Study Confirms Climate Models are Getting Future Warming Projections Right

By Alan Buis,
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

There’s an old saying that “the proof is in the pudding,” meaning that you can only truly gauge the quality of something once it’s been put to a test. Such is the case with climate models: mathematical computer simulations of the various factors that interact to affect Earth’s climate, such as our atmosphere, ocean, ice, land surface and the Sun.

For decades, people have legitimately wondered how well climate models perform in predicting future climate conditions. Based on solid physics and the best understanding of the Earth system available, they skillfully reproduce observed data. Nevertheless, they have a wide response to increasing carbon dioxide levels, and many uncertainties remain in the details. The hallmark of good science, however, is the ability to make testable predictions, and climate models have been making predictions since the 1970s. How reliable have they been?

Now a new evaluation of global climate models used to project Earth’s future global average surface temperatures over the past half-century answers that question: most of the models have been quite accurate.

forecast evaluation for models run in 2004
Models that were used in the IPCC 4th Assessment Report can be evaluated by comparing their approximately 20-year predictions with what actually happened. In this figure, the multi-model ensemble and the average of all the models are plotted alongside the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) Surface Temperature Index (GISTEMP). Climate drivers were known for the ‘hindcast’ period (before 2000) and forecast for the period beyond. The temperatures are plotted with respect to a 1980-1999 baseline. Credit: Gavin Schmidt

In a study accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a research team led by Zeke Hausfather of the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a systematic evaluation of the performance of past climate models. The team compared 17 increasingly sophisticated model projections of global average temperature developed between 1970 and 2007, including some originally developed by NASA, with actual changes in global temperature observed through the end of 2017. The observational temperature data came from multiple sources, including NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP) time series, an estimate of global surface temperature change.

The results: 10 of the model projections closely matched observations. Moreover, after accounting for differences between modeled and actual changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other factors that drive climate, the number increased to 14. The authors found no evidence that the climate models evaluated either systematically overestimated or underestimated warming over the period of their projections.

“The results of this study of past climate models bolster scientists’ confidence that both they as well as today’s more advanced climate models are skillfully projecting global warming,” said study co-author Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York. “This research could help resolve public confusion around the performance of past climate modeling efforts.”

Scientists use climate models to better understand how Earth’s climate changed in the past, how it is changing now and to predict future climate trends. Global temperature trends are among the most significant predictions, since global warming has widespread effects, is tied directly to international target agreements for mitigating future climate warming, and have the longest, most accurate observational records. Other climate variables are forecast in the newer, more complex models, and those predictions too will need to be assessed.

To successfully match new observational data, climate model projections have to encapsulate the physics of the climate and also make accurate predictions about future carbon dioxide emission levels and other factors that affect climate, such as solar variability, volcanoes, other human-produced and natural emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols. This study’s accounting for differences between the projected and actual emissions and other factors allowed a more focused evaluation of the models’ representation of Earth’s climate system.

Schmidt says climate models have come a long way from the simple energy balance and general circulation models of the 1960s and early ‘70s to today’s increasingly high-resolution and comprehensive general circulation models. “The fact that many of the older climate models we reviewed accurately projected subsequent global temperatures is particularly impressive given the limited observational evidence of warming that scientists had in the 1970s, when Earth had been cooling for a few decades,” he said.

The authors say that while the relative simplicity of the models analyzed makes their climate projections functionally obsolete, they can still be useful for verifying methods used to evaluate current state-of-the-art climate models, such as those to be used in the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report, to be released in 2022.

“As climate model projections have matured, more signals have emerged from the noise of natural variability that allow for retrospective evaluation of other aspects of climate models — for instance, in Arctic sea ice and ocean heat content,” Schmidt said. “But it’s the temperature trends that people still tend to focus on.”

Other participating institutions included the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Original Article:

Mayor Kirk Caldwell says 2019 was Oahu’s hottest year ever

By Nina Wu Feb. 20, 2020

Last year, Honolulu residents may remember hot, sweltering days, with numerous record high temperatures, as well a summer that seemed to last longer than usual.

It turns out that 2019 was Honolulu’s hottest year on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was the second hottest year on record for the planet Earth, and a year of record temperatures globally and locally.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell called the data evidence of a “climate crisis” during a news conference Wednesday at Magic Island, and said it was time for action.

“Weather is your mood today but climate is your personality over time, and our personalities are changing because of our climate crisis,” said Caldwell. “Here on the island of Oahu, the state of Hawaii and I think across our nation and the world, we’re seeing the impacts of our climate crisis in so many different ways.”

He noted the wildfires in Australia, and the record-high temperature of 64.9 degrees Fahrenheit recently set in Antarctica, as evidence. In Hawaii last year, the daily record high was set or tied 273 times, according to the National Weather Service. Of that total, 135 were new daily records.

Rising temperatures are no longer a projection for later this decade or later this century, Caldwell said, but are here now and a “crystal clear reminder” of challenges to be overcome.

The city on Wednesday also released results of an islandwide heat mapping survey conducted by Honolulu’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency over the summer.

On Aug. 31, 2019, volunteers conducted a one-day “community heat assessment” to identify the hottest spots across Oahu. They traveled along local routes, equipped with sensors that automatically record temperature, humidity and GPS locations.

They found hot spots all across the island, from Waianae to Hawaii Kai.

The maximum heat index — a measure of what it feels like when relative humidity and air temperature are combined — was 107.3 degrees at the Waimalu Plaza Shopping Center in Aiea, as well as on the windward side, near the 7-11 store on Kalanianaole Highway in Waimanalo.

Hot spots were also found in Hawaii Kai, where the heat index was recorded at 106, and in Maili and Nanakuli, where the heat index was 105.

Coincidentally, Aug. 31 was also the hottest day of the year for Honolulu, with a temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

What to do about it?

Plant trees, according to Caldwell, noting his current initiative to plant 100,000 trees across Oahu by 2025. He noted that the heat index on Ala Moana Boulevard at Ala Moana Center was 105 that day but about 10 degrees lower at Magic Island, beneath the canopy of trees.

