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How will Hawaii fare as the climate changes ?

December 10th, 2012 · 30 Comments · Economics, Politics

The Star-Advertiser reports this morning on a new report predicting impacts of climate change on Hawaii (“Climate-change scientists predict sea to rise 1 foot by 2050“).

The S-A story is based on an East-West Center press release dated December 4, which included links to the executive summary and the full report. By the way, I didn’t see the links in the S-A story.

This is dour stuff. If you visit here often, you’ve probably seen plenty of the long posts by “skeptical once again” running down various scenarios as trends converge over the next several decades.

Sea levels are rising as average temperatures rise. The number of trade wind days are falling (making those wind farms far less efficient). There will be less rain and more frequent drought in parts of the state. Rising sea leaves will raise the water table, causing more routine flooding in low lying areas of the city. Tides and storms will have greater impacts. Fuel costs will continue to rise. Imports will get more expensive. Travel is likely to get more expensive, putting mass tourism at some risk. The list goes on and on.

Every day we walk down the beach in the morning and worry about friends with oceanfront homes, some who have been there for decades, some who bought their homes relatively recently. How long before their homes are at risk?

Here’s one assessment that I found this morning:

But as I’ve noted (see “What year will coastal property values crash?“), coastal property values won’t wait to (permanently) fall until sea levels have actually risen 4 or 5 feet, as they almost certainly will by the end this century on our current CO2 emissions path:

Coastal studies experts: “For coastal management purposes, a [sea level] rise of 7 feet (2 meters) should be utilized for planning major infrastructure”

Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100

No, coastal property values will crash when a large fraction of the financial community and of opinion-makers — along with a smaller but substantial fraction of the public — realize that it is too late for us to stop 4 to 5 feet of SLR. I tend to think the peak in U.S. coastal property values comes some time in the 2020s.

And when those coastal values crash, what will the impact be on other island real estate values? It probably won’t be good.

You may want to check the calendar and realize that’s not too far in the future.

And what about Kamehameha Highway, much of which runs along the ocean, as it does here in Kaaawa. It’s extremely vulnerable to damage if sea levels or storm intensity increase much at all. Will it have to move mauka? Where? Are plans in place to do this? I don’t know.

Doom and gloom aside, I did find one very upbeat discussion of the positives of Hawaii’s location. Here’s a long excerpt:

The BEST place to be located is upon the larger remote Islands within the deep oceans near the equator or even better situated near the tropic lines. Hawaii is a prime example as to why such remote islands will weather best for their human inhabitance. The surrounding ocean and its surface water temperatures will help tremendously in stabilizing the lower elevation atmospheric temperatures within comfortable levels. Consider Florida for example, with temperatures that often reach 100F+ while at a latitude further north than Hawaii. Where Hawaii experiences extremely stable year round temperatures in the 80′s near ocean elevations all the while being situated far closer to the equator where the atmosphere should theoretically be hotter than Florida. Florida is surrounded by vast shoal (shallow) waters and therein lays the dilemma.

These perfect conditions in Hawaii are due to several factors. Hawaii experiences more moderate and stable temperatures because it is fully surrounded by deep remote ocean waters and because it has a near stable exposure to the sun all year round. The deep waters mix with the warmer surface waters of the sun about the island effectively cooling the warmer waters and keeping the island cooler during the day in the sunshine. Whereas during the evening the warmed surface waters continue to heat the lower elevation atmosphere via evaporation keeping the air moderately warm during the evenings. Thus Hawaii has a near perfect natural thermal control system built into its environment that fits human needs to near perfection, whereas no such place can be found in a continental environment.

Hawaii has two fairly stable factors, a near stable solar exposure and a stable deep ocean temperature. The surface waters about the island are locked between two opposites in energy absorption and transmission and we’ve a greater mass (water) in fluid dynamics to consider. The averaged outcome is experienced and enjoyed by the lower elevation inhabitance of the island. Global warming will have less influence on the temperatures in Hawaii and far greater influence on continental land masses. Hurricanes/Typhoons may become more prevalent in Hawaii but none the less, because of its remote location, such storms will always be less likely an extreme threat comparatively to the extremes that will be manifest on and around the continental environments.

