You have questions, and Civil Beat reporters Claire Caulfield and Nathan Eagle have answers. In Episode 7 of “Are We Doomed?” And Other Burning Environmental Questions” the two answer listener-submitted questions about jellyfish invasions, how to avoid scams when purchasing a carbon offset, the real risk of a Zika outbreak in Hawaii and why we have to rely on planes to get from one island to another.
Hawaii’s Zika Risk
The first question came from 15-year-old Emi Dubrawski, who has been worried about Zika since the 2015-2016 outbreak.
“I’ve just always had it in the back of my head,” she said.
However, the virus, which can cause dangerous birth defects and neurological disorders, doesn’t have Dr. Sarah Park on high alert at the moment.
“You’ll see that we’ve got zero cases of Zika that we’ve identified this year,” said Park, the state epidemiologist.
Instead, Park has been focused on dengue, a virus similar to Zika that causes flu-like symptoms that can occasionally turn deadly.
“Right now we’ve been seeing dengue in spades,” Park said, noting the recent outbreaks in the Philippines, Pacific Islands and South America.
The species of mosquito that is most likely to spread dengue and Zika — Aedes aegypti — is only found in pockets on the Big Island.
“Aegypti tends to put us at risk for that sort of endemic state,” said Park.
But every Hawaiian island has Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, which can transmit both viruses.
“That means that we’re always at risk for a potential outbreak if a returning resident or a traveler who is infected with either one of these viruses comes back and gets bitten by one of our mosquitoes here,” Park said.
She advises wearing mosquito spray when traveling abroad and regularly checking for standing water in your neighborhood.
“Look in unused pots or kids toys sitting around for shallow pools of water that are just enough for mosquitoes to lay their eggs,” she said. “The more we do here in terms of getting rid of mosquitoes around our homes, the less risk we have of an outbreak.”
An Inter-Island Ferry
Civil Beat reader Paul Summer has to travel between the Hawaiian Islands often, and finds himself wondering why there’s no ferry system connecting the state.
“I was just frustrated that … the only way to connect between the islands is via flights since we all know that flying is pretty bad for the environment,” he said.
Hawaii has tried to run inter-island ferries three times since statehood: once in the late 1950s to early ’60s, again in the mid-’70s and most recently from 2007 to 2009.
Summer has only lived in Hawaii for two years, so he missed protesters stopping the Hawaii Superferry from sailing between Oahu and Kauai in 2007. The protesters were concerned that the Superferry could affect whale migration or spread invasive species, and sued the company for not completing an environmental review before beginning operations.
In 2009 the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that beginning operations before completing an environmental impact statement was unconstitutional, and the company operating the Superferry went bankrupt.
The Legislature recently commissioned a study to assess the feasibility of another ferry system, but it concluded that such a project would be infeasible.
“While the interest or support for a ferry system, inter-island or other, is significant, the pool of likely users is relatively insignificant,” the 2017 report found. “Financially, none of the proposed ferry systems is self-sustaining.”
Avoiding Carbon Offset Scams
Carbon offsets are donations to projects that aim to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. From planting trees to capturing methane at landfills, the projects range in complexity and scope.
Civil Beat reader Marissa Culp was intrigued by the concept, but wary of scams.
“Please explain more about buying carbon offsets and how that really helps the environment. It seems to me it’s just putting money into corporation [sic] pockets,” she wrote.
When choosing to donate to a carbon offset project, look for companies that undergo rigorous, third-party verification.
Carbon offset programs can receive a Gold Standard verification, which means they’re complying with Kyoto Protocol standards. Another group, Green-e, verifies that projects are sequestering carbon for the long term.
You can also ask an institution you already trust what carbon offset company they use. For example, the National Park Trust partnered with Terrapass while The New York Times buys offsets through Cool Effect.
If you’d rather see your money help your local economy and environment, University of Hawaii professor Camilo Mora invented an online tool to help.
His website has information about how much carbon native plants and trees can sequester. For example, a koa tree can sequester five tons of CO2, while a wiliwili offsets about one ton.
“So it’s nice when you see the money that you are putting growing trees,” he said. “And in Hawaii we have a huge need for these kinds of things.”
If you don’t have room in your yard for a koa or wiliwili tree, Mora recommends volunteering for a tree-planting event or in a community garden. And since you’re overseeing the work yourself, it should be pretty easy to sniff out a scam.
Climate Change Increasing Jellyfish Populations
“Are We Doomed” listener Toby Morris has lived in Kailua his entire life and is concerned about the Portuguese man-of-war, a jellyfish-like creature with a painful sting, washing up on the beach.
“I’ve noticed a huge difference in the amount of man-of-war that wash up during the hottest times of the year,” he said.
Here on the windward side of Oahu, 100s of beach-goers have had encounters with Portuguese man o' war over the past 2 days. I took a sunset walk to see them myself...& man oh man are they tiny! Took me an embarrassingly long time to see them b/c I thought they had to be larger! pic.twitter.com/YQxTOD7qIr
“In some cases, it does appear that global warming has resulted in increased jellyfish populations, as we have seen some jellies increase their ranges as they appear in new areas that were previously thought to be too cold for them,” Brotz said in an email.
In some temperate areas jellyfish blooms are appearing sooner and sticking around longer, increasing the chances for a human to be stung, he said.
There is a caveat, as many jellyfish, and jellyfish-like species, have not been adequately studied to fully understand how climate change is affecting them.
“That being said, it does appear that jellyfish populations can be influenced by human activities, both positively and negatively,” Brotz said.
“Are We Doomed? And Other Burning Environmental Questions” is funded in part by grants from the Environmental Funders Group of the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.
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