With information from the survey, city officials said they can determine where to plant more trees or to deploy other cooling strategies.

Data shows that there can be a range of as much as 27.7 degrees in the heat index from morning to afternoon as impervious surfaces such as concrete or asphalt heat up. Locations with more trees, however, experienced only up to 8 degree increases.

Caldwell said the city is also considering legislation to mandate greener buildings or adjusting setbacks from the seas. Trees, he said, should also be valued as infrastructure.

From a safety perspective, Jim Howe, director of the Honolulu Department of Emergency Services, said high heat can pose a health risk, including heat-related illnesses from youth at sports to kupuna.

Over the summer, first responders get a higher volume of calls for help from hikers on the Diamond Head trail, for instance, suffering from heat exhaustion.

Josh Stanbro, chief resilience officer, said the heat mapping serves as “a post card for the future of what the heat on this island is going to look like.” It will help the city anticipate how to defend residents from the emerging impacts of climate change.

Stanbro noted a record rainfall was also recorded over the summer, an anomaly.

“While we were breaking heat records, we were also breaking rain records, and that’s what global warming is really about,” he said. “It’s global weirding. It’s really pushing to the extremes, whether it’s heat, whether it’s rain, whether it’s cold snaps.”

Unfortunately, Stanbro said, looking ahead, the trend line for temperatures is going up, with more hot weather on the horizon.

“We just broke all the records last year,” he said. “By all indications, we’re looking at that as the new normal. That’s why we have to take action immediately to try to reverse that trend. We have to completely slam on the brakes in terms of burning carbon fuels for our energy source.”

Honolulu was one of 10 cities selected last year to partner with NOAA’s Climate Program Office, CAPA Strategies, LLC, the Science Museum of Virginia, and others to conduct the survey and create heat index maps. The preliminary community heat assessment report is available at


>> 107 — Aiea, Waimalu Plaza Shopping Center

>> 107 — Waimanalo, Near 7-11 on Kalanianaole Highway

>> 106 — Just west of Kalani High School

>> 106 — Hawaii Kai, Kealahou St. across from Sandy Beach

>> 105 — Ala Moana Boulevard at Ala Moana Center


>> 2019 was the hottest year ever recorded in Honolulu.

>> 2019 was the second hottest year on record for the planet.

>> 2019 was a year of record temperatures globally and locally.

>> In 2019, the NWS logged 273 record high temperatures and ties.

>> Aug. 31, 2019 was the hottest day of the year for Honolulu, at 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Source: NOAA

CIVIL BEAT: Energy Giant AES Has A Big — And Growing — Footprint In Hawaii

The Kahuku wind farm developer opposed a proposed ban on coal in Hawaii.By Stewart Yerton  

When Sen. Gil Riviere tried to visit a constituent at the Kahuku Agricultural Park last month, he was surprised to find the road blocked — but not by police or officials of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, which owns the park.

Instead, controlling the road were employees of AES Corp., the energy giant developing a controversial wind farm in Kahuku.

Although relatively unknown in Hawaii outside of energy circles, AES is a major player in the state’s economy — a Fortune 500 behemoth powerful enough to defy an elected representative like Riviere and the agriculture officials who say they had already told AES to let Riviere pass.

And AES’s power and influence in Hawaii is growing. The company will have an outsized role in whether the state will meet its goal of weaning itself from fossil fuels to generate electricity by 2045.

AES Hawaii Power plant coal burning electric powerplant located in Kalaeloa.

AES Corp. has a major presence in Hawaii, including this coal-burning plant in Kalaeloa, which produces 20% of Oahu’s electricity.

The Virginia-based energy multinational provides a fifth of Oahu’s power from its coal-burning plant at Campbell Industrial Park. It also operates a new massive solar and storage project on Kauai, a facility often cited as a model for the type of utility-scale solar that’s part of Hawaii’s power supply plan.

In the works are other renewables projects: a 60-megawatt Kuihelani solar farm on Maui, a 30-megawatt Waikoloa project on the Big Island, and a 30-megawatt West Oahu solar project.

It’s likely the company is considering even more projects.

Earlier this month, Hawaiian Electric Co. announced it received more than 75 proposals in response to a request for proposals to build about 900 megawatts of new renewables or renewables paired with storage. HECO is now in the process of evaluating the bids.

AES would not say whether it has proposed more projects. But HECO’s goals dovetail with AES’s stated mission of “improving lives by accelerating a safer and greener energy future.”

Amy Ackerman, a spokeswoman based at AES’s Virginia headquarters, did not return calls for comment. Pono Suganuma, a Hawaii-based AES spokeswoman, wouldn’t say whether the company has submitted proposals for additional projects.

Mark Miller, chief operating officer for AES’s US generation businesses, also didn’t answer the question.

“AES has been a proud partner with the State of Hawai‘i for nearly 30 years, providing reliable, low-cost energy to the islands,” Miller said in a statement. “Together, we are transforming the generation and delivery of electricity, deploying technologies that offer renewable, affordable power to the community.”

AES, a global firm with thousands of employees and billions of dollars in revenue, says it is  accelerating “a greener energy future.” But AES uses fossil fuels for more than two-thirds of the energy it produces.

AES Corp. 10-K

Despite AES’s dominant role in Hawaii, the islands play a small role in AES’s global businesses.

Consider, for instance, one of its recently announced projects.

Last week Reuters reported AES had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Vietnamese government to build a $1.7 billion natural gas-fired power plant in Vietnam. The deal was so important that it was signed in Hanoi in the presence of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

AES’s empire includes assets worth more than $32 billion that generated $10.7 billion in revenue in 2018, the company said in its annual securities filing for 2018.

The company runs coal plants in Puerto Rico, Maryland and Oklahoma, wind farms in California, Texas and West Virginia, and solar and storage projects in various locales, alone and through a joint venture partnership called sPower.

It has even bigger investments outside the U.S.; in fact, the company says 68% of its revenue comes from international projects, including large operations in South America. Its power plants in Argentina, for instance, represent 11% of the nation’s generating capacity.