The most disturbing thing to me is that while our science community is deeply involved in relevant research, our policy makers are lagging in seriously addressing the need for immediate changes to meet the future threats. This is another area where Hawaii’s conservative political system is going to increase the future costs of climate change.

Are Hawaii’s policy makers as proactive as those in other part of the country? I think we’re lagging, but that’s only a general impression.

Better informed assessments would be appreciated.

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  • cwd

    Lopaka43:

    The Pacific Islands Regional Climate Assessment (PIRCA) partnership hosted the Pacific Islands Regional Climate Forum yesterday at the East-West Center. It was designated as a public dialogue to bring together those involved with the PIRCA, sector leaders, and other interested individuals to share information on climate change.

    The PIRCA is a collaborative effort aimed at assessing the state of climate knowledge, impacts, and adaptive capacity in Hawai‘i and the US-Affiliated Pacific Islands.

    The PIRCA engages federal, state, and local government agencies, non-government organizations, businesses, and community groups to inform and prioritize their activities in the face of a changing climate.

    More than 100 individuals have been involved in the PIRCA since its inception in 2011. The first PIRCA output is a report titled Climate Change and Pacific Islands: Indicators and Impacts published in December 2012 that can be downloaded for free from the following web sites:

    http://www.pacificrisa.org/projects/pirca/

    http://cakex.org/virtual-library/climate-change-and-pacific-islands-indicators-and-impacts

    One of the questions addressed to the six people on the stage – including William Aila, Russell Kokubun, and Jesse Souki – was what climate change legislation is going to be submitted to the 2013 Legislature or to any of the county councils.

    The collective answer from all six participants? “As far as we know – nothing.” One person stated that as far as she could tell, there was no indication that the new Congress would be addressing any of these isssues either.

    A HUGE project in Waikiki to replace the Moana Hotel should start up before the end of this fiscal year. When finished, it will be no more than 60 feet from the high water mark.

    Furthermore, its internal infrastructure could be up to fifty feet below the ground level – including some in-house parking.

    I raised the issue about storm surgez, long-term sea level rise, and tsunami impacts during the public input section, but no one addressed these complex issues.

    We need laws and regulations passed NOW – not until some time in the dim & distant future.

    Lopaka – if you want to talk to me in person, contact Ian off the blog for my contact information. Ian – it’s okay to give him (I assume) my phone number & e-mail address.

  • merit

    All great points above on global warming’s local impacts.

    But how much of what we worry about falls under the rubric of “same old, same old”? We’re worried about coastal erosion, flooding and dying coral reefs. But these things have been talked about for decades (although little has been done in that regard). But what are we not thinking about? For example, the convention center was built on the fringe of Waikiki in part because the water line is only a meter or two below ground in Waikiki. Will that water line rise? If so, what are the implications for all structures in Waikiki? For their plumbing and electricity?

    The same applies to the un-thought out ramifications of peak oil. It took us a long, long time to recognize that the worst victim of peak oil will be tourism. This oversight is understandable, because most of the discourse on peak oil is conducted by people who don’t live in tourist-dependent economies. But what else are we not seeing? For one, it’s not just that airplanes in the future will be coming in less frequently, but leaving less frequently. This includes flights to Las Vegas. This might mean more pressure in the future to legalize gambling locally. Or not. (We might not be in the mood to gamble.)

    What else are we missing?

    • merit

      Global warming might also mean no more nice green golf courses, soccer fields, cemeteries, etc.

      • font

        Think of invasive species. The Africanized honey bee stopped its march north from Brazil at the Mexican border because the climate was too cool. Florida is full of critters in the swamps that cannot live more north at the moment. Their day will come.

        Agriculture in subtropical climates like Hawaii can be tricky because Hawaii has the tough pests of the tropics, but the crops of the temperate region don’t thrive as much in Hawaii’s warmth. (At least, this is what I was told when I tried to grow lettuce.) But one would expect that things might get worse in this way with global warming.

    • Lopaka43

      The implications for all structures along the shoreline, and not just in Waikiki, is that there will be a need to decide whether they need to be torn down or renovated to deal with the impact of a rising water table and increased risk of flooding/storm surge/tsunami damage.

