Isles host talks on climate change
By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Lynda Arakawa
Honolulu will be the site of international talks this week focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming.
Representatives from 16 nations, the European Union and the United Nations are scheduled to meet at the East-West Center Wednesday and Thursday for the U.S.-sponsored "Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change."
The meeting is a follow-up to U.S.-led talks initiated in September by President Bush, who invited 16 other "major economies" to Washington to discuss a future international program of reducing greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. This week's meeting also follows United Nations-sponsored talks last month in Bali.
Hawai'i will have little involvement other than being the location of the meeting and the sessions will be closed to the public.
But local environmental groups such as the Sierra Club Hawai'i Chapter, experts and others are using the talks to bring attention to and spur more discussion on climate change issues here.
Local events include the drawing of a chalk line Wednesday on sidewalks in the Mo'ili'ili-McCully area. This "blue line" marks the landward edge of an area vulnerable to flooding at high tide if climate change causes a 1-meter rise in sea level, which several leading scientists believe is likely to happen by the end of the century.
This doesn't mean the ocean will advance from the beach to the blue line, said Charles "Chip" Fletcher, the state's premier coastal geologist who with his colleagues developed the line.
But parts of Waikiki would be under water and the Ala Wai Canal will spill over its banks at high tide, he said. Storm drains will fill with sea water, rainfall won't drain quickly and groundwater in certain areas would rise out of the ground and create an "urban estuary" of salt and fresh water.
Essentially, a person walking from the beach to the blue line would "undoubtedly" wind up wading through many areas and would probably even be swimming sometimes along the way, Fletcher said.
"As you move seaward, the flooding will be more likely to come from the ocean, and as you move landward the flooding is more likely to come from the groundwater," he said.
The line that will be chalked on Wednesday for the Hawai'i Blue Line Project represents just a small segment of the "blue line" that has been mapped so far on the island. The blue line depicts areas that would lie below sea level at high tide if ocean levels rise one meter.
"The point of the Blue Line Project is that we are vulnerable, our community is vulnerable," said Fletcher, a professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Hawai'i. "And with a vulnerable community, knowing that we've been warned, and knowing that we have a lot of time between now and then, what can we do to make ourselves more resilient? Let's begin to incorporate information like this map ... into our planning for the future."
Several leading scientists say global warming will cause oceans to rise by 1 meter — about 39 inches — and that it will happen regardless of any future action to reduce greenhouse gases. Some say this rise could happen in 50 years, while others say 100 or 150 years.
Fletcher said a rise of 1 meter in about a century could potentially be an underestimation of the threat, citing scientific observations of the melting in Antarctica and Greenland and increased warming of the atmosphere.
"That is all very consistent with this overriding message that the field of science has that global warming is here," he said. "We don't see any indications that it's dissipating or that it's going away. In fact, all the latest observations indicate that it's here longer than ever."
He noted that islands have special vulnerabilities and needs.
"We can't just pick up and move over to the neighboring state," he said. "We have limited land area. We have increased population every day. There are some very special aspects to islands that we need to focus on here."
Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club Hawai'i Chapter, said Hawai'i is extremely vulnerable to a sea level rise, as well as hurricanes and more acid in ocean waters. Scientists also project more droughts as a result of climate change.
"The thinking behind the whole Blue Line Project is this: Students are drawing a metaphorical line in the sand," Mikulina said.
"This much destruction of Hawai'i may occur in their lifetimes because of inaction — inaction by all of us, but real inaction by the United States in the face of this incredible threat. It is beyond time for the U.S. to rise to the challenge and lead on this issue."
Gov. Linda Lingle is scheduled to make opening remarks Wednesday morning and plans to host a reception for meeting participants at Washington Place Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, environmental groups, experts and others are also planning events.
In addition to the Blue Line Project in the afternoon, a "United Front" demonstration is scheduled Wednesday morning outside the University of Hawai'i's Kennedy Theater, across from the East-West Center.
The University of Hawai'i William S. Richardson School of Law will host "Focus Hawaii: UH Climate Change Teach In" Wednesday night. The open forum will focus on climate change science and solutions for Hawai'i and features speakers including Lorenz Magaard from the Manoa Climate Change Commission, Mikulina, Josh Stanbro from Evolution Sage, and Research Corporation of the University of Hawai'i executive director Mike Hamnett.
Hamnett, who is also part of the University of Hawai'i-administered Hawai'i Energy Policy Forum and helped oversee development of state Civil Defense hazard mitigation plans, said climate change will mean more droughts and hurricanes in Hawai'i. While it's unclear when that will occur, it will happen, he said.
He said people need to be prepared for the "fact that it's going to be bad," and take steps now to prevent things from getting even worse.
"We really do need to address the greenhouse gas emissions problem, because if we don't start to curb emissions, it's going to get even worse than the bad that's already coming," Hamnett said.
"Some people say, 'Why should we in Hawai'i worry about our greenhouse gas emissions — look at what China's doing, they're building ... new coal plants right now.' Yeah, but we've all gotta do it," he said.
"If we continue to go out and buy these gas guzzling cars, and if we continue to increase the amount of electricity that we use in our homes, and if the regulated electric companies don't start switching fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it's going to get even worse."
Reach Lynda Arakawa at email@example.com.