Despite talk of embracing renewables, only 29% of the power AES generates at this point comes from renewables. Nearly a third is generated from coal, including major operations in places like Chile.

Senator Gil Riviere stands at Alii Park in Haleiwa with windmills above Waimea Bay on top of photograph.

Sen. Gil Riviere, standing at Haleiwa Alii Beach Park with windmills above Waimea Bay, has said the area already has more than its fair share of wind farms.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Despite its size, AES has failed to impress some members of the community. Riviere is a case in point.

It was late October, during the height of protests against AES’s proposed Na Pua Makani wind farm in Kahuku, and Riviere and two other state senators, Kurt Fevella of Ewa Beach and Kai Kahele of Hilo, went to visit a farmer who lived in the area.

Riviere’s staff had cleared the visit with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, which owns the agriculture park where the farmer lives. But when the senators got to the park, Riviere said, AES security officers stopped them and said the senators couldn’t pass.

“They were really, really bullies about it,” Riviere said. “Under what authority are they bringing guards to the state ag park?”

Not the state’s. Morris Atta, deputy director of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, said the agency told AES that the agriculture park road blocked by AES security was supposed to be open to tenants, such as the farmers, and their invitees.

“We had told AES not to do what they basically did,” Atta said.

Parts of the wind turbunes arrive at Kahuku off of Kamehameha Hwy today.

AES’s proposed wind farm in Kahuku has sparked protests, but the company’s influence in Hawaii goes far beyond the controversial North Shore project.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The protests against the Kahuku wind farm, which have led to 160 arrests, come at a time when community support is vital to helping Hawaii achieve its goals to wean itself from fossil fuels by 2045.

HECO’s latest wave of projects will have a big physical presence. On Oahu alone, HECO expects some 3,000 acres of new solar farms, roughly the size of 29 Aloha Stadiums. HECO officials have expressed worry that the projects could be delayed because of resident opposition.

To head off delays proactively, HECO has made community engagement a criterion on which it will choose projects.

But if HECO is sincere about community engagement, something will need to change if AES expects to be seriously considered for any future projects, says Lance Collins, an attorney representing two groups fighting the Kahuku wind farm — one in state court and one before the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission.

“In the brief experience I’ve had with them, they basically feel entitled to do whatever they want,” Collins said of AES. “They’ll just do whatever they want as long as nobody stops them.”

Opposed ‘Coal-Free Hawaii’ Bill

HECO’s recent request for proposals is closely intertwined with AES’s future on Oahu. That’s because AES’s 180-megawatt coal-burning plant is scheduled to shut down in late 2022, and the plan is to replace the electricity the plant produces with power from new renewables projects submitted in response to the RFP.

HECO officials are emphatic that the company will not buy power produced using coal from the AES plant after the contract expires in 2022.

However, both AES and HECO opposed a bill that would have put that into law. Their reason: they want to leave open the option to keep using coal after 2022.

AES Hawaii has testified it wants the option to keep open this coal-burning power plant on Oahu, which is slated to close in 2022.

Google Maps

Titled the “Coal-Free Hawaii” bill, the measure simply said that utilities regulators could not approve or renew a contract to burn coal to produce electricity after Dec. 31, 2022.

But testifying against the bill for HECO, Lisa Giang, HECO’s director for advanced planning, warned of serious problems if HECO couldn’t get its planned projects and grid modifications on line before the coal plant was scheduled to shut down. HECO needs options in case the project can’t come online, Giang said in written testimony.

“The consequences of not having this option could be grave,” Giang said.

Steven Barnoski, AES Hawaii’s business manager, echoed Giang.

“There are numerous factors that could delay progress toward meeting Hawaii’s environmental goals and it is important to keep a full range of generation options open to adequately address a potential shortfall,” Barnoski wrote in testimony. “Because the future is unpredictable, it is important to have contingency plans in place.”

HECO officials have acknowledged the coal plant contract contains a provision allowing the contract to be extended, but the officials pledged the company will not exercise it.

AES Director Wants New Hawaiian Electric CEO

Despite its fight against the coal-free bill, AES has made a highly public push against fossil fuels, at least in Hawaii.

The same day AES was signing the memorandum of understanding for its mammoth fossil fuel-powered plant in Vietnam, an AES director was sending out letters criticizing HECO’s parent, Hawaiian Electric Industries, for not giving up fossil fuels fast enough.

“By embracing inertia, Hawaiian Electric has failed to lead the transition away from oil-fired generation to renewable energy,” wrote Jeffrey Ubben, an AES director who is also chief executive of ValueAct Capital Management, an investment firm with $15 billion in assets, which has invested heavily in HEI.

Ubben expressed doubt HECO could reach a 2022 goal of generating 50% of the electricity it sells with renewables.

“This is a very ambitious goal for the company, and we are not confident about management’s ability to execute given their historical track record,” Ubben wrote. He suggested HEI pick someone from outside the company to succeed HEI’s longtime chief executive, Constance Lau, when Lau steps down.

Ubben’s letter prompted HEI’s board chairman, Jeff Watanabe, to accuse Ubben of spreading misinformation.

“They don’t seem interested in the facts but rather seem intent on pursuing their own agenda – specifically, handpicking a CEO for HEI,” Watanabe wrote in a Nov. 12 letter posted on HEI’s website.

Watanabe went on to point out the connections between ValueAct and AES, and AES’s prominent role in Hawaii doing business under contracts with HECO.

“ValueAct’s activities should be viewed in the context of its substantial conflicts of interests in Hawaii,” Watanabe wrote.

As the protests in Kahuku continue, the Kahuku wind farm still faces legal fights from both a residents’ group, Keep the North Shore Country, and Life of the Land, an environmental organization.

Henry Curtis, who runs Life of the Land, and his lawyers are on a winning streak lately with some major cases fighting renewable projects they said took short cuts getting approvals. A key hearing on Life of the Land’s motion before the PUC is scheduled for Friday.

But even if AES wins its cases before the commission and court, it’s lost considerable community goodwill, Riviere said.

Ultimately, Riviere said, he and his fellow senators were able to get past the AES sentry and meet with the farmer, Chai Yoshimura.

