Climate change is already having negative impacts on Hawaii, both in the state’s natural environment and its economy, and will eventually affect human health. From the loss of coral reefs to the destruction of beaches, the loss of endangered animal species, and the effect on tourism, the costs of climate change threaten to overtake the Hawaiian economy. Rises in sea level, erosion, and changes in weather patterns threaten to overwhelm the islands if nothing is done to reverse the changes in the climate or mitigate the effects. Unlike island nations that are being overtaken by water with little recourse, Hawaii has the capability to implement renewable energy resources, and already emits the least greenhouse gas of any state in the US.
Experts have already attributed the disappearance of Whale Skate Island in northwest Hawaii to rises in sea level. While the coral reefs are currently in good condition, changes in the ecosystem can quickly cause bleaching and break down the integrity of the reefs, leaving the coastline exposed to the mercy of the sea. Beach replenishment could potentially cost up to $6 billion if the sea continues to rise at the current rate, says the environmental group Next Generation Earth.
Tourism is a major economic asset in Hawaii, accounting for 18% of the gross domestic product in 2008. If beaches are submerged and environmental disasters plague the islands, then it is most likely that tourists will avoid the islands. Sea walls have already been built along Waikiki beach, which opponents say could decrease the real estate value of many exclusive properties. The rise in sea level is affecting the coastal community today, proving that the problems associated with global warming, which lawmakers have bickered about for years, are a reality. With 90% of the state’s energy demands met via imported oil, the current situation does little to prevent future blight.
Climate change issues have been addressed by many authorities. The Ocean Resources Management Plan, which makes many proposals to help local, state, and federal agencies as well as policy makers and businesses deal with the impacts of climate change, was formed in 2009. Also, the state has also added a dollar to the cost of importing each barrel of oil, the funds from which will be used to develop renewable energy sources. Renewable energy is plentiful on Hawaii, as there are many hydroelectric, wind, and geothermal power sources, not to mention solar. Incentives for installing solar systems at homes and businesses have sparked a surge in photovoltaic use. Solar power generates energy from the most renewable resource there is–the sun–making it the most viable alternative to imported oil products.
The Clean Energy Initiative was launched in 2008, with the goal for Hawaii’s economy to be 70% clean energy “within a generation”. Recognizing the issues of climate change and discussing solutions is a step in the right direction. However, to avoid dramatic and disastrous consequences to the environment, economy, and human health, real-world actions beyond policy-making and planning need to take place soon. This is the only way to alter how humans produce and consume energy, and avert catastrophic environmental changes.