October 23, 2019

The sea level is predicted to rise at least 3.2 feet by the end of the century, and it’s already impacting coastal areas in Hawaii, as the ground beneath highways and shoreline buildings starts to erode.

Statewide, government and community groups have started working toward plans to respond to sea level rise and other impacts of climate change. On Kauai, the first of five conversations on the topic happened Monday at a meeting at Kauai Community College attended by about 40 people that was part lecture, part brainstorming session, focused on Kauai’s business sector.

Pat Griffin, president of the Lihue Business Association, said it was the beginning of an important conversation.

“The specific business focus brought the discussion down from that abstract, conceptual concern to a personal, how-we-gonna-solve-this, action orientation,” she said.

The workshop featured guest speakers Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, and Makena Coffman, who holds a Ph.D. in economics and works with the Institute for Sustainability and Resilience and the Honolulu Climate Change Commission.

Coffman and McNamara brought the audience up to speed on some of the impacts Hawaii is already seeing due to climate change and outlined the state’s response by emphasizing renewable energy.

Then, the audience was broken into groups to brainstorm ideas for action on three topics related to climate change: mitigation, resilience and equity.

The groups came up with ideas like improving cesspools and wastewater treatment infrastructure to ensure clean water on Kauai, reducing landfill waste and the amount of methane being burned, and a focusing on local food production.

They also suggested providing incentives for business to become more green, like a program to promote businesses that invest in carbon offsets or use green packaging for their products.

Lecturers highlighted impacts like infrastructure failures in the face of severe floods that could raise insurance rates for home and business owners and negatively affect credit ratings.

Kauai already has incorporated sea-level rise into several plans and has some specific plans in progress that address the impacts to coastal areas.

While organizers said it was a great start, other meetings to come will provide people with the opportunity to respond to climate change from many different angles.

“I think we’ve gotta siphon these things down to tangible action that every sector can participate in,” said Councilmember Mason Chock, who attended Monday’s meeting. “Provide tangibles that translate into how everything we’re doing will help our economy to become more sustainable.”

The event was sponsored by Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Kauai and County of Kauai, alongside other partners. Upcoming meetings, yet to be scheduled, will focus on sectors like conservation and youth.