When Sen. Brian Schatz posted a photo of an almost overflowing Ala Wai canal on Facebook recently, he included a caption that read, “Only a foot or so from flooding. Barely any rain, just the tide. Climate change is real.”

The post drew reactions from almost 700 people and was shared more than 100 times.

That kind of engagement on social media, Schatz said in a recent sit-down with Civil Beat, is indicative of people’s “appetite” for political news, especially when it comes to reacting to and organizing resistance to President Donald Trump’s controversial policies.

“It’s absolutely invigorating to see people so engaged,” Schatz told Civil Beat.

People, he said, “want to hear from me … they want to know I’m in the fight.”

We, too, are glad that Schatz and a host of other Hawaii leaders are in the fight, especially on issues like climate change that affect the islands so profoundly.

Trump has called climate change a “hoax” and just last week withdrew the United States from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, making the U.S. one of only three countries (the others are Syria and Nicaragua) that are not agreeing to its terms to reduce carbon emissions and combat global warming.

Hawaii’s entire Democratic congressional delegation — U.S. Reps. Colleen Hanabusa and Tulsi Gabbard and Sens. Mazie Hirono and Schatz — has criticized the decision.

The fact that Schatz’s Ala Wai canal Facebook post “outperformed” most of his other posts is also indicative of Hawaii’s visceral experience with climate change.

The threats aren’t just abstract or existential for us. As state Rep. Chris Lee said in response to Trump’s decision, rising sea levels, “will more quickly erode our beaches, endanger coastal communities, diminish our fresh water supply, and expose our families to stronger and more frequent hurricanes at great cost to our people and way of life in the islands.”

The central Pacific saw a record 15 tropical storms during the 2015 hurricane season. More recently, the “king tides” we experienced last week caused more coastal erosion and low-lying areas to flood, offering a potential preview of our new normal if sea levels continue to rise.

Moreover, an increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the ocean has the potential to decimate fisheries and the coral reefs that simultaneously protect the islands and stimulate the economy.

So when Trump dismisses these very real, very immediate threats, saying instead that the proposed counteractive measures would “punish” America, Hawaii takes it seriously.

It’s why Gov. David Ige decided to join the fight too, recently signing two new environmental bills into law. One of them, Senate Bill 559, essentially commits Hawaii to several of the greenhouse gas emission-reduction strategies outlined in the Paris agreement.

“We cannot afford to mess this up,” Ige said. “We are setting a course to change the trajectory of Hawaii and islanders for generations to come.”

Scott Glenn, an environmental adviser to the governor, told The Washington Post that the bill-signing ceremony was originally scheduled for several weeks later, but after Trump’s Paris decision, they decided it couldn’t wait. “This was of such national importance,” he said.

Hawaii became the first state to pass laws supporting the Paris agreement.

“The measure adopted relevant sections of the Paris Agreement as state law,” Sen. J. Kalani English, who introduced the bill, said in a statement, “which gives us legal basis to continue adaptation and mitigation strategies for Hawaii, despite the federal government’s withdrawal from the treaty.”

It’s important that the state — and its counties — continue to develop those strategies. Honolulu almost lost the momentum when the City Council balked at fully funding the new voter-created Office of Climate Change, Resilience and Sustainability. Members later relented.

Still, much more needs to be done to keep our island home safe and dry. It’s encouraging that political leaders like Schatz and Ige are stepping up to the challenge.

About the Author