But Riviere still expresses dismay at what he had to go through simply to meet with a constituent leasing land from the state.

“It’s not right that the public has to work so hard to do something that should just be automatic,” he said.

China Highlights Nature-based Solutions’ Potential to Facilitate Climate Action


Content Editor for Climate Change Policy and Adaptation (Russia/Netherlands)24 September 2019


As a co-lead of the Climate Action Summit’s Nature-based Solutions action area, China urges incorporating nature-based solutions in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and giving consideration to the potential of natural systems to facilitate mitigation and adaptation.

On Mitigation, China will, inter alia, enhance cooperation on a “standard system for greenhouse gas emissions control and capacity building”.

17 September 2019: The Government of China has released a statement, outlining the country’s efforts under and position on each of the nine action areas of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit held in New York, US, on 23 September.

As a co-lead of the Climate Action Summit’s Nature-based Solutions action area, China calls for a systematic understanding of the relationship between human beings and nature, full recognition of the ecological value of earth, reliance on natural forces to deal with the risks posed by climate change and fostering a low-emission and climate-resilient society. It urges incorporating nature-based solutions in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and giving consideration to the potential of natural systems to facilitate mitigation and adaptation.

On Social and Political Drivers, China signals its willingness to work with all Parties to strengthen policy support and social policy incentives and play a positive role in promoting the comprehensive and effective implementation of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

On Youth and Public Mobilization, China calls on governments to educate young people about environmental protection, listen to their suggestions, support youth in participating in climate action and facilitate their employment and entrepreneurship in related areas.

On Energy Transition, China undertakes to enhance cooperation with other countries to build a clean, low-carbon, safe and efficient energy system, promote sustainable energy development worldwide and safeguard global energy security.

On Industry Transition, China expresses readiness to work with all Parties to accelerate low-carbon transformation, promote green manufacturing, innovate green technologies and enhance industrial energy efficiency and carbon emissions reduction.

On Infrastructure, Cities and Local Action, China looks forward to strengthening cooperation and exchanging experiences with other countries on local climate action, green infrastructure development and climate-adaptive urban development.

On Mitigation, China will: strengthen communication with all other Parties on the implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and the formulation of mid- and long-term climate strategies; enhance cooperation on a “standard system for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions control and capacity building”; and promote the transition to a low-carbon economy.

On Resilience and Adaptation, China expresses commitment to strengthening climate adaptation and expanding international cooperation through policy communications with all stakeholders to build a “climate-adaptive society.”

On Climate Finance and Carbon Pricing, China will: strengthen cooperation with Parties on policies and rules of carbon market development, quota management and capacity building; and work to complete the negotiations on market and non-market mechanisms under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement (market and non-market cooperative approaches), at the Santiago Climate Change Conference in December 2019. [China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment Press Release] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Call by BASIC Ministers for “Strong Signal” on New Climate Finance Goal] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on BRICS Statement on Environmental Issues, Including Biodiversity and Climate] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on India’s Climate Finance Position] [SDG Knowledge Hub Curtain Raiser for Climate Action Summit]

Civil Beat: Climate Change is Making Hawai’i’s Beaches More Dangerous

Climate change is contributing to a litany of conditions that can make swimming, snorkeling and surfing more dangerous in Hawaii waters — and it’s only expected to get worse in the years ahead, according to scientists, health experts and ocean safety officials.

Lifeguards have already had to relocate their towers multiple times as beach erosion alters the shoreline. Some of that is natural, but some of it is from rising seas, stronger surf and more frequent severe storms.

Emergency responders have started tracking heat-related health problems as trade winds blow less frequently and temperatures continue to break records.

County and state officials are also bracing for bigger populations of jellyfish from warmer waters, more powerful rip currents from higher sea levels, and increased exposure to water-borne diseases from flooding and runoff.

Honolulu Emergency Services Director Jim Howe said the county has long adapted to gradual changes in coastal conditions and weather patterns that affect ocean safety. But in recent years, he has had to refocus planning efforts as climate change has quickened the rate of change and exacerbated problems.

“From our perspective, this is accelerating,” he said. “We’re doing our level best to make sure we’re like a coconut tree in a storm — that we bend with the wind and not break.”

Ehukai Beach Lifeguards in this December 2018 file photograph.

The lifeguard tower at Ehukai Beach, also known as Pipeline, has been relocated three times. It has affected guards’ line of sight.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

There are 42 lifeguard towers around Oahu, guarding many of the most popular places but far from all of the island’s 179 beaches. It’s a similar story on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.

Lifeguards are changing how they approach ocean safety in light of the changing conditions. That has meant moving towers and becoming more mobile in the near term.

On Oahu’s Windward side, the county has had to move the Kailua Beach lifeguard tower three times due to erosion. It now sits 40 feet farther back, Howe said. The Kualoa tower was also relocated due to erosion.

In Waikiki, the county had to rebuild the main tower in front of the police substation because the beach lost so much sand that it undermined the concrete columns the tower was sitting on and it was tilting forward.

Howe said it cost “considerable sums,” but did not have exact figures.

Lifeguarded Beaches In Hawaii

On the North Shore, the Ehukai (Pipeline) and Sunset Beach towers have each been relocated three times. And the Chun’s Reef tower was also moved because of erosion.

At one point, the Ehukai tower was strapped to coconut trees to hold it in place, Howe said. Its new location appears more stable, but it cut off some sight lines looking east toward Sunset Beach because trees are in the way, he said, and the trees should really stay because they help stabilize the shore.

The Kawaena tower, also on the North Shore, had an 8-foot drop from the bottom of the stairs to the beach after severe erosion, Howe said. It was later moved back, too.

“We’re seeing more of these incidents at more locations, affecting more places.” — Jim Howe, Honolulu emergency services director

“We’re seeing more of these incidents at more locations, affecting more places,” Howe said.

The county is in the third year of a nine-year plan to replace all of its lifeguard towers, a project estimated to cost $2.5 million.