      This can be done either proactively in anticipation of the changes, or after the fact, when flooding actually occurs.

      At a minimum, building owners in Waikiki should be thinking about getting critical equipment out of their basements.

  • compare and decide

    Here’s an article from the New Zealand Herald entitled “NZ tourism may survive climate change, but travel costs a risk”.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10508276

    Global warming will have winners and losers. Ironically, it’s the biggest carbon emitters who will be the winners in tourism.

    Climate change due to global warming will help determine a new crop of winners and losers – in tourism.

    And a report from Deutsche Bank Research says some of the biggest polluters will be among the biggest winners – with New Zealand among the countries which will initially be better off.

    The Deutsche Bank report said that the countries responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions will be least influenced by the predicted storms, droughts or rising seas.

    By 2030 tourist destinations such as Malta, Cyprus, Austria, Greece, the Bahamas and Jamaica will be adversely affected, and tourism in Asia, Africa and Latin America will also suffer.

    But the bank’s model shows Canada, the United States, Belgium, Germany and the Baltic countries will benefit as tourist destinations.

    New Zealand – which relies on tourists travelling long distances from the northern hemisphere – will benefit but ranks closer to France and Italy, where some regions will be too hot and dry while other parts will become attractive.

    “France and Italy will be slightly favoured, due to the diversified structure of their tourism offerings,” Eric Heymann, of Frankfurt, a senior economist at Deutsche Bank Research, told the Yale Global website.

    “Canada, New Zealand and the USA are the only three further countries outside Europe whose tourist industries will be on the winning side.”

    “Like the north European countries, New Zealand is positioning itself as a `green’ holiday destination,” the report said. “The isolated geographical location of the country is, however, problematic.”

    It will have beneficial effects from climate change up to 2030, with increasing temperatures and lower rainfall.

    As the effects of climate change ripple across the world, greater restrictions will be placed on consuming fossil fuels, including the imposition of carbon fees. This will hit all tourist destinations hard, but will hit isolated New Zealand harder than other Western societies.

    But rising fuel costs and limits placed on travel in order to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions will start having a negative effect on the economies of existing tourism nations.

    Tourism was an important economic factor in New Zealand, equivalent to 11 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), particularly adventure holidays in the South Island.

    The North Island had striking landscapes and Auckland was an attractive destination for city tourists, but cultural tours “are still of little importance”.

    “In developing nations which are resource-poor and tourist-dependent, this will widen the gap between the wealthy and the poor”.

    The regulatory and indirect consequences of climate change will have a negative influence on tourism in the whole of Oceania, though the tourists visiting New Zealand include a high proportion travelling relatively short distances from Australia and Asia.

    “The island states in the South Pacific … are particularly reliant on tourism,” Mr Heymann said. “If tourists stay away from them, the economic setbacks are extremely serious.”

    Reduced tourism income for economic development in many emerging markets, including the island states in the South Pacific would be not only due to worsening climatic conditions.

    “If prices for air trips increase, for example, because of their inclusion in emissions trading and if (as a result of that) fewer people travel to faraway destinations, the negative economic impact would be perceptible,” Mr Heymann said.

    “If these changes are irreversible, then the developed world must help these countries develop sustainable economies.”

    In Australia, rising temperatures would affect beach and water sport holidays on the Queensland and New South Wales coasts. The problem of high UV radiation already existed and future coral bleaching would reduce the attractiveness of the Great Barrier Reef to tourists.

    But the report said that up to 2030 the consequences could still be manageable – possibly even increasing visitor numbers – with a change in marketing tactics, along the lines of “Come and see it before it’s too late!”

    This does not bode well for Hawaii’s tourism. Looks like Hawaii might be in the same sinking canoe as Tahiti.

    This might prove to be an ideological litmus test for Hawaii’s Congressional delegation. When carbon fees are proposed in Congress, will Hawaii’s representatives oppose them or support them when it’s recognized that carbon fees will hurt tourism? (However, those fees could be expected to serve as compensation to victims of global warming — if they are treated as FEES, and not TAXES — and Hawaii’s compensation package would be expected to be theoretically in proportion to the damage caused by global warming to Hawaii.)

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