Image February 07, 2014

  By Cynthia Thielen

Sea level rise and climate change are not a disaster movie in the making, but a real life calamity playing out in dozens of island chains around the world. No longer can we theorize “what if?” Our challenge today is “how do we prepare?”

We need a plan, a plan which is practical, possible and prepares Hawaii for a natural phenomenon that could be catastrophic. This session I co-sponsored House Bill 1512, which directs the Lieutenant Governor to develop a strategic plan directing statewide growth and development which takes into account a predicted sea level rise and climate change. By placing this responsibility at the top of the Executive Branch, this critical concern will secure the leadership and attention it needs.

HB 1512 was heard Wednesday in a joint hearing between the House Committees on Water and Land, Energy and Environmental Protection and Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs. This bill easily passed out of all three committees and will next be heard by the House Finance Committee.

The National Academy of Sciences has predicted that in 16 years (2030), global seal level will have risen three to nine inches from the 2000 year level. By 2100, the Academy also projected that the sea will have risen 20 to 55 inches.

Chip Fletcher, Associate Dean of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaii, has warned that this rise could be catastrophic for Hawaii, for our infrastructure which includes water and sewer systems, as well as for our shoreline and coastal communities. We can already see the destruction occurring on Oahu’s North Shore due to the changes in ocean currents and tides. This could very possibly be exponentially compounded within the next two decades.

Placing responsibility for this important plan with the Lieutenant Governor offers stronger direction and significance than assigning the job to a state department. Oftentimes a task, such as planning for future events, can be sidelined by more immediate issues and concerns. We all know how the day’s business can easily prevent us from addressing long term goals and plans. Oversight by the Lieutenant Governor insures that the plan would be addressed immediately and efficiently coordinated between a network of agencies and governmental departments.

Most agree that we need to establish priorities regarding sea level rise and climate change. As pointed out in the testimony given today by William Aila, chairperson of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Act 286 established climate change adaption priority guidelines, the Governor’s plan “A New Day in Hawaii” recognizes the importance of planning for and adapting to climate change, and the 2013 Ocean Resources Management Plan also identified climate change as a major priority. There definitely has been a lot of discussion and theorizing. Now is the time to act.

I believe that we need an umbrella, such as the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, to make sure that all efforts are not duplicated. We need to address scenario-based approaches such as recommended by Chip Fletcher, and tangible plans must be in place and practiced before we need them.

HB1512 is the vehicle which takes climate change and sea level raise from theoretical debate to real-world action strategies and plans. There is no excuse for us to wait when our environment has already called us to action now.

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About the author: Rep. Cynthia Thielen represents the 50th District (Kailua, Kaneohe Bay) in the State House of Representatives and is Vice-Chair of the Energy and Environmental Protection Committee.

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