Changes in weather patterns in recent years, from higher tides to heavier rains, have led to faster-eroding beaches. Howe said the siting of the new towers must take that into consideration.

A lifeguard tower in Kekaha on the west side of Kauai had to be relocated due to erosion.

Courtesy: Kauai County

Part of the solution is portable towers, which can easily be moved back as the ocean encroaches.

Maui’s acting battalion chief, Jeff Giesea, said the portable towers the county recently bought can help lifeguards respond to rising sea levels as well as approaching hurricanes, which are expected to become more frequent.

“We believe we have a responsibility to incorporate these eventualities into our long-term planning,” he said. “Hoping for some technological miracle that will save us from having to adjust to the impacts of global warming is simply not a viable option, nor is hoping that the nearly unanimous opinions of experts in the field worldwide turn out to be wrong.”

A lifeguard tower in Kee Beach on the north shore of Kauai had to be relocated due to erosion from unprecedented rain and flooding in April.

Courtesy: Kauai County

Kauai has faced similar issues. The county has moved two lifeguard towers due to erosion and shifting shorelines, but officials are unable to directly link it to climate change.

The Kekaha lifeguard tower, on the west side, was moved in 2011 and 2012, Deputy Fire Chief Kilipaki Vaughan said. And the Kee tower on the north shore was relocated in April after unprecedented rainfall flooded and eroded the beach.

In some places around the state, the counties are running out of room to move the towers back any farther. One of the Waikiki towers has routinely had waves rolling under it the past few years, and the tower in front of the Duke Kahanamoku statue is set back about as far as it can go with the road and other infrastructure behind it.

Visitors ignore signs and lifeguards warnings to venture in dangerous shorebreak at Sandy Beach.

Visitors routinely ignore warning signs and lifeguards cautioning them against entering the dangerous shorebreak at Sandy Beach.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Kauai, like Honolulu and the other counties, has also been increasing its lifeguards’ mobility to speed response times, especially to unguarded beaches.

“In tune with the changing of climate, the Ocean Safety Bureau has responded operationally with roving patrol Jet Ski units,” Vaughan said.

“These units are no longer pinned to a particular lifeguard tower,” he said, adding that they can respond to the “seasonal demands of beach attendance as well as the circumstantial demands of mother nature.”

Oahu guards have mitigated the sightline issue at Ehukai in part by using ATVs more to drive along the beach, Howe said.

Be Prepared

These websites contain important information that can keep you safe.

Honolulu’s Ocean Safety division is up to 16 mobile units now, which consist of basically a small fire engine type truck with one or two personnel, he said. They launch rescue craft into the water and are used to pick up lifeguards at one tower to bring them to support an emergency elsewhere.

The units broaden the patrol area and are able to be deployed wherever lifeguards are most needed on any given day, a degree of flexibility that will become all the more useful as climate change affects ocean conditions.

Following Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s citywide directive, Howe said a new lifeguard training facility in Ewa Beach and a storage facility in Kailua have been located outside the 3-foot sea level rise exposure area that scientific modeling shows will likely be underwater by the end of this century or sooner.

Howe hopes this will protect pricey life-saving equipment, like all-terrain vehicles and personal watercraft, that must be moved to higher ground when serious storms approach the islands.

The equipment needs to remain easily accessible, but also safe from heavy rains, flooding and whipping winds that the islands are expected to experience more often in the coming years. The new Kailua facility, to be built on a bluff about 250 yards from the beach, is being constructed to withstand Category 2 hurricanes, Howe said.

“That will become important,” he said. “We expect more hurricanes and tropical storm events as impacts of global warming.”

Changing Waves

Chip Fletcher, a University of Hawaii climate change professor and vice chair of the Honolulu Climate Change Commission, described the ocean safety-related impacts of climate change as “complex.”

As sea levels rise an expected 3 feet by 2100 — some studies show it could reach 6 feet — waves that would break farther offshore may start pounding closer to the shoreline, he said. That’s because deeper waters don’t allow the waves to dissipate as much.

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“Shorebreak is a potential killer,” Fletcher said. “It can slam you and you get your cervical injuries.”

In between sets of waves, all that energy will be surging offshore, potentially creating stronger, pulsating rip currents — and in areas that historically may not have had one.

“The current will increase for seemingly no apparent reason,” Fletcher said. “Wave characteristics on the beach that we’re used to may change if we’re not paying attention.”

On Friday, a Kauai lifeguard roving Kealia beach on an ATV rescued a 21-year-old male visitor who was swimming that afternoon when he got sucked out in a known rip current on the south end.

Lifeguards used CPR and an automated external defibrillator to revive him. Firefighters and medics arrived to help, and he regained his pulse and was taken to the hospital, a county release says.

A warmer and more acidic ocean will do more than just cause corals to bleach, Fletcher said. Reefs may collapse as a result of the unhealthy corals, which could translate to deeper waters and impacts similar to those caused by rising sea levels.

Visitors constituted more than half of 712 ocean drownings during the past decade in Hawaii, far outpacing the rate of local residents. And that’s before climate change further complicates safety efforts.

While a small body of literature says overall wave height in the Pacific will decline because overall wind speed will decrease, there is also science that suggests Hawaii will see extremely large wave seasons on the islands’ north shores due to more frequent and stronger El Niños, Fletcher said.

That’s great news for big wave surfers, potentially dangerous for inexperienced surfers, and not so awesome for most of the surfing community.

“This all triggers a need for the lifeguards to be aware,” Fletcher said, adding that there should be increased climate change training for ocean safety officers.

Last month, for the first time, the annual Hawaii Ocean Safety Conferencefeatured a panel on climate change. It included Fletcher, as well as Makena Coffman, director of the UH Institute for Sustainability and Resilience, and Alison Nugent, a UH atmospheric sciences professor.

The packed conference room was glued to their presentations on how climate change, sea level rise and weather patterns affect ocean safety. 

Lifeguards have started paying more attention to jellyfish, especially large-scale impacts, Howe said. As the ocean temperature increases from the effects of global warming, jellyfish populations are expected to expand.

