Candidates For Office Should Emphasize Climate Resilient Development - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Chip Fletcher

Chip Fletcher is interim dean of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawaii  Manoa, and chair of the Honolulu Climate Change Commission.

The three leading democratic candidates in the race to become governor of Hawaii — Josh Green, Vicky Cayetano, and Kai Kahele — have published their views on climate change.

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Taken individually, the three essays are overflowing with targeted actions. But jointly, they paint a muddled picture of how Hawaii should respond to the climate emergency. Adaptation or mitigation — where should we put our emphasis?

A good climate response plan for Hawaii should not be separate from other pressing social and economic needs. To be effective, a climate response plan must be more comprehensive than just the binary options of adaptation and mitigation. It must recognize that our geographic isolation, our extreme dependence on shipping and aviation, and our social and economic problems are instabilities that will be amplified by climate change.

The right plan will capture the entire experience of living in Hawaii, and will integrate jobs, affordable housing, locally grown food, sustainable water supplies, hurricane recovery, energy independence, and many other critical needs under one umbrella of climate resilient development.

What is climate resilient development? In February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability introduced the concept of Climate Resilient Development, which combines adaptation and mitigation in a single approach emphasizing equity, sustainability, and resilience. Climate resilient development “combines strategies to adapt to climate change with actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to support sustainable development for everyone. Action to implement this concept has to start now because making progress is already challenging at current global warming levels. If temperatures exceed 2 degrees Celsius of warming, climate resilient development will become impossible in some regions of the world.”

How do we apply climate resilient development?

Four, equally important pillars support our communities: people, energy, economy, and community resilience. To achieve climate resilient development, our leaders must have plans to reduce instability in each of these pillars.


A unified, harmonious community is more resilient to the stresses and shocks of climate change than a community that is cynical and polarized. Extreme weather events here and abroad, intolerable heat spreading across the continents, wildfire-drought-crop failure, these and other events are already taking place and are signals of a difficult future.

In Hawaii, the social instabilities are profound. One-third of households are unable to afford the basics of housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and technology. Another 9% live below the poverty line.

Rising seas and increased flooding regularly close stretches of Kamehameha Highway. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2019

These workers struggle to keep their own households from financial ruin, while keeping our local communities running. Add to this 129 years of resentment over a stolen kingdom, a growing houseless population, an undiversified service economy, lack of affordable housing, and a rising cost of living.

These are instabilities that need repair before the shocks and stresses of climate change amplify our divisions to the point of irreversibility. Building on our cultural heritage of aloha, love for one another, we have the tools and capacity to heal our fractured community. The business sector, government, NGO’s, and unions, all these vested groups have one immense common bond — a unified and harmonious community is in everyone’s best interest.

Perhaps more than any other climate change effort, healing the broken social framework of Hawaii is job No. 1.


The state’s energy needs consist of electricity and fuels, both of which depend on external sources of crude oil, principally from North and South America. Par Hawaii, Inc., the only petroleum refinery in the state, uses this oil to produce jet fuel, gasoline, diesel, ship fuels, and others. These are distributed via pipelines on Oahu and on barges to all major harbors in the state. These fuels underpin our economy and way of life.

Some of this fuel (about 20%) is used to generate electricity. Over the past two decades, petroleum-fired power plants supplied more than 75% of Hawaii’s electricity. Today Hawaii draws an average 40% of its electricity from renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal. This is up from only 20% in 2014.

Decreasing our dependence on foreign oil is an important step in building stability in the electricity sector. However, developing future sources of renewable energy cannot be at the expense of local communities and natural environments. The Kahuku wind problem is a lesson that future renewable energy projects need to be community-owned and locally profitable.

Gone are the days where benefits from solar and wind projects serve non-local entities. A new model of profitability for local people has to emerge in order for renewable energy to continue its rapid ascent.

Unfortunately, other instabilities exist. About 95% of Hawaii’s residents receive their electricity from Hawaiian Electric, Inc., which operates on five of the state’s six main islands. An electric cooperative provides energy on the island of Kauai.

Each of the main six islands has a separate electricity grid. These are not connected by undersea electricity transmission cables, so each island is responsible for generating its own energy. Should a climate shock such as a hurricane or heat wave take out the primary electricity source on any one island, no electrical support is available from neighboring islands. Resilience will lie in connected neighborhood renewable energy microgrids, a collection of homes and businesses with their own solar and battery storage to meet their needs until regional or island-wide power can be restored.

Jet fuel (33.8%) followed by motor gasoline (24.6%) are the major oil consumers. Because of significant demand from military installations and commercial airlines, jet fuel makes up a larger share of total petroleum consumption in Hawai‘i than in any other state.

