By Ruby Pap
In my last post, I discussed some of the ways global warming will affect our community — increasing floods and erosion, threats to human and wildlife habitats — and the uncertainty with the timing and magnitude of these impacts.
I realize this is depressing and people feel helpless. I can understand those who throw up their hands and “go with the flow,” if I may use an overused Kaua‘i term. Indeed, sometimes I ask myself why I am in this line of work — when each day a new study comes out reiterating the worsening situation.
So, what does get me out of bed each morning to work on community resiliency in the face of climate change? Simply put, there is no alternative for me — I know too much about the options to help better the situation! Knowledge is power, so I try to spread that knowledge and translate it into positive action.
First, the terms “global warming” and “climate change” refer to the same thing in the media — our planet is heating up and this is causing the climate to change
There are two broad strategies for combating global warming, mitigation and adaptation. The former refers to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow global warming. Mitigation includes using more energy efficient technologies and changing behavior at societal and individual levels. Examples include ditching our cars, using solar and wind energy, and buying local.
But since the planet has already warmed to damaging levels, adaptation is critical for our ability to withstand climate-change related hazards. It refers to purposeful actions by a community to reduce sensitivity and exposure, and increase ability to cope with and recover from major events such as hurricanes or flash floods.
Adaptation necessarily involves systematic planning. For many, this is the eye-glazing stuff of bureaucrats. But the whole community needs to be involved with making these plans — the community knows best!
Think about our physical structures and infrastructure, and divide them into two categories:
(1) New development — where can we site new structures out of harm’s way; and
(2) Existing development — what do we do with all the homes, roads, etc. that are already built in hazard areas?
Kaua‘i has been busy with the first category. There is good data on coastal erosion rates, flood and wind hazard areas — and this data is used in building permit processes. For example, Kaua‘i’s shoreline setback regulations take into account erosion rates, sea level rise and episodic events to calculate required building distances from the shoreline.
But if the structures are already built too close to the shoreline, what do we do to protect ourselves responsibly, in a way that does not damage our natural environment? The first step is to properly map hazard scenarios and identify vulnerable areas. Then, adaptation planning allows communities to identify appropriate responses. One set of responses include accommodation, retreat, and protection.
Accommodation is strengthening or retrofitting structures, but not attempting to prevent the inevitable. Retreat refers to the relocation of structures outside of the hazard zone. Protection refers to things like seawalls, actions taken to protect land from inundation.
Armed with knowledge, we can have meaningful conversations about adapting to changing conditions. Kaua‘i County has various planning efforts to participate in, including the General Plan, Community Development Plans and Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan.
The Kaua‘i Climate Change and Coastal Hazards Assessment (http://seagrant.soest.hawaii.edu/sites/default/files/publications/web-8-18-14-kc3ha-final.pdf) aims to improve Kaua‘i’s community resilience and preparedness through the better understanding and utilization of coastal hazard information and planning tools.
The conversation is coming to a community near you. Will you help?
- Ruby Pap is a Coastal Land Use Extension Agent at University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.