It seems that Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) is crafting a plan that could lead to the inundation of Hawaii’s beaches, the extinction of its species, and the destruction of its water supply. Abercrombie and John Peterson (R-PA) are creating a “working group” to establish a “comprehensive, environmentally responsible energy plan,” whose members will be announced today. The centerpiece of this plan is opening protected coasts to drilling for more oil, as Abercrombie told the Hill:
Simply standing up and saying, you can’t drill your way out of this doesn’t work. The people are standing up and saying, “Yes, we can.”
The unique beaches, coral reefs, and oceanic ecosystems of Hawaii won’t be directly threatened by expanded offshore drilling, as the ocean that surrounds it doesn’t have fossil reserves. An oil spill or two could get tourists to flee the beaches of California, Florida, and the states of the eastern seaboard in favor of the Aloha State.
But in reality, Abercrombie’s advocacy of increasing fossil fuel production as a climate crisis looms will have deeper repercussions for this necklace of islands than perhaps any other state in the nation. Big Oil wants the world to keep burning fossil fuels at a rate that would increase global temperatures by five to seven times more than we’ve already experienced. Even more modest increases would spell catastrophe for islands like the Hawai’ian chain:
Rising Sea Levels Submerging Islands. In 2006, President Bush declared the 1200-mile chain of Northwestern Hawaiian Islands part of the largest marine sanctuary in the United States. But U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers found that “by 2100 up to 65 percent of some islands would be lost if the sea level rose 18.9 inches (48 centimeters), which is the average IPCC projection.” A 34.6 inch rise “could result in up to 75 percent of NWHI wildlife habitat disappearing.” Whale Skate Island, home to seals, turtles, and seabirds, has already disappeared under the waves. [Endangered Species Research, 2006]
Coral Reefs Dying. “The combined stress of global warming and ocean acidification” due to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases is already causing coral bleaching. “Especially in the state of Hawaii, we depend on the reefs for tourism as well as our economy. Also, recreational and commercial fisheries,” said Coral Reef Ecologist Ku’ulei Rodgers to NBC affiliate KHNL. “The coral reefs are the basis for all of the foundations and key species and if we lose the reefs we also will lose the fish and other organisms that are involved.” [KHNL, 7/2007]
Water, Wildlife, Economy Under Threat. In the 2007 legislation to cut Hawaii’s greenhouse gas emissions, the state legislature found, “The potential adverse effects of global warming include a rise in sea levels resulting in the displacement of businesses and residences and the inundation of Hawaii’s freshwater aquifers, damage to marine ecosystems and the natural environment, extended drought and loss of soil moisture, an increase in the spread of infectious diseases, and an increase in the severity of storms and extreme weather events.” Further, “Climate change will have detrimental effects on some of Hawaii’s largest industries, including tourism, agriculture, recreational, commercial fishing, and forestry.” [H.B. 226, 2007]
It is difficult to encapsulate the threat of global warming to these jewels of biodiversity. Everything from the unique snow-dependent wekiu bug on Mauna Kea to the Hawaiian monk seals are under threat. The destruction of Hawaii’s unique habitat is not just devastating to its wildlife. As the National Wildlife Federation notes, “At Honolulu, Nawiliwili and Hilo, sea level is already rising 6-14 inches per century, and the EPA estimates it is likely to rise another 17-25 inches by 2100. Sand replenishment to protect the coasts from a 20-inch sea level rise could cost $340 million to $6 billion.”
Abercrombie has criticized the Bush administration for its “obstruct, confuse and delay” strategy on global warming. His “drill, drill, drill” advocacy is no better.