Climate Change Calls For Systems Change: Blue Planet's Waypoints One Year In - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Authors

Jeff Mikulina

Jeff Mikulina is the Executive Director of Blue Planet Foundation.

Melissa Miyashiro

Melissa Miyashiro is the Managing Director of Strategy & Policy at Blue Planet Foundation. 

Unequivocal. That’s the pivotal word in last week’s nearly 4,000-page, decisive United Nations’ climate report, describing the scientific basis for the relationship between humankind’s activities and the dramatic unnatural disasters we’ve been witnessing worldwide. It leaves little room to question what we must do now: End the use of fossil fuels before they end us.

Yet we’ve known this for some time. So why are we still failing to act at the speed and scale necessary to stop catastrophe? If this were a blockbuster “save the world from aliens” film, we’d be bored — or horrified — by now, wondering if the superheroes even have a chance.

Cause and effect: Hotter, drier conditions driven by climate change have contributed to the scope and intensity of the fires now burning across the western United States. Elsewhere, the planet is suffering with catastrophic floods, storms, droughts and other disasters. Wikimedia Commons

The UN report, which doesn’t share new findings about our spiraling Earth so much as put an exclamation point on them, lands during an exhausting and heartbreaking global pandemic. We all are experiencing disaster fatigue. Our limited energies have rightly been focused on fighting this global health villain and the economic and social destruction it has sowed. Now we also still have to solve climate change?

The 2021 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released Aug. 7, paints a dire picture of the state of the world’s ecosystems. 

Climate change and COVID-19 share some of the same disaster DNA. Both are global in reach, life-threatening and characterized by science. Both require government intervention and social adaptation, and both reveal our interconnectedness. What’s more, both yield impacts that are unequally distributed.

Unlike COVID-19, however, there is no vaccine for climate change. It requires us to examine deeper, systemic issues. Perhaps we’ve been asking the wrong question. Not, “How do we make the future slightly less bad?” but rather “How can we change our systems to create a prosperous, equitable future that serves all?”

It was with this mindset that Blue Planet Foundation developed Waypoints one year ago. Waypoints explores the systemic scope of our clean energy challenge and outlines 50 specific actions designed to foster economic growth, create new jobs, ensure equitable access to affordable energy and accelerate our transition to 100% clean energy.

The actions vary in scale and reach. Some offer new and imaginative solutions, and others build upon years-long advocacy by engaged champions and committed stakeholders. While progress has been made and several collective actions were recently adopted into law, the proposed policies and programs are now more imperative than ever.

As a remote island chain in the middle of the Pacific, Hawaii is experiencing the impacts of climate change firsthand. Sea level rise and beach erosion are erasing our shorelines, record-breaking temperatures are sparking wildfires and bleaching coral and more frequent and severe weather events are flooding our communities, businesses and homes. Every passing year the alarm sounds louder.

To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we know we must put an expiration date on burning fossil fuels. In Hawaii, our transition to clean energy is well underway — and we’re learning that decarbonizing our economy is not only possible, but profitable.

Today, the cheapest source of new energy (after energy efficiency) is harvesting the sun. Because of this, renewable energy — mostly solar — now accounts for more than half of the electric power on not one but two islands.

In Hawaii, the work to wean ourselves off fossil fuels continues. Solar now accounts for nearly 25 percent of all of the electricity generated in the islands and an even higher percentage on Maui and Kauai. Here Kalihi resident Jimmy Aquino — who has put his roof to work for Hawaii’s greener future — checks out his solar system. Courtesy: Blue Planet Foundation

Today if you plug in your electric vehicle on Maui, most of the fuel will come from the sun and the wind. During the day, Kauai runs substantially on renewable energy and often at 100% clean energy for a few hours midday. They are successfully tackling the tough challenge of balancing and storing that energy for when it’s needed.

Our Waypoints initiatives build on this momentum. Rather than reverting back to the status quo, we need to make deeper systemic changes to achieve a prosperous, equitable future that serves all. It is critical that we make this transition by design, not by default. And even through the slog of the past year, we saw some success.

The most significant victories came during the 2021 legislative session. Three measures, in particular, addressed a critical and so-far neglected segment of Hawaii’s clean energy future: transportation.

Among the measures was HB 1142 (Waypoints Actions 24 and 27), which allocates three cents of the existing oil pollution tax to provide much-needed funding to continue Hawaii’s successful electric vehicle charging system rebate program. Without additional funding, the rebate program would have ended on June 30, 2021.

Legislation passed this year supports the creation of more public chargers for electric vehicles in the state — a vital component of growing the number of EVs in Hawaii. Courtesy: Blue Planet Foundation

As the number of EVs in the state increases steadily, adequate and accessible vehicle charging infrastructure remains a roadblock to widespread EV adoption. A robust community charging network that includes workplaces, commercial locations and multi-family housing is a necessary component of an equitable clean transportation future.

