In the “post-truth” era of “fake news,” teaching critical thinking about climate change is becoming more challenging. Thus, we would like to respond to the EPA email, “Consistent Messages on Climate Adaptation” that was recently leaked to Huffington Post, generating a fresh round of dismay among scientists, teachers, and climate advocates.

The University of Hawaii is committed to telling the truth about climate change. Students deserve to be presented with accurate information about anticipated climate change impacts to their futures from expert faculty across all academic disciplines; today it is even more important that we also teach media literacy, and equip students to successfully navigate the information age to discover truths for themselves.

At press time, Scott Pruitt still had a job at EPA. Flickr: Gage Skidmore

We would like to respond to the deceptive EPA talking points with some Consistent Teaching Points on Climate Change” that reflect our positions as faculty, staff and administrative signatories to the “we are still in” document supporting the Paris Climate Agreement.

EPA Talking Point: The EPA recognizes the challenges that communities face in adapting to a changing climate.

UH Teaching Point: Science tells us that due to climate change, in Hawaii we can reasonably expect a) air temperature will rise, increasing heat stress on communities; b) sea surface temperatures will rise, changing the composition and function of ocean ecosystems; c) windward sides of the islands will be increasingly wet in the winter, with the trend most pronounced on Maui and Hawaii Islands; d) ocean pH will decrease, making waters more acid and destructive to reef ecosystems; e) sea level rise will accelerate, increasingly threatening coastal infrastructure and ecosystems, and accelerating the statewide trend of coastal erosion; f) in recent decades, higher elevation areas have warmed more rapidly compared to lower elevation areas.  

EPA Talking Point: EPA works with state, local and tribal governments to improve infrastructure to protect against the consequences of climate change and natural disasters.

UH Teaching Point: Building community resilience, sustainability and capacity to adapt is the most effective and affordable pathway to prosper in the midst of a changing climate. Community actions should be data-based, critically evaluated, place-based and thus respectful of and honoring a flourishing Hawaiian culture.Hawaii will respond to climate change challenges by restoring healthy native ecosystems, fostering a locally focused economy without disparity, and a community bond that recognizes we are stewards of these islands with a kuleana to leave our children a happy healthy world in which they will thrive.

EPA Talking Point: EPA also promotes science that helps inform states, municipalities, and tribes on how to plan for and respond to extreme events and environmental emergencies.

UH Teaching Point: Science and engineering are systems of innovation and skepticism designed to recognize and reject bias. Repeated testing, incremental improvement, and flexibility to pivot to new realities must underpin our decision-making. Building community resilience should be built on a platform of applied modeling utilizing likely scenarios of the future emerging from local and global research.

EPA Talking Point: Moving forward, EPA will continue to advance its climate adaptation efforts, and has reconvened the cross-EPA Adaptation Working Group in support of those efforts.

UH Teaching Point: Adaptive resilience refers to the ability of individuals and communities to plan for and respond to climate-related impacts while developing new ways of thinking, being, and doing. New policies and programs promoting mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions must emerge at the same time we adapt to a changing climate. Individuals can take responsibility for reducing carbon in the atmosphere through personal choices and actions including using electric vehicles powered with clean energy, reducing air travel, increasing locally-grown fruit and vegetable consumption in place of industrial protein, eliminating food waste, planting more trees, having smaller families, favoring all forms of clean energy and mass transit. Governments can penalize carbon intensive activities and subsidize localized low-carbon economies.

The opposite of good is not evil; the opposite of good is indifference. In a free society where terrible wrongs exist, some are guilty, but all are responsible. — Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Hawaii can capitalize on our already recognized role as clean energy leaders by modeling to the world personal and institutional responsibility for building a healthy and vibrant world for our children.

EPA Talking Point: Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue. Administrator Pruitt encourages an open, transparent debate on climate science.

UH Teaching Point: This statement by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is a deceptive falsehood based on a disregard for the facts and promulgated by fossil fuel executives focused on preserving a status quo that has made them rich. In 2007, on the basis of settled science, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide posed a threat to human health. The fictional “debate” about climate change is purposefully designed to sow doubt among a public who are led to believe that managing climate change will cost them their jobs and livelihoods. This is the exact tactic used by tobacco companies in fighting regulation of their deadly product.

Climate change is real, and dangerous. Human land use (e.g., deforestation) and pollution (e.g., carbon dioxide emissions) are the cause. Bearing witness to the extinction of species and collapse of ecosystems in our lifetimes is psychologically traumatic, and exacerbated when facts are suppressed or worse, when misinformation is disseminated by a corporate elite who do not value a healthy environment, elimination of economic disparity, public education and the authority of truth.

Open discussion of active, systemic solutions is urgently needed, and we encourage multiplicity of viewpoints that includes western science, indigenous epistemologies, and lived experience.

EPA Talking Point: While there has been extensive research and a host of published reports on climate change, clear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it.

UH Teaching Point: Extensive research has shown clearly that human activities are the cause of global climate change. In the past century and a half, global temperature has been caused to rise because of heat-trapping gases emitted by our use of fossil fuels. Scientific discussion centers around how to mitigate and adapt to the anticipated impacts of climate change; many of the solutions are small, simple actions that when acted upon as a community, can cause large-scale positive impact.

An Inconvenient Truth

Hawaii’s young people deserve the truth. They want a lifestyle that includes connections with nature and community, and opportunities to develop social capital and strong communities where they can contribute and thrive.

The University of Hawaii supports and values our scientists, scholars and practitioners across academic disciplines, as well as our community partners, cultural practitioners and informal educators who are teaching the difficult truths about climate change, strengthening our communities’ resilience and preparing students for the futures — with all of its problems and possibilities — that they will inherit.

We are still in (the Paris Climate Agreement), and we are committed to teaching the difficult truths about climate change.

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