I wrote an opinion piece for today’s Star Advertiser, and who knew, but climate change deniers exist in Hawaii, and they are up early and ready to lambast anything and anyone that cares about climate change!
Hawaii’s ecological future depends on global climate change agreement
Climate change holds the trump card. We can’t solve other problems without an Earth that can sustain us. The science is clear and unanimous, with data based on real, measured observations.
The consequences of climate change are not something we will leave our children — we already experience it here in Hawaii. We see the bleached coral, we feel the heat, we miss our steady trade winds, and we receive frequent hurricane warnings.
Unfortunately, Hawaii alone can’t limit climate change. With this in mind, I attended last week’s United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings in Lima, Peru, to see first hand whether there is cause for hope.
During the two decades under the UNFCCC, global emissions have actually gone up by 60 percent and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere — measured on Mauna Loa — have increased steadily. Failure was inevitable since the biggest emitters were not bound to reduce emissions. The United States, under President George W. Bush, did not join the Kyoto Protocol. China and India did, but since they were developing countries, they were exempted from reductions, and tripled their emissions.
Contempt for free riders gave nations an excuse to not take action — the U.S. Congress pointed to China, and others pointed to the U.S. That is why the surprise November deal between China and the U.S. to cut emissions is a game-changer.
In Lima, a new plan was drafted to limit emissions after 2020. This plan asks all countries, no matter how poor, to reduce emissions, with developed countries helping to foot the bill. Thousands gathered in Lima: delegates negotiating line by line to gain advantage, and nonprofit experts offering advice. There are no climate change skeptics. At worst, fuel producers tout “clean fuel” as a legitimate strategy.
Research demonstrates great synergies between development, clean energy and adapting to climate change. Development is the best way for poor countries to build resilience to climate change impacts; reduced emissions result in fewer disasters to respond to. Development with clean energy is now economically viable, and this is beneficial for security, trade balance, local jobs, health and pollution. We will be building anyway — 60 percent of U.S.-built space will be new or remodeled by 2050 — and we can do so with improved efficiency.
It’s shocking, but we are the bad guys. The U.S. opposes requirements to compensate poor countries for climate change impacts, even though we emitted 26 percent of all carbon to date. Hawaii is not guilt-free. We have plans for clean energy, but we developed with dirty oil. Even within the U.S., Hawaii’s energy is at least twice as dirty as the 10 cleanest states. As shown in Lima, Hawaii alone shone brightly in the Pacific on a NASA display of the world at night. On other Pacific islands, few have electricity.
Hawaii desperately needs a global agreement to reduce emissions in order to keep the scale of impacts here manageable. Nothing on the table now will bring about carbon neutrality, but if we can get started, global efforts could well take on a momentum of their own. With climate deniers controlling Congress, President Barack Obama is offering what he can, through the Clean Power Act. It bypasses Congress, but will still be under attack through EPA funding. Many states, including Hawaii, plan to exceed the requirements anyway. I hope the delegates in Lima stop thinking about what is fair, and start thinking about what is politically possible.
As “bad guys,” we can influence the process from the inside. We can vote green, contribute on a national level, and support divestment from fossil fuels. Locally we can aim higher than we do as a nation. We can join the movement for zero emissions by 2050.