Active monitoring is already happening in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Spain. Now Honolulu ocean safety officers have begun monitoring changes in jellyfish and hydrozoan populations, Howe said, specifically the Portuguese man-of-war and box jellyfish.

Major changes in overall trends have not been documented, Howe said, but there was a big event Tuesday. Lifeguards posted warning signs and verbally warned hundreds of people about an influx of man-of-war at Windward Oahu beaches.

There were 30 stings and an estimated 500 man-of-war at Makapuu Beach, 80 stings and thousands of man-of-war at Waimanalo Beach, and 100 stings and thousands of man-of-war at Kailua Beach, a Honolulu ocean safety spokeswoman said.

Rising Health Risks

Fletcher also has concerns about more hot, windless days leading to serious health issues or even death, as other parts of the world have experienced.

Howe said Honolulu hasn’t seen an uptick yet but the county is on the lookout. So is Hawaii Health Department Director Bruce Anderson.

“There are increased health risks with rising temperatures,” he said, adding that people with cardiovascular disease are especially at risk when it’s hot outside.

But that’s not the only thing Anderson is watching for when it comes to staying safe in the ocean as the climate changes.

As rainfall patterns change and erosion increases not just along the shoreline but in the mountains, more freshwater will enter the ocean — carrying with it everything it passes along the way. Debris, sewage, trash, chemicals, pesticides.

Kaneohe Bay Kahaluu Windward oahu reef aerial with what looks like some soil runoff polution along the shoreline.

The state health director anticipates more brown water advisories as climate change affects rainfall and erosion, causing more potentially polluted runoff. Here is Kaneohe Bay after passing showers last year.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Certain bacteria is particularly concerning.

“When we have storm events, whether it’s a hurricane or tropical storm, we see heavy rains that causes streams to overflow and we see flooding in low-lying areas,” Anderson said. “When that happens, expect to see increased exposure to bacteria that causes infectious diseases like leptospirosis.”

That means keeping an eye out for more brown water advisories, which are already issued frequently.

Last week, advisories were in effect for Kailua Bay on Oahu and Hilo Bay on Hawaii island. The Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch now lets people receive email notifications whenever a beach or brown water advisory is posted or canceled.

“We’ve already seen record rainfalls and more storms coming our way, and we’re posting more beaches as a result of that,” Anderson said. “I can only think that’s going to be an increasingly important risk going forward.”

“A lot of it is just going to be public education so they’re aware of the risk.” — Bruce Anderson, Hawaii health director

The increased flooding also ups the risk of cesspools leaching into streams and the ocean. Hawaii has some 88,000 cesspools — leading the nation — and it’s estimated to cost $1.75 billion to convert them to more sanitary systems.

The Department of Health in 2017 published a report that prioritized the places, mostly rural areas, where cesspools presented the most danger to human wellbeing.

“It’s a big problem,” Anderson said. “A lot of it is just going to be public education so they’re aware of the risk and avoid swimming when we have heavy rains.”

The Department of Health is still working on defining what health risks associated with climate change will be of most concern and is working with other agencies to try to anticipate what will happen.

“Hopefully, we can find ways to address many of those issues,” Anderson said.

Sea Walls Shrinking Beaches

Hawaii taxpayers are already spending millions of dollars to replenish the sand at the most popular beaches, like Waikiki, as erosion eats away the shoreline.

At the same time, county and state agencies are reckoning with policies that for decades have destroyed beaches, whether it’s allowing development too close to the coast to permitting sea walls to protect private property at the expense of public resources.

“Human populations have always wanted to live as close to the coast as possible, and climate change is making those areas more prone to disaster,” said Josh Stanbro, who heads Honolulu’s voter-created Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency.

When a property is armored, it affects neighboring beaches by changing the natural process.

Erosion routinely exposed the concrete foundation of the old Waikiki Tavern at Kuhio Beach. The two photos were taken about six months apart this year.

“When we lose the beach, it does become more dangerous for folks,” Stanbro said.

He anticipates changing dynamics when it comes to ocean safety as Hawaii loses some of its beaches to rising seas and erosion. More people will be jammed onto smaller areas, he said, and there could be more debris in the water. It also gets harder to get in and out of the water.

Hawaii has already seen erosion uncover concrete, rubble and rebar on beaches, the remnants of developments that were buried under sand.

The old foundation of Waikiki Tavern is regularly exposed at Kuhio Beach in Waikiki, Stanbro said, presenting a hazard to beachgoers. The county has tried to ameliorate it with “sand blankets,” and last year the state allocated money toward projects that could provide a permanent fix.

Part of the challenge has been determining whose responsibility it is to clear that stuff out, Stanbro said.

“Humanity has never dealt with this before,” he said. “We don’t have a guidebook.”

BBC News: Climate Change: What is being done around the world to plant trees?

By Manish PandeyNewsbeat reporter, July 6 2019.

Related Topics Climate change

*Disclaimer: Sierra Club Hawai’i believes that tree planting is an effective way to combat carbon emissions, heat waves, and restore our native forests. Though, it is a large undertaking to be affective. Our Tree Planting Program (check website for more info) is an opportunity to be a part of the mission to reduce carbon emissions on our islands. However, we still demand policy change to radically shift Hawai’i towards a carbon neutral economy and society.***

Small tree

Planting trees is now the best way to tackle rising temperatures and climate change, according to a study this week from a group of scientists.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide which means they can help to stop rising temperatures around the world.

They also keep soil moist and reduce the risk of flooding.

So if this is really “the best climate change solution available today” what is being done around the world to plant more trees?


The Great Green Wall:

There is an 8,000 km wall of trees being built in Africa – making it the largest living structure on the planet once it’s finished.

The wall aims to spread across the width of Africa and through more than 20 countries including Senegal, Nigeria and Ethiopia.

A decade on from its launch, the wall is currently 15% complete, with 11.4 million trees planted in Senegal alone.

In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, more than 2 million seeds have been planted from over 50 different species of trees.

Trees that have been planted.
Image captionIn Pakistan, hundreds of millions of trees have been planted to fight deforestation

The 10 Billion Tree Tsunami:

In August 2017, way ahead of schedule, Pakistan hit its target of planting a billion trees to combat the effects of climate change.

