Look, at this point we know climate change is real. It’s real and it’s scary, and most days, I feel completely succumbed to the absolute devastation that is our planet’s future.

Hawaii’s especially unique environment makes it an amazing place to adventure and live, but it also lends itself to being more susceptible to environmental disasters. Hawaii rests 2,400 miles from the nearest continental land mass, experiences 10 different climate zones on the islands, and hosts some of the highest concentrations of endemic and native species in the world.

Yet due to climate change, our coasts are eroding, corals are bleaching from warmer ocean temperatures, native plants and animals are threatened, and freshwater aquifer supplies in our mountains are being depleted. These environmental changes, as one would expect, deeply affect our livelihood.

Major industries such as agriculture, tourism, and military defense will find themselves with destroyed land (especially along coastal area, i.e., any of the shorelines), diminished reef life (which provides an estimated $385 million annually to the island’s economy), altered soil composition (healthy soil is critical for any agriculture production), and a lack of fresh water supply (the main source of our drinking water).

If our major industries diminish, so too will our quality of life — our ability to live and interact on this island.

Knowing this, I get confused a lot about what I, Rebecca Peet, can do to help mitigate/fight/combat climate change. I compost, use a reusable water bottle, don’t shower as much as I should (you might smell me but I am saving the world, sorry!).

Pacific Ocean offshore Diamond Head clouds global warming.

There’s only one planet. Teach the children and let them show the way to respond to global warming.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But I’ve also read that these small, individual acts really have little impact in light of large-scale industries such as electric/power, agriculture, beef, shipping, etc., still relying on fossil fuels, plastic, and excessive water consumption.

In light of these industries’ exploitation, are my efforts futile? And beyond myself — someone who has chosen to commit her life’s work to fighting climate change — how can the average community member — the mechanic and the banker, the English teacher and the hotel worker — contribute to furthering environmental activism?

We cannot all be — nor do we all want to be — environmental scientists or conservationists. Reducing one’s carbon footprint by eating less meat, advocating for our politicians to eliminate single-use plastic and composting food waste might seem financially intangible or simply too difficult to commit to daily.

However, this does not mean that you can not still be an environmental activist. Or at least raise one.

While working as an environmental educator, I have found that one of the easiest and most straightforward actions anyone can take to fight climate change is to educate, or support those trying to educate, our youth to understand, process, and account for their environmental impact in each decision they make.

Environmental protection of our island is not even an option. It’s critical for our youth to understand this imperative and determine how they are going to combat climate change. I’ve been told countless times by those generations older than me: “Sorry about all of this mess! It’s going to be up to you to fix it!”

And they’re not wrong. It’s going to take my generation, the one after, the one after that, etc., to completely rethink how we engage with our natural resources.

Solar, Hydro, Wind

This doesn’t mean not being able to shower or turn on our lights, but it does mean changing. It means mainstreaming local food production, restoring native growing techniques, and not even giving an option for fruits that can grow plentifully here to be shipped from Central America.

It means having large composting facilities instead of large landfills. It means relying on solar, hydro, and wind to power our grid instead of natural gas and coal (currently 73% of the power source across Hawaii).

It means prioritizing conservation techniques that restore native plants and animals, instead of the next multimillion-dollar real estate development. It means understanding that justice is intersectional and protecting the environment means also protecting all peoples’ access to proper housing, nourishing food, fulfilling education, and effective healthcare.

It’s going to take generations to completely rethink how we engage with our natural resources.

These are fights my generation and those after me will have to be equipped to handle. Yikes.

So my suggestion for anyone who is slightly concerned for our island’s environmental future: engage your children with Hawaii’s environmental predicament. Take your child to the beach to pick up trash and talk story. Support your child’s school composting or natural resources program. Ask your child’s school to take their classes on a field trip to a loi or fishpond, with a Department of Land and Natural Resources branch, or to an organic farm.

Find the environmental organizations in your community — there are hundreds of sites island-wide devoted to educating our youth about the importance of Hawaii’s natural resources and culture — and find their volunteer days for your family (typically on a Saturday each month).

Your support of these sites and programs is critical because truly, our island’s well being and future depends on it.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author

  • Rebecca Peet
    Rebecca Peet is a recent graduate of Columbia University in New York City with a degree in environmental engineering. She currently lives and works in Honolulu as an environmental educator with Kupu, a nonprofit dedicated to raising the next generation of environmental stewards. The time she isn't in schools, she spends at Hawaii Potters' Guild, Kokua Market, or the Makiki State Recreation Area. She dreams of blue glazes and locally grown produce.