By Ruby Pap

Ruby Pap talking story with students about sea level rise and beach erosion in Waimea. The youth are positive idea-generators.

It has been a tough couple of years for me. As my job has evolved into educating about the science of sea level rise and the impacts to come, my message is often about loss — loss of beaches, habitat, property, species, cultural practice or lost tourism revenues. Climate change is an overwhelming challenge to be sure, and if you are not equipped with tools to deal with it, it is only human to put the problem into a box of unsolvable conundrums.

This month I am turning this around and dedicating my column solutions and positive steps.

Let’s start with techniques that slow global warming. There is a lot that individuals can do to reduce their own carbon footprints. Indeed, ours in the U.S. are the highest per capita in the world. I personally try and ride my bike and take the bus as alternatives to driving a few times a week. I use the clothesline for laundry rather than the dryer. I do admit to flying across the globe a few times a year but this year I am hoping to buy into a reputable carbon offset program, and will consider video conferencing more for work.

Collectively, there is a lot more impact to be made than any one individual. So why not form a group or start a competition for carbon footprint loss, borrowing from tried and true weight loss programs? We can all do more with support and encouragement from each other. There are lots of examples for how to do this online. The Kaua‘i General Plan’s goal is to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050, so let’s do this. Stay tuned for the Kaua‘i Aloha + Home Challenge, which is expected to come online in the coming months.

Ruby Pap talks to students at the beach in Moloa‘a.

While drastically reducing our carbon emissions is crucial to slowing climate change to manageable levels, we also need to take positive adaptation steps to impacts, such as sea level rise, that are not reversible. With this one it is important to take a deep breath and break it up into manageable action steps.

First of all, the word “adaptation” does not have to mean “retreat.” Retreat, while not to discount it, is is just one tool of many. It is probably going to take many other actions before our communities are completely transformed. One strong positive step is for communities to get together, take the sea level rise exposure and vulnerability data from the Hawai‘i Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report (, and go through the process of doing a community vulnerability assessment for sea level rise. The purpose of this is to integrate local knowledge with the science to document resources, places and facilities that are vulnerable and to identify solutions for resilience. Having a collective, common understanding of your community’s vulnerabilities is an extremely positive step towards resilience.

So what is included in the toolbox of options for sea level rise adaptation? The options include beach nourishment, wetland restoration, elevation or relocation of structures, green infrastructure (i.e. making the built environment more permeable/accommodating to water), drainage management, seawalls, levies, artificial reefs, etc.

Ruby Pap

Understanding the pros and cons of each option are key. For example, seawalls can protect property and facilities from erosion and flooding, but beach will inevitably be lost. Also, adaptation measures can be staged and changed over time. Understanding these stages, monitoring and collecting data along the way, and documenting your communities “trigger points” for change all make for a robust and positive path forward.

Throughout the coming years I see individuals, households, and communities coming together to manage their own impacts and understand their vulnerabilities, all the while gathering strength from working kākou, or together, towards manageable solutions — solutions that when put down on paper and grounded in science can gather enough traction to be funded and implemented.

We will never know until we try and we will feel better doing so!

  • Ruby Pap is a Coastal Land Use Extension Agent at University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program. She can be reached at


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