Column: The reality of climate change demands that we decarbonise

Chip Fletcher

This editorial by the University of Hawaii at Mānoa’s Chip Fletcher airs on The Star Advertiser on June 2, 2022.

Sustainable human development requires a healthy and resilient planet. Yet we are surrounded by signs that accelerating climate change is driving widespread and rapid change into our world. Thousands of reproducible scientific studies highlight that climate change poses a serious threat to human health, global trade, food production, freshwater resources, public security, and more.

This threat applies here at Hawaiian, and around the world. Many changes due to greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible over centuries to thousands of years, especially changes in global oceans, ice sheets and sea levels. This underscores the need for drastic emission reductions to protect the future of humanity.

Clint Churchill and Mark Polivka deserve a clear rebuke for the misinformation they contributed to our public dialogue in their latest column (“The reality of fossil fuels, 100% renewable energy in our future,” Star-Advertiser, Island Voices, May 26) . They argue that “we need to take a sensible approach to the use of fossil fuels.” This is foolishness at its finest and at worst an immoral and greed-driven deception. This opinion piece encourages us to sit back while the rest of the world struggles to solve this problem for us.

First, let’s clarify the science behind greenhouse gases and water vapor. Burning fossil fuels is responsible for about 86% of annual carbon dioxide emissions; the rest comes from deforestation, forest fires and poor soil conservation. The heat trapped by the carbon dioxide promotes increased humidity (water vapor), which traps more heat that would otherwise escape into space. The short residence time of water vapor, which lasts an average of eight to 10 days in the air, means that it is not capable of causing climate change on its own.

The relationship between carbon dioxide and water vapor is a “reinforcing feedback.” Carbon dioxide remains in the air for decades to centuries, depending on the planet’s capacity to absorb it again. The scale of recent changes across the climate system, and the current state of many aspects of the system, has been unprecedented for centuries. How much of today’s climate change is caused by humans? Everything—period.

Next, let’s discuss the practicality of the transition from fossil fuels. Hawaii has been a beacon of excellence and leadership in showing the world how to protect our common future and the future of our children. Utilities across the state, along with policymakers and the private sector, have demonstrated incredible skill and collaboration to get as far as we have.

Kauai has moved faster than any other region towards a 100% renewable energy future. So how impractical is the island’s local utilities, which now generate about 70% of their energy from renewable sources? Well, if having the lowest cost electricity in the state isn’t practical, then sign us up!

That’s right, despite being the smallest electric utility in the state, the Kauai Island Utilities Cooperative somehow also has the lowest rates. Why? So decided about 15 years ago to make this transformation happen—and it worked.

Yes, Oʻahu more limited to land than Kauai, and no, we can’t just cover the West Side with solar power. But exporting our energy problems elsewhere is not in line with the value of mālama. āina. We’re already on 32.8% renewable energy today and we really can meet our own needs here Oʻahu. Part of that means agreeing that our needs are limitless and that we see ourselves as part of, rather than master, of our local environment.

Meeting this goal means moving towards zero emissions in every aspect of our society: transportation, buildings, agriculture, everything, while caring for and helping the most disadvantaged. No one expects it to happen overnight, but entertaining ourselves with the idea that it’s impractical or more expensive than doing nothing is dangerous propaganda. In particular, propaganda that continues to enrich the few rich people who control the fossil fuel industry both locally and globally.

The future we build together will be fairer, cleaner and more in line with our cultural heritage of loving the land and one another, than our fossil fuel past.

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