Hawaii’s Climate Change Challenge

November 17, 2016
6 pm   -   8 pm
West Hawai'i Civic Center, Council Chambers

How prepared is Hawai’i for the climate changes now underway that affect our daily lives — the environment on which we depend and an economy based on historic assumptions that may no longer work.

The Earth is warming rapidly, following 2015, this year is on track to be the hottest year on record. Hawai’i is already facing impacts of climate change that are only accelerating, including…

  • Sea Level Rise, 

  • Super Storms,

  • Flooding of shoreline and low lying island areas, 

  • Erratic and Decreasing Trade Winds,

  • Declining Rainfall and stream flow,

  • Overall Warming Temperatures – Agricultural Impacts, 

  • Warming and Acidification Impact on Hawaii’s Marine Ecosystem and Fisheries, 

  • and the list goes on…

“…we think of climate change as something that’s going to occur in the future,” says Joel Norris, climate scientist at the University of California, San Diego. “This is happening right now. It’s happened during my lifetime — it’s a bit startling.”


President Obama has called global warming and its consequences to all life on Earth as “terrifying” .

Scientists connect rising sea levels with rising temperatures and Hawai’i is right in the cross hairs of climate changes that will increasingly impact all aspects of life in Hawai’i. The Hawaiian Islands represent a dynamic, diverse, and remarkably beautiful environment, with 10 different climate zones ranging from wet tropical to frozen tundra, and together make it a place like nowhere else on Earth—this remarkable unique environment we call home is now threatened by global warming.

The impact of sea level rise in the form of increased storm surges is currently costly commercial real estate owners in the range of $1 billion per year and is projected to increase in the coming years and decades.

Hawai’i News, Climate — Video link:

NASA Global Warming Tutorial — Video link:

Scientists monitor global atmospheric change atop 13,677-foot-high Mauna Loa. Their observations in combination with the rest of world’s scientific community are recording unprecedented record high increases in man-made CO2 and other industrial emissions that are now impacting Hawaii’s land, air, and surrounding ocean environment which holds claim to the world’s highest rates of endemic marine life in the Pacific Ocean.

If we accept the overwhelming scientific findings and global consensus on the urgency to address Climate Change, then rising sea levels, increased super storms, and changing weather patterns are more than signs of change, but a call to action for policy makers, businesses, and the island communities which make up Hawaii’s Moku system.

Join us for this important Forum, and learn how as a state, and a community of islands, the role we play in this growing threat to Hawai’i and the solutions at hand that will mitigate and manage the growing impacts of climate change on Hawaii’s environment, economy, and most importantly its people…

With the global Paris Climate Agreement now in effect, Hawaii’s carbon bank budget on higher temperatures may already be overdrawn — See the Video Link:

Short-term interests conflict with meeting the challenge of adapting to rising sea levels

Hawaii is projected to be heavily impacted as an island state and will require to make the necessary investments to adapt, but will likely need external financial support. Where will the money come from to fund needed structural changes?  Adding to the challenge, out of state (public and private) finance mechanisms have thus far proved sluggish in mobilizing funds for adapting to climate change.

At recent global conference on Climate Change the debate on adaptation funding was best summarized as… “If we do not reduce greenhouse gases swiftly and substantially, some regions will have to seriously consider relocating significant numbers of people (and assets) in the longer run”.

“If we ignore sea-level rise, flood damages will progressively rise and presently good defenses will be degraded and ultimately overwhelmed,” says co-author Robert Nicholls, professor of coastal engineering at the University of Southampton. “Hence we must start to adapt now, be that planning higher defenses, flood proofing buildings, and strategically planning coastal land use.”

One of the many challenges facing Hawai’i today is how coastal development tends will adjust to Climate Change impacts — re-actively or proactively.   To be sure, short-term interests of real-estate and tourism companies dominate, and both business sectors would prefer to build near the waterline with little thought about the future consequences of rising sea levels and storm surges.   Regardless of how much sea-level rise climate change brings, careful long-term strategic planning can ensure that development in high-risk flood zones is appropriately designed or avoided. Today, this long-term perspective is absent among most policy leaders in Hawai’i and elsewhere.  


This forum took place on November 17, 2016, at 6 pm at West Hawai'i Civic Center, Council Chambers.

To learn more about each Forum featured speaker, click onto the presenter's name listed below their picture.

This event was moderated by:

John DeFries
Director, Department of Research and Development
Bill Bugbee
Community Forums

The event's featured speakers were:

Bruce S. Anderson, PhD.
DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR)
Bill Bugbee
Community Forums
Scott Glenn, AICP
State of Hawaiʻi Office of Environmental Quality Control
Abby G. Frazier, Ph.D.
Pacific Islands Climate Science Center (PICSC)

Speaker Presentation Materials

The presenters have graciously allowed us to post their presentation notes.

Subject Support Materials

Please see support material for this subject Forum.

Forum Session Video

View the recorded session here:

Ask the Presenters a Question

The following contains online Questions posed to this Forum's Presenters and the Answers they provided.


It seems that climate change effects to Hawaii would be from impacts of severe wind or rainstorms or temperatures that would affect our shorelines and higher land terrains.

What and how can the State, County, and local municipalities adopt policies to prepare for eventualities in the future? Policies and actions should be participatory for all people including the rich and ordinary.

Would the approach to climate change concerns be accomplished by statutes, advocacy, or by wisdom?

Forum Synopsis

This excellent community question captures the essence of last night’s discussion.

The Climate Change Challenge Forum was West Hawaii Forum series at its best.  The Forum also included a full house of attendees representing the greater West Hawaii Community attended – thank you all for attending.

Last night’s Forum (Nov 17th) included presenters from Federal, State, and County agencies. Each presenter provided an excellent summary on the state of Climate impacts on Hawaii, global warming mitigation and abatement efforts now underway, the policies supporting these activities, and a look ahead on what Hawai’i Island can expect from a changing climate that holds significant consequences for all our island residents and economy.  Beyond the highly informative scientific analysis and policy review, John DrFries provided the audience insights into the deep links between Hawaiian culture and living in balance with Hawaii’s natural treasuries of the land, sea, air, and all living creatures – now threatened by human-produced global warming emissions.

An equally important take away from this Forum is how local efforts at the state level (now underway) can make a difference preparing for and slowing Climate Change.

I encourage all to revisit our web site in the coming days and view on NaLeo TV and also from this web site (on-line and on-demand) last night’s Forum additional content we have included on this most of important of issues.   The Forum’s individual speaker presentations are also available, providing detailed information and are now available for viewing within this site.


Bill Bugbee

Director, Digital Media, Community Enterprises



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