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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Clear view of climate change

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

There's a common belief that everybody talks about the climate but we can't do anything about it. I learned that this isn't true at the Honolulu Harbor Festival lecture series recently.

The main festival is this weekend, with harbor tours, the tugboat hula, a canoe race, open house on a Young Brothers barge and exhibits at the Hawai'i Maritime Center. Another part of the festival is a lecture series about the ocean around us.

Mike Hamnett, director of the Social Science Research Institute at the University of Hawai'i, talked about how to deal with climate change in a way that made sense.

"Pacific islands are probably more vulnerable than the rest of the U.S. and the world because we are at ground zero," he said.

What confuses a lot of people is the difference between mean climate and extreme climate. It's hard to get people excited by estimates that the temperature will rise 2 to 4 degrees centigrade by 2050. But when natural disasters become more severe, people start paying attention.

"Mean change in climate doesn't hurt anybody," Hamnett explained. "But added to storm surge, somebody is going to die. Most of us are beginning to believe that what's important is to deal with natural disasters like floods and hurricanes and droughts."

The International Panel on Climate Change, he said, has agreed that, yes, climate change is going to happen, that it is being influenced by humans and that it will affect natural disasters.

So what can we do about it? Hamnett pointed to other Pacific islands as examples.

Governments there are giving serious consideration to predictions of rainfall and drought, made at the Pacific ENSO Application Center that started in Guam in about 1994. This is not weather forecasting but forecasting of periods of climate change, such as three months of rainfall or drought, or hurricanes. The predictions, based on El Niño and La Niña cycles, are surprisingly accurate.

In July 1997, forecaster Chip Gaurd told farmers and ranchers on the Big Island that they could expect a severe drought. They became interested, but only after the prediction started proving accurate. Hamnett said government officials never did pay much attention.

That's in contrast to the Federated States of Micronesia, which appointed a task force and appropriated $5 million for drought response. The finance minister in Kiribati requests predictions because climate changes drastically affect the fishing industry.

Hamnett said people who should be interested in climate change include tourism authorities, who could advertise periods of ideal weather if they knew what was coming.

Reach Bob Krauss at 525-0873.