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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 19, 2007

Climate change will hit home

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Columnist

A prominent figure in the local weather community recently told me most people don't seem to understand climate change.

He said his discussions with folks in the public suggest that most people understand that it exists, but are either confused about it or don't believe it will affect them any time soon.

A report on the views of Americans nationwide about the subject came to roughly the same conclusion. Folks have heard about it. They're somewhat concerned. But they don't think it's something that needs any kind of a near-term drastic response.

University of Oregon environmental studies professor Anthony Leiserowitz, in a talk to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said Americans place global warming as a comparatively low priority among national issues like war, the economy, healthcare, education, and even air and water pollution.

In his study, Leiserowitz said he found that most people's understandings of the effects of climate warming were rather limited. Nearly two-thirds, when asked about global warming, talked about four main things: melting Arctic ice; warmer weather; various impacts on nature that didn't directly affect humans; and polar ozone holes. Nothing that really directly affected them immediately.

One wonders whether we are a little like the frog in the pot of warming water. The story goes that if you drop a frog into hot water, the frog will hop right out. But if you put the frog into cool water and raise the temperature gradually, the frog will stick around until it's too late.

Natives living along the Bering Strait in Alaska have noticed that there's less sea ice in winter, and since the sea ice protected the shoreline from winter storms, they're now getting severe winter coastal erosion and it's threatening some coastal homes and villages. They're feeling it right now.

In Hawai'i, many shorelines around the state are eroding, and some of them are eroding quickly. Many once-wide beaches are now narrow or gone. But it happens piece by piece, one storm at a time, and comparatively few Hawai'i residents are up in arms about it. Meanwhile, people continue to buy and build on the shoreline.

Setting aside all other issues involved in climate change and looking only at shoreline erosion, as a public policy matter, it seems reasonable to assume that these issues are going to cost taxpayers significant amounts of money sooner or later.

Maybe that's what it will take to get their attention.

If you have a question or concern about the Hawaiian environment, drop a note to Jan TenBruggencate at P.O. Box 524, Lihu'e, HI 96766 or jant@honoluluadvertiser.com. Or call him at (808) 245-3074.