Climate Change And Our Water

It’s getting hotter in Hawaii – and drier. Our storms are getting wilder. And our ocean’s chemical balance is changing.

What does it all mean? According to scientists who track such things, it means climate change is real and is already affecting us.

And while we may not give it a thought in our everyday lives, we will at some point because all of these changes will affect our lives.

Professor Maxine Burkett says we really should start paying attention. An associate professor at UH Richardson School of Law, Burkett also directs the Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy (ICAP).

“We know that temperatures are rising as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, and the impacts are inevitable,” Burkett says.

Not only inevitable, she says, some are already here. You just have to ask the right questions of the right people. According to ICAP’s briefing sheet, the air temperature has risen, and both rainfall and stream flows have decreased – hotter and drier. Just ask the people who live in Ka’u on the Big Island, who have experienced the longest drought in memory. Crops such as taro are already affected.

At the same time, rain intensity has increased. Think about the last few weeks: When it rains, it comes down hard, fast and furious. Storms are more intense – everything weather-related is more intense and unpredictable.

To cap it all off, sea level and surface temperatures have risen, and the ocean itself is acidifying.

Scientists anticipate growing impacts to Hawaii’s water resources, our forests, coastal communities and marine ecology.

Burkett says the key to reversing environmental damage is to cut our dependence on fossil fuels, but “even if we were to stop completely right now, there are impacts that are going to affect all global communities. And island communities tend to be the most vulnerable.”

Burkett and ICAP will host a series of discussions on the issue. The one coming up this week will feature scientists and decision-makers who will identify and focus on how our fresh-water resources are – and will be – affected by decreased rainfall, a rising population and increased flooding from intensified storms and high tides.

Later discussions will focus on the implications for all of us in Hawaii, and on possible solutions.

Think about it: Climate will affect our water for drinking and for agriculture. Warmer ocean temperatures will kill coral and eventually affect a major food source. Rising ocean acidity could profoundly alter marine plankton, coral and shellfish. The rising sea level means flooding and erosion, and it could wreak havoc on coastal roads, rails and communities.

Burkett hopes to jump-start awareness and to create a sense of urgency.

We need it, she says, “I definitely think there should be a sense of urgency, both in needing to rethink our incredible dependence on fossil fuels in particular, but also in terms of preparing ourselves for what will be more-stressed resources locally.

“I don’t want to be Chicken Little, but we’re talking about putting more and more vital things at risk.”

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