HB 552 was also recently signed into law, which sets a planning goal to transition 100% of state-owned passenger cars to zero-emission vehicles by 2030, and all other light-duty vehicles by 2035. Developing a clear vision for 100% zero-emission vehicles by the end of the decade shows how the state government is leading by example and will help drive the market for clean vehicles. The measure also helps promote alignment and collaboration in electrified transportation planning efforts.

Waypoints Action 14 also cleared the Legislature as SB 932, strengthening and expanding the state’s efforts to ensure an equitable transition to our 100% clean energy future. The measure had been considered by the Legislature in previous years and finally made it across the finish line this session.

The bill helps state agencies use energy savings to finance the purchase or lease of EVs and EV charging infrastructure. The bill also expands the Green Energy Market Securitization program to provide additional funding sources for low-interest loans that lower barriers for financing renewable energy, particularly for low- and moderate-income residents.

The photovoltaic and battery system powering Kahauiki Village, a new community to aid Oahu’s homeless families, was financed in part through Hawaii’s Green Energy Market Securitization program. Courtesy: Blue Planet Foundation

These policy changes will help to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy, energy efficiency and electric vehicles, and in turn help businesses and families who are currently underserved by existing market-based clean energy solutions.

Although these bills will certainly move Hawaii farther on its road to renewables, the climate “code red” is calling on all of us to reimagine the future in bolder ways. When we developed Waypoints, we posited that the COVID-19 pause offered an unparalleled opportunity to press the reset button on key sectors in Hawaii’s economy. Yet the potential for several of the Waypoints actions remains untapped, such as transforming the tourism industry to be more sustainable, as well as overhauling how large clean energy projects are sited.

We’re already feeling the strong pull back to business-as-usual. But we don’t have to keep taking the same route, nor do we need to wait for another crisis to take action. Despite our setbacks, we can still move forward by remembering two powerful lessons of the past year:

  • First, we have a collective responsibility to one another — a core value on these islands. The pandemic may have exposed the fragility of our economy and communities, but it also revealed the very best of Hawaii’s character. There are countless examples of neighbors helping neighbors, youth delivering food to kupuna and essential employees working hard to keep our communities safe.
  • Second, the road to recovery is not always a straight line. We thought we were coming out of the woods earlier this year as daily infection numbers fell to single digits. But we let our guard down, vaccinations slowed and new variants emerged. Similarly with climate, we will have setbacks and tough choices ahead, but we can’t let that deter our long-term progress.

The UN climate report simply underscores what we are already seeing around the planet: the hellish fires in the Western United States, the deadly flooding in Europe and Asia and the unprecedented downpour events here in the islands.

What some may have missed in the headlines is that the report offers a sliver of silver lining: We do still have time to prevent the very worst effects of climate change from taking hold. But we need to move quickly. We need to change our systems faster than the climate is changing. Every gallon of gas, every pound of carbon and every action matters now. But solving climate change is a team sport. It’s going to require us to act collectively to rebuild and reform the systems that allow our emissions to continue.

That remains our vision for the Waypoints report: We seek to contribute to charting a course for a new future — one that provides good jobs, resiliency and opportunity for all.

Despite being a small state, our policies, programs and progress on clean energy can have an outsized influence on how the nation and globe respond to our climate crisis. We saw it with the adoption of our 100% renewable energy law, which was then mirrored around the country. This is Hawaii’s opportunity to show the world what’s possible when everything’s at stake. What we do next matters, unequivocally.

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About the Authors

Jeff Mikulina

Jeff Mikulina is the Executive Director of Blue Planet Foundation.

Melissa Miyashiro

Melissa Miyashiro is the Managing Director of Strategy & Policy at Blue Planet Foundation. 

Latest Comments (0)

Hawaii could decide to become the global leader in green and sustainable systems design and engineering. We have the brand. And the market behind it is enormous. So why can’t we?

sandy · 1 year ago

EVs are not zero emission per passenger mile once you factor in the resources used to manufacture and dispose of them, along with maintenance, as well as infrastructure requirements (parking, road repaving, police etc).  They are however lower emission than non mass transit vehicles.  Once infrastructure, maintenance, manufacture, disposal etc are factored in, even gas powered buses and trains are lower emissions than electric cars per passenger mile.  And yes, nothing is as low emission as walking or cycling, which besides being cleaner, is better for reducing congestion, and improving safety on the roads and making people healthier in general.Google search "The environmental impact of today’s transport types" by Travel and Mobility Tech

Anthony_Chang · 1 year ago

People generally find it difficult to focus on the future when their current needs aren't being met.

justsaying · 1 year ago

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