Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Warming Wednesdays: what does global warming mean for Hawaii?

Kauai shoreline.jpg
A bit of Kauai shoreline outside our windows.

Arriving in Hawaii reminds me of national border crossings. Instead of a visa application, airlines hand out agricultural import forms to all passengers. The island state, though heavily dependent on the flow of tourists, struggles to prevent introduction of all sorts of foreign pests.

Isolated out here in the ocean, the state seems somewhat insulated from acrimonious debates about climate change in the political arena on the mainland. Hawaiian media know warming is coming; our best measurements of CO2 come from the observatory at Mauna Loa on the Big Island. The obvious threats here are sea levels rising, coral reefs bleaching leading to die-offs of fish species, and declining rainfall. All this suggests a bleak future for the tourism that provides much of the state's bread and butter.

But unlike most states on the mainland, the state government has attempted some pretty serious mitigation measures going back over a decade as well as moving toward less carbon polluting energy sources.

Unlike many small, developing island nations, as part of the United States, Hawaii has the capacity and resources to mount a credible defense against environmental impacts caused by climate change. Hawaii has exhibited foresight in anticipating climate change impacts. In 1998, the state issued a lengthy report on the effects of climate change on the islands. Recommendations and action plans to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions over a broad range of industries were included in the report. Hawaii is proactive and has positioned itself to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2007, Hawaii enacted “A Global Warming Solutions Act 234″ to cap greenhouse gas emissions to the 1990 level by 2020. In 2008, Hawaii launched a Clean Energy Initiative with the goal of creating a 70 percent clean-energy economy within a generation. As a result of its location and lack of fossil fuel resources, Hawaii is the most oil-dependent state in the nation, getting 90 percent of its energy needs from imported oil. In a memorandum of understanding signed in 2008, the Department of Energy (DOE) will assist Hawaii to achieve the goal of reducing its dependence on oil for electricity generation.

Hawaii has at its disposal a plethora of renewable energy options to transition to a renewable energy economy including biomass, hydro, wind, geothermal, ocean waves and, of course, solar. In its favor, Hawaii emits only 0.4 percent of the total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and is therefore one of the lowest state emitters in the country. Hawaii is also part of the EPA’s Clean Energy State Partnership Initiative to support the introduction and use of clean, renewable energy. The Sierra Club reports that Hawaii also recently imposed a $1 surcharge on each barrel of oil imported into the state. Funds collected here will be earmarked for the development of clean, renewable energy. Last but not least, the [Republican!] Governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, … signed an energy bill [in 2009] into law mandating that 25 percent of Hawaii’s electricity must come from renewable energy sources by 2020 and 40 percent by 2030.

Henry Kwong, Perspectives on Global Issues

I guess it should be no surprise that the new Senator appointed to fill out Sen Daniel Inouye's term, Hawaii's former Lt. Governor Brian Schatz (D), immediately asserted

… personally, I believe global climate change is real and it is the most urgent challenge of our generation,

The Hill

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