeing a lot of those cost savings as well. And that’s savings to the city, but that means savings to the people so we can think about other things that we can invest in as well.

For more on the conversation, listen to Episode 4 of Repairing Earth, “A Conversation with Honolulu’s Chief Resilience Officer,” on the HNN website or anywhere you get your podcasts.

To keep up with the city’s plans in building a more resilient Oahu, click here.

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