Hawai’i and Climate Change

Hawai’i is the inhabited place that is most distant from any other inhabited place in the world. Because of its isolation, Hawai’i is home to more endemic species than anywhere else on earth. Endemic means that a species is found just in that one area and nowhere else on earth. In such a remote location in the middle of the Pacific, one is tempted to think that climate change won’t affect the islands, but that is a mistake. There is a reason that climate change often appears with the adjective “global” in front of it.

The ecosystems and microclimates of Hawai’i are already complicated, due to topography. There are dry leeward sides and wet windward sides. The height of some of the volcanoes creates an alpine ecosystem. The peak of Kaua’i is the wettest place on earth, averaging over 450 inches of rain a year, yet other areas are deserts. There are tropical, temperate, and dryland forests.

Yet, even here, the climate is changing noticeably. The trade winds are what keeps Hawai’i from being as hot and humid as one would expect at this latitude, yet more and more often the trade winds stop blowing. This creates longer periods of hot, humid weather, even when it isn’t summer. Most of our time in Honolulu, there was a heat wave, despite it being early May. The trades dying down exacerbates vog, which is smog caused by volcanic ash. Given that Kilauea has been erupting continuously, the airborne ash can travel to other islands and create air quality problems for them. When the trade winds die down, the ash levels build up and people with breathing difficulties suffer.

The native Hawaiians named only two seasons, the rainy season and the hot season. In our current terms, the rainy season was late fall through early spring, but, as we see in other parts of the world, weather tends to be more extreme, so the wet season tends to be wetter and longer, with more possibilities of thunderstorms, which had been very rare. Meanwhile, the hot season is hotter and can get much more humid when the trade winds die down, which is happening much more frequently than in the past.

The increased dryness of the dry ecosystems makes them more vulnerable to drought. When we were on the leeward side of the Big Island, there were many signs warning of extreme fire danger. Wildfire is especially dangerous in Hawai’i because the plants evolved there without that threat, so they are not adapted to survive or re-populate after it. The problem is made worse by invasive species, such as fountain grass which grows on relatively fresh lava flows, making them useless as natural fire breaks. When we visited Ka’upulehu , Wilds was telling us about some of the problems that climate change is causing for them in their mission to restore a native dryland forest, one of which was the need to maintain fire breaks around the perimeter to protect the native plants.

The people of Hawai’i are working to reduce their carbon footprint to help fight climate change. There are many more electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles here, along with public charging stations. Rooftop solar photovoltaics and hot water are common. There is a light rail system being built in Honolulu to alleviate wasted time and fuel on the highway. There is some utilization of geothermal power, as well.

I have already been trying to do my part to combat climate change and this trip makes those efforts seem that much more important. I hope you will join me in work toward energy efficiency and renewable energy for the sake of extraordinarily beautiful Hawai’i and the rest of the world.




We flew into Hilo last night, picked up our rental car, and drove to our home for the next two nights, Volcano Guest House, which is not far from the entrance to Volcanoes National Park. We are staying in “The Upstairs” of the main house, which is a conversion of the bedrooms of the now-grown children of the house into a two-bedroom mini-apartment.

The house where we are staying and the cottages and other outbuildings are built to be as self-sustaining as possible, with solar hot water heating (with electrical back-up for rainy days or heavy use), rain water catchment, and wood stoves, with electric space heaters and extra blankets and electric mattress pads for chilly nights.

One of the accoutrements is a (hand-cranked) flashlight. That seemed a bit curious, but last night we understood why it is necessary.

Last night, we experienced the most darkness we had seen since the flood in September 2011 left us with no electricity for several days. Given that our bodies aren’t adjusted to Hawai’i Standard Time yet, we awoke about 2 AM, which constitutes sleeping in until 8 on Eastern Daylight Time, to total darkness. Because it is raining, there was no moonlight or starlight. There are no streetlights and the Volcano Guest House buildings are carved into the rain forest with as small a footprint as possible.

Coincidentally, I have read been reading/hearing a lot about darkness lately. The darkness near here that makes the Mauna Kea observatory one of the finest in the world. The threat to the Kopernik Observatory in our hometown from the light pollution of gas wellpads and flaring right across the border in PA. The Dark Skies initiative that reserves certain places to retain as much of their natural darkness as possible. The imagery of the light coming into the darkness at Easter Vigil services. A cover article in a recent Time magazine on Barbara Brown Taylor and the spiritual lessons of darkness.

Enveloped in the darkness, we were able to get back to sleep, awaking with the still-rainy dawn to the songs of unfamiliar birds.

Bayou Corne sinkhole

I have been following the Bayou Corne, Louisiana sinkhole story since it began in 2012. Here is a link to a story on it from earlier this month from a local source:  http://www.examiner.com/article/louisiana-s-bayou-corne-sinkhole-eats-well-pad-people-next

This morning a story about sinkholes was on CBS This Morning, which is a US national network news broadcast. They were doing a story on sinkholes and talked about the Bayou Corne sinkhole as though it was typical of other sinkholes around the country. They had to reference it in the report because research done in conjunction with it may be helpful in predicting ordinary sinkholes, but they should have pointed out that Bayou Corne is an industrial accident featuring hydrocarbon storage and a salt dome collapse, not an “act of God.”

My comment sent to CBS This Morning:

I am watching CBS This Morning on Thursday, April 24. You just aired a piece about sinkholes that twice referenced the Bayou Corne sinkhole in LA. You should have pointed out that this sinkhole was caused by the collapse of a salt dome being used for hydrocarbon storage. This is a totally different mechanism than the typical limestone dissolution and collapse that causes sinkholes in places like Florida. The Bayou Corne sinkhole is an industrial accident, which was preceded by tremors and release of methane and other hydrocarbons. It has resulted in the evacuation and now permanent re-location of 300 people. It is in no way just another sinkhole; it is a criminal act causing huge environmental damage by an irresponsible company, not a natural process. You should have pointed this out in your report.

Tasmanian Forests Threatened


The above link is a reblog of a post from an Australian friend’s blog. We all need to support one another to protect the earth as a whole.  Every corner of the globe is important!