So in 2018, they decided to launch a new target – planting 10 billion trees in the next five years.

India’s tree boom:

Under the Paris Climate Agreement, India has pledged to increase its forests by a massive 95 million hectares by 2030.

In 2017 around 1.5 million volunteers planted more than 66 million trees in a record-breaking 12 hours in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

School children planting trees.
Image captionSchool children planting trees.

The UK’s planting too:

The UK government announced it wants more than 10 million trees to be planted across England and it would create a £60 million fund to do so.

That includes £10 million to plant at least 100,000 trees in towns and cities.

The Woodland Trust – the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity – is aiming to plant 64 million trees in the next 10 years. To meet its aim, it’s giving away hundreds of thousands of trees for free to schools and communities to encourage tree planting.

There are even drones planting:

In Myanmar, there are now drones planting trees.

The drone flies over the area where it wants to plant trees, picks the best location to plant and then fires a pod filled with seeds into the ground.

According to Worldview Impact – an organisation involved in the drone planting – two people working with 10 drones can theoretically plant an impressive 400,000 trees a day.

Civil Beat Series: Hawai’i 2040

For more info:


Throughout 2019, Civil Beat is exploring the effects of climate change in the islands and what is being done about it. Scientists predict the worst will hit in about 21 years. But Hawaii is already feeling the effects of a warming planet.

WHAT’S AT STAKE The effects of climate change in the islands go far beyond increased temperatures and rising sea levels.

DEATH & DISEASE Increase in temperature-related death and diseases as well as human illnesses spread by insects.

LOSS OF FARMLANDS Land degradation and desertification will impact soils, vegetation and the terrestrial ecosystems.

LOWER FISH STOCK Warmer waters will negatively impact fish populations and result in less fish near the islands.

THREAT TO FRESHWATER Less water will be stored in aquifers due to erosion in our mountains, affecting our freshwater supply.

TOURISM DECLINE Without our beaches, healthy reefs and reliable infrastructure, Hawaii will see fewer visitors and a weaker economy.

LOSS OF ENDEMIC SPECIES The already endangered plants and animals native to the Hawaiian Islands will die off.

CORAL BLEACHING As ocean temperatures rise the coral that protects our shoreline will suffer mass bleaching and mortality.

LOSS OF COASTAL REGIONS Rising sea levels will exacerbate shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and water pollution.

Civil Beat: Hawaii Struggles To Maintain Its Worn-Out Hiking Trails

“Honestly, we’re just trying to keep up with demand,” the state’s trails manager said.By Stewart Yerton / July 17, 2019 Reading time: 9 minutes.   

Editor’s Note: “Tourism’s Tipping Point,” is an ongoing series that looks at the future of the vacation industry in Hawaii. 

By almost any standard, Hawaii’s hiking trails are a world-class recreational resource. The state’s trail system alone encompasses 855 miles of trails and access roads, from epic, remote routes like the Kalalau trail on Kauai’s Napali coast to easily accessible day hikes like the 2.5- mile Makiki loop trail.

And that doesn’t count trails run by the counties or the National Park Service.

But hordes of tourists have made the system increasingly difficult to manage. The number of visitors to Hawaii is expected to top 10 million this year. Those numbers, combined with the increasing popularity of hiking and the popularization of even the most remote trails, are creating lots of stress for trail managers.

The results are well-known to residents: cars clogging residential streets around trailheads, eroding trails, hikers getting lost or injured or simply ignoring no trespassing or warning signs.

Signs posted by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, like these at Manoa Falls, often do little to discourage hikers from visiting spots deemed dangerous by the state.

Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat

It’s a struggle to keep up, said Mike Millay, who runs the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Na Ala Hele trails management program, which manages some 850 miles of trails statewide.

In a first sign of taking more aggressive steps to reduce the impact of hikers, the state has started prohibiting parking at the trailhead for the Kalalau trail on the North Shore of Kauai. But so far officials haven’t taken major steps to restrict access to trails.


“Honestly, we’re just trying to keep up with demand,” Millay said.

One major new initiative could help state officials at least quantify the demand, which for now remains largely unknown. Although there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that many trails are growing increasingly popular, gathering data is difficult. With only a few exceptions, trails don’t typically have monitors or attendants counting people at the trailheads.

Millay said the state might consider limiting the use of some trails, but first it needs to know how many people are using them.

”Those are indicators that we need to know,” Millay said.

An initiative the Hawaii Tourism Authority has launched might provide some answers. In June, HTA finalized a contract with UberMedia of Pasadena, Calif., under which UberMedia will use cell phone data to track specific locations that tourists visit.

Debbie Newton, a recent visitor from Amarillo, Texas, says her group got lost near Oahu’s Valley of the Temples. Now, the hike is memorialized on her Facebook page.

Charlta King

Gladys Kong, UberMedia’s chief executive, said the company will report data in aggregate, but still provide enough detail that HTA can see patterns. For example, she said, the data will show how many people from a region like New England visited a certain area during a certain time period versus people from another market.

Curt Cottrell, who runs Hawaii’s state parks system, said UberMedia’s system could be used to count hikers on certain trails and figure out where they are from, without the need for staff or automated traffic counters.

“The data will just confirm what we already viscerally know as managers.  It’ll just just give us numbers to leverage across the street,” he said, referring to the Hawaii State Capitol.

For now, trail managers, at least for Oahu trails, rely on a far less scientific metric to figure out what trails are the most popular: rescue information from the Honolulu Fire Department.  Paradoxically, some of the easiest hikes have the most rescues. That’s because they are easy and accessible, which attracts a lot of people, some of whom come unprepared.

The map above shows “hot spots” where the Honolulu Fire Department conducts the most frequent rescues. Take Diamond Head, for instance, which is marked with a target-shaped spot on the southeastern edge of Oahu.

The Honolulu Fire Department rescues on average one person a week from Diamond Head, the iconic volcano, said Socrates Baratakos, an assistant fire chief.

