United Nations climate study daunting for Hawaii, but City planning is ahead of the research

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Seas rising up to 17 feet, massive coral reef bleaching, seafood supplies dwindling, and countless tropical cyclones and floods.

Those were some of the warning estimates from a United Nations report issued last week on the threat of climate change if humans continue to produce greenhouse gasses at their current rate.

The comprehensive report was conducted by more than 100 scientists and included 7,000 studies.

The City and County of Honolulu was warned of this in June of 2018 by the Climate Change Commission, who’s similar figures noted that a sea-level rise of 3.2 feet would displace 13,300 Honolulu residents and cause $12.9 billion dollars in structure and land loss locally.

“What I think it confirms is what we’ve been told.” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.

“That’s reaffirming for me that the science is correct, our science is correct. It’s showing a much more rapid rise in sea level. The UN is confirming that rapid rise, and so I think that helped us.”

One of the steps being taken locally was a project that the City announced was 99% complete Tuesday. All but 70 of the over 53,000 streetlights in the county have been converted to LED bulbs, which reduces energy use by 60% and saves an estimated $5 billion annually. LED bulbs also have a life span of an estimated 20-30 years. The former bulbs only lasted 2-3 years. The City says that taxpayer money will be also be saved from maintenance.

“It’s a huge reducer for carbon pollution which is a great over 300,000 tons of carbon reduced by the new technology.” Honolulu Chief Resilience Officer Joshua Stanbro said.

Another step is creating an infrastructure that can withstand future environmental impacts like hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and others.

“Our vision is how can we make sure that the places that we’ve got a ton of public infrastructure and investment we’re able to armor and harden and make sure that those can withstand, and then in other places, we may have to be flexible.” Stanbro said.

Some island nations have been encouraged to build sea walls, but Stanbro thinks that Hawaii’s beaches are too important.

“We may have to look at how do we allow the shoreline to move and the beach to live. When you put up walls you lose the beach. That’s a death knell for beaches to put up walls.”

Officials think that community input with personal responsibility and public policy is the best way to reach the Paris Climate Accord goal of keeping the global temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

“Buy local [agriculture], make sure that your transportation is as zero carbon as possible, and make sure you’re using your energy load and getting renewable on your home.” Stanbro added.

Mayor Caldwell thinks avoiding carbon-emitting vehicles is paramount.

“I think at the end of the day it’s transportation. That’s the biggest emitter of carbon into our atmosphere and it’s a huge challenge.”

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