Kauai is the oldest and northernmost island in Hawai’i. There are restaurants in the main city of Lihue where spearfishermen bring their catch directly from the sea to the chefs waiting above. West of Waimea Canyon — known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific– visitors to Barking Sands Beach can see the island of Niihau, the only island in the state reserved for Native Hawaiians. It’s one of the most idyllic places in the USA, but it is not immune to climate change.
Jurassic Park was filmed on Kauai, which receives more than 400 inches of rainfall annually on top of Kawakini, the highest point on the island. But it got more than 10% of that total in one day last week — 50 inches in 24 hours. “The rain gauge in Hanalei broke at 28 inches within 24 hours,” says state representative Nadine Nakamura. “In a neighboring valley, their rain gauge showed 44 inches within 24 hours. It’s off the charts.” Later, the National Weather Service reported nearly 50 inches of rain fell in 24 hours.
Get used to it, says Chip Fletcher, a leading expert on the impact of climate change on Pacific island communities. Fletcher, a professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, tells the Los Angeles Times, “The flooding on Kauai is consistent with an extreme rainfall that comes with a warmer atmosphere. Just recognize that we’re moving into a new climate, and our communities are scaled and built for a climate that no longer exists.”
Natural resouces manager Kawika Winter is involved in research on climate change and community resilience — the ways places recover from unexpected and catastrophic events. He adds some context.
“This is the most severe rain event [in Hawaii] that we know about since records started being kept in 1905. In the Pacific Islands, we don’t have the luxury of debating whether climate change is real,” he says. “Climate change is affecting us, and has been for some time. There are striking similarities with the flooding that we experienced on Kauai and the recent flooding in California.
“The warmer atmosphere is holding more moisture and that builds up until it meets with cold dry air, creating this massive unstable system, which causes what some meteorologists are now referring to as a ‘rain bomb’. People have been describing this latest storm as a 100-year-flood, but it’s more likely that the next one is just a few years off, given the reality of climate change.”
Just a few days ago, correspondent James Ayre reported on a study published in Nature Climate Change that says California is now more susceptible to alternating periods of flooding and drought due to anthropogenic climate change. Meanwhile, America’s alleged leaders are continuing their embrace of fossil fuels and clucking their tongues about what fools these are who warn about climate change.
Our grandchildren will ask us why we failed to take appropriate action to protect the environment. Whatever will we tell them? Our leaders were idiots but we voted for them anyway because, you know, Hillary’s e-mails?