You’ve probably heard that sea level rise will overtake Waikiki and other coastal areas by the end of the century and its first effects will show by mid-century. Environmentalists have been talking about this issue for decades, and I have to admit, I started to tune them out because 2050 seems so far away.

Recently I’ve been more concerned about the debate over Honolulu’s rail transit system, sexual assault scandals all over the news and President Trump’s controversial proposals to impose travel bans and tax cuts for the rich.

As a college student studying on the mainland, I can’t wait for December. No, it’s not because I can finally listen to Christmas music or see snow; it’s because I travel back home to Hawaii for the holidays. Envisioning myself standup paddle-boarding, hiking ridge trails, and seeing my family are my main motivations to finish the semester strong.

The future is now: King Tide flooding in Mapunapuna in May. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

A few days ago, I was thinking about when I want to move back home — and if I can even afford to live in Hawaii, an issue that many other millennials face:

If I move back when I’m 35 years old, it’ll be 2033.

2033!? That’s almost when the first signs of sea level rise are supposed to impact the islands!

Worried about my financial and physical security if I moved back to Honolulu, I started to look into ways that the state and city governments are trying to prevent the effects of sea level rise on Hawaii’s tourism industry and vulnerable areas like Waikiki and Kakaako.

By the end of the century, it is predicted that the water levels during high tide will rise from 3 to 6 feet. These increased levels will push existing groundwater out of storm drains, returning Waikiki and Kakaako to their original states as wetlands, which will “threaten $5 billion of taxable real estate; flood nearly 30 miles of roadway; and impact pedestrians, commercial and recreation activities, tourism, transportation and infrastructure,” said Shellie Habel, a doctoral student at the University of Hawaii and lead author of a study that models the effects of groundwater inundation in Honolulu.

These predictions caught me off guard. Basically, Honolulu’s economy will fail if nothing changes.

The State Plays Catchup

To make matters even worse, the government and industries are investing heavily in these vulnerable areas, especially in the new housing developments like Ward Village and SALT and the new International Marketplace complex in Waikiki. By mid-century when the water levels are to increase by 2 feet, Ala Moana Boulevard and some nearby streets will experience flooding effects during high tide. The community and outdoor atmosphere that these housing developments tout will be deemed unusable.

An increase of 3 feet of sea level rise will flood most of the Kakaako Makai region, making it impossible to travel along Ala Moana Boulevard and nearby cross streets during high tide. Without access to Ala Moana Boulevard, it will be difficult if not impossible to access the Kakaako, Ala Moana and Waikiki areas.

Although Charles Fletcher from the University of Hawaii identified the locations and infrastructure particularly vulnerable to groundwater flooding, the government has not started to prepare significantly for this event. There is a Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission, formerly known as the Interagency Climate Adaptation Committee, but its first event was held Oct. 11.

As a society, we’ve known about issues regarding climate change for decades. Why is it only now that the state of Hawaii creates a commission regarding climate change mitigation and adaptation? The state should have adopted a plan a long time ago to prevent the approval and construction of new developments in areas with high risks of groundwater flooding.

If Hawaii can change, maybe millennials can have a future living in beautiful Hawaii nei.

Short-sighted decisions will harm both our future generations of residents who will live and work in these flood prone communities as well as our image as a premier vacation destination. Issues of intergenerational justice also arise, and I’m left questioning my desire to move back to Hawaii at any point in the future.

So what now?

The situation won’t improve without forward thinkers and cooperation between the public and private sector to plan out developments and upgrades to current infrastructure. We need lawmakers to create policies regulating development in flood zones.

We need developers to keep groundwater flooding and sea level rise in mind as they design new buildings. We need the tourism industry to act proactively regarding the inevitable infrastructural damages.

And finally, we all need to prepare ourselves for the future. If Hawaii can make all of these changes, then maybe I and other millennials can have a future living in beautiful Hawaii nei.

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