Strategies discussed today for protecting Big Island from rising sea levels

HILO — A Hawaii County Council committee meeting will discuss strategies today for protecting the Big Island from rising sea levels brought about by climate change.

At the request of Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff, Charles “Chip” Fletcher, a University of Hawaii professor of earth sciences, will discuss the effects of the climate crisis, which will help inform the county about how it can best mitigate them.

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Eoff said the presentation dovetails with a resolution passed by the Hawaii County Council in October, which officially declared a climate emergency across the county and urged collaborative efforts to restore the climate’s stability.

Based on previous presentations by Fletcher, Eoff said today’s presentation will first discuss how global rising temperatures already have affected Hawaii. Changes to the climate already have resulted in more Pacific hurricanes, lower average wind speeds in the state and less rain, according to a previous Fletcher presentation.

More noticeably, temperatures in the state have consistently increased. This year alone, 21 days have broken temperature records on the Big Island, with other islands recording similarly high temperatures.

The presentation also will look at future problems that will be exacerbated by climate change, including greater seawater inundation into the groundwater, mass coral die-offs, water shortages and a global refugee crisis, among other things.

In the face of such seemingly insurmountable problems, however, Eoff said changes on the county level can still help on larger scales.

“I think there’s a lot of things we can still do,” Eoff said. “They could have just minor impacts, but I think we could lead other counties by example.”

Full plans for climate actions will not be proposed at today’s meeting, but with a greater understanding of what the threats are, the county can take action to prevent the worst of the impacts.

Some local solutions include different, less resource-intensive agricultural practices and greater development of renewable energy sources. Hawaii has signed a commitment to completely transition to only clean energy sources by 2045.

While the County Council has been unanimous in its support for greater climate action, council Chairman Aaron Chung has previously concluded that any such actions are merely delaying humanity’s inevitable end, and has pointed to overpopulation as the greatest threat to the planet’s ecosystems.

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The Committee on Agriculture, Water, Energy and Environmental Energy will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the West Hawaii Civic Center in Kailua-Kona. It can be viewed online at hawaiicounty.gov.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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