But the data on fire department rescue hotspots is limited, Millay said, because it doesn’t document actual trails, just the general area.

“You don’t know exactly what the precise location is,” he said.

Social media also can create headaches for people trying to manage trails.

The Haiku Stairs trail is a case in point. Managed by the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, the trail is supposed to be off limits to the public. But that doesn’t stop people from not only wandering into the area but also chronicling their adventures on sites like Instagram.

One recent post by someone named adventuresofthetravelingyogi, for example, shows a woman climbing the long vertiginous stairs, which her post calls “possibly the greatest attraction on the entire island.”

Kathleen Pahinui, a public information officer for the Board of Water Supply, said the issues involve not only public safety but also concerns for the watershed where the staircase trail is located.

“When people go up there in droves, it really can affect the watershed,” she said.

The Haiku Stairs trail remains a popular hike even though it is supposed to be closed to the public.

Nick Grube/Civil Beat

Pahinui said the board has asked people to take down advertisements and even, in one case, a newspaper article promoting the trail. That’s “made a dent” in the people trespassing on the trail, she said.

But it’s still a problem.

“It’s locals, too,” Pahinui stressed. “Let’s not just pick on the poor tourists.”

So far, Hawaii lawmakers have been unwilling to provide more funding to help manage the trails. The funding system for Na Ale Hele is complicated even by government budget standards. It gets bits of money from a variety of sources: a portion of the state gasoline tax, federal grants, private contributions, user fees and a portion of the state hotel tax.

But the money doesn’t go directly to Na Ala Hele. Instead, it goes into a special fund used for all kinds of things, including buying land, paying off debts and protecting the state’s water resources.

This isn’t to say Na Ala Hele doesn’t have money to spend.

According to a report submitted to the Legislature for the 2017-18 fiscal year, DLNR had $6.9 million budgeted to cover a wide range of forest and recreation activities, but only one of those was trail maintenance. Still, the department met the goal spelled out in Gov. David Ige’s budget request of doing trail maintenance to 75% of the state’s trails.

But some believe the trails need more funding — and a more clear source of funding.

In a bill introduced in 2019, Sen. Laura Thielen, a former DLNR chair known for her stances to protect the environment, laid out the issues. Heavy use and limited resources have curbed the level of maintenance needed, the bill said.

The Honolulu Fire Department is having to conduct three times as many trail rescues as it did a decade ago, the bill said. People living in the residential neighborhood near trailheads are suffering from “blatant littering, tracking of mud on neighborhood residents’ lawns, and illegal parking.”

The measure requested that $1.8 million be earmarked for the trails program. But after passing out of the Senate Water and Land Committee, the measure died in the Ways and Means Committee, without a hearing.

One trail singled out in the bill was the Manoa Falls hike. Located in the back of Manoa Valley, the trail is close enough to Waikiki that the tops of the tourist district’s high rises can be seen in the distance from near the trailhead.

Alonzo, left, Vicki, center, and Skye Ocaranza of Turlock, California pose for a requisite selfie after hiking to Manoa Falls.

Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat

The trail, which leads to a 150-foot waterfall, is just over 1.5 miles long with relatively little elevation gain. It’s an easy hike, close to thousands of hotel rooms with a decent payoff at the end.

That explains why the trails attract about 850 hikers a day, according to Millay, and why DLNR is closing the trail intermittently over the summer to perform maintenance funded by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

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On a recent Sunday afternoon, the trail was characteristically crowded with hikers.

Despite the changes set to close the trail the next day for maintenance, the hikers seemed to be having no problems. Some were hiking in bare feet or rubber slippers; one young mom carried a toddler on her hip. Among those on the trail were Debbie Newton and Charlta King, English teachers from Amarillio, Texas.

The trail seemed to be in good shape to them.

Bt they couldn’t say the same for the Puu Maelieli trail on Oahu’s Windward side, which they had joined a Meetup group to hike a couple of days before.

The hike up to the pillboxes overlooking Kaneohe Bay was fine, Newton said. The trip back: not so good. The trail was overgrown in places with little signage, King said. And the group leader got everyone lost, Newton said. Really lost.

“We thought we were going to have to eat each other,” she said with a laugh.

In the end, that wasn’t neccessary  But what was supposed to be a two-hour hike took four hours.

“It could have been so much worse,” she said.

“Tourism’s Tipping Point” is part of Civil Beat’s year-long series, “Hawaii’s Changing Economy.” That work is supported by a grant from the Hawaii Community Foundation as part of its CHANGE Framework project.

City’s Building Energy Code Update Awaiting Reschedule

On July 25th Honolulu City Council’s Committee on Zoning, Planning and Housing deferred Bill 25, to modernize Honolulu’s building energy code. The measure proposed cost-effective changes that would help to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our new homes and buildings while helping to foster our transition to clean transportation. The bill was drafted by the Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency (OCCSR) and is consistent with a number of action items in the community-supported Oʻahu Resilience Strategy

Although there was overwhelming written and oral testimony in support of Bill 25, with some amendments. However, there were concerns of “consumer choice” and “job loss” related to the solar water heaters (SWH)  presented by Hawaii Gas and their employees. The OCCSR was able to directly dispel these concerns by citing the options for alternatives to SWH and no current job loss since the bill only affects new construction. Nonetheless, Bill 25 was deferred and Chair Menor assured it will come back in August to allow for further discussion. 

Sierra Club as well as a cohort of other environmental organizations are continuing to work to get the bill moves forward with the EV-ready provision of Bill 25 amended to require capacity for 100% Level 2 charging (instead of only Level 1) for new building construction—a requirement that the city of Vancouver already has on the books. See our full testimony here (attachment inserted?) 

Because we believe in an equitable transition to a carbon free economy, we want to encourage the city council to act with urgency when it comes to the climate change crisis and put pressure on Hawaiʻi Gas to evolve. They can move away from imported fracked gas and start using renewable gas from local sources to create the green jobs we desperately need. But for now, Hawaiʻi Gas is choosing to continue business as usual and threaten our collective future. We cannot let that happen and will be sending out action alerts for more community support when the next hearing is announced!