Hawaii Already Seeing Effects of Climate Change

Beach erosion on North Shore.

Photo: Courtesy Dolan Eversole

Less fresh water, more coastal erosion and degraded coral reefs are among the impacts climate change is already having on Hawaii and other Pacific islands associated with the United States, according to a major new climate report.
And those trends are likely to worsen.
The report, called the Third National Climate Assessment, finds that extreme weather events linked to climate change—including heat waves, heavy downpours, floods and droughts—have become more frequent and intense throughout the United States. These events are disrupting people’s lives and hurting the economy.
More than 300 scientists contributed to the report, which was released by the White House Tuesday.
Here are highlights from the section on Hawaii and the Pacific:

  • Decreasing rainfall in low-lying areas, combined with a rise in sea levels that pushes seawater into aquifers, will put greater limits on the availability of fresh water.
  • Rising sea levels combined with increased storm runoff will increase coastal flooding and erosion, damaging coastal ecosystems, infrastructure and agriculture.
  • A warming ocean will increase coral bleaching and disease outbreaks on coral reefs.
  • Rising temperatures, and reduced rainfall in some areas, will put native plants and animals at greater risk for extinction.
  • Pacific Islanders will find it increasingly difficult to sustain their traditional ways of life as climate change forces them to leave coastal areas.

 Speaking Tuesday at UH Manoa during a panel discussion on the report, William Aila Jr., head of the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, said he’s seen evidence of climate change in the dried stream beds of the Waianae Coast.
“In my teens, the streams flowed at least every winter,” Aila said. “Makaha Stream generally flowed all year round.  From my teens until now, a span of about 40 years, there are no streams that run on the Waianae Coast, except during the most intense rains.”
“Climate change is here, and we have to deal with it,” he said.