Across the state there are about 1 million registered passenger vehicles. Of these, about 19,000 are electric vehicles. To help reduce reliance on crude oil, Hawaii implemented a series of incentives to encourage EV ownership, including discounted electricity rates for charging cars, free parking in government lots and at parking meters, and rebates for installing charging stations.

Analysts forecast exponential growth in EVs, as more models come to market, including pickup-trucks and SUVs. In California and some European states, exponential market share growth has been observed for up to 5 years.

Although there has been strong progress in Hawaii’s energy pillar, instabilities remain in the form of: 1) lack of electricity redundancy, 2) growing demands on renewable energy by electricity and transportation sectors, 3) lack of aviation and shipping fuel autonomy, and 4) local community distrust in renewable energy projects.


Historically, the delivery of critical goods and services by shipping and aviation has been reliable. However, Covid taught us in March 2020 that all this can change overnight. Russian aggression in Ukraine continues exacerbating supply line disruptions started during the pandemic.

Hawaii has no plan B, no backup plan to turn to when the ships and airplanes, or the goods they carry, are disrupted.

The western states are reeling from drought, wildfire, and record-setting summer temperatures. These conditions threaten agriculture from our major food supplier and they threaten shipping from the ports that fill the shelves at Longs, Safeway, Costco, and other stores.

Because of water shortages this year, hundreds of thousands of acres of California cropland are sitting stagnant. And electricity generation at California’s hydropower plants last year was 48% below the 10-year average. Scientists project that western states have entered a “mega-drought” that will worsen with continued global warming.

As temperatures rise, human communities are increasingly displaced. The Council on Strategic Risks has said “even at scenarios of low warming, each region of the world will face severe risks to national and global security in the next three decades. Higher levels of warming will pose catastrophic, and likely irreversible, global security risks over the course of the 21st century.”

In February, the IPCC estimated that 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in conditions that are highly vulnerable to climate change, and that current unsustainable development patterns are increasing exposure of ecosystems and people to climate hazards.

As continental communities experience growing climate stresses, they have less capacity to build and grow the things we need in Hawaii. A major component of climate resilient development is to accelerate production of locally grown food, incentivize local manufacturing and small businesses to make the essentials we require, and to rapidly decrease our addiction to shipping and aviation.

Community Resilience

Community resilience is the sustained ability of communities to withstand, adapt to, and recover from adversity. Climate change is going to throw more hardships at Hawaii: expanding drought, sea level rise, hurricanes, declining rainfall, increased flooding, wildfires, and above all, heat. To be resilient we need to build these hazards into new community designs.

Shade and other types of cooling elements must become major architectural features. Tree canopy, archways and awnings, active water features, cool streets and cool roofs programs, shady public spaces, and complete streets policies, these are proven strategies to increase livability in urban areas.

Building design should emphasize renewable energy, passive cooling, food production, sustainable water management, and other green practices. We need to accelerate the creation of neighborhood resiliency centers, extreme heat policies, and grid hardening.

Recognizing that extreme weather events are inevitable, and growing more powerful and frequent, should be part of energy strategies, infrastructure design, and capital planning.

Resilience is more than the ability to manage the shocks and stresses of climate change. True resilience will live in our hearts because we believe in a future where Hawaii continues to thrive despite the instability multiplier of climate change.

I encourage our candidates for elected office to recognize that the best climate change plan will emphasize climate resilient development in healing our community, in our energy needs, in creating a thriving and sustainable economy, and through building resilient communities.

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About the Author

Chip Fletcher

Chip Fletcher is interim dean of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawaii  Manoa, and chair of the Honolulu Climate Change Commission.

Latest Comments (0)

"combines strategies to adapt to climate change with actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to support sustainable development for everyone"Now compare Dr. Fletcher's thoughtful manifesto to the posturing political green salad of words that do nothing but support the status-quo from our politicians.I used the word manifesto because it is going to take a revolutionary social/economic change to achieve the goals Fletcher has laid out.The status-quo system makes these goals impossible because it is a stressed, exhausted system that is stuck in debt that is enabling it to consume tomorrow's carbons today. This social/economic situation makes it impossible to move beyond the consumption/debt cycle. Society is also emotionally engaged in a political cultural war, where the environment and the economy is a secondary concern.US National foreign policy has ignored the environment to manically focus on a war of attrition with Russia. With that mentality how are we ever going to make the much needed changes to restore a balance with nature?

Joseppi · 1 year ago

The State Legislature should consult with Dr. Fletcher on climate change policies so that the State can develop a comprehensive, unified strategy.

sleepingdog · 1 year ago

As usual Chip is the voice of knowledge and sound advice. Thank you for spelling this all out for those people who don't understand what we are up against.

kailua_kamaaina · 1 year ago

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