Climate Change Expert Predicts Hawaii Hurricanes To Get Stronger

September 18, 2007

Nobody can say how many hurricanes will hit Hawaii each year, according to a climate change expert, but there’s no doubt they’ll get worse.

“I can’t tell you there will be more of them,” environmental scientist Stephen Schneider told Big Island residents, “but in the next 30, 40 years, they will be stronger.”

In looking at the impact of global climate change, each region has different concerns, Schneider said. While Iowa or Kansas might debate wheat versus corn crops, and China may be eyeing its mega-deltas and changing sea levels, Schneider had one bit of advice for Hawaii: “You better worry about hurricanes.”

Conditions likely will spawn “perfect storms” much more frequently, he said.

A member of the UN-managed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Stanford University professor spoke at the University of Hawaii, Hilo, last week, saying his mission is to evaluate the risks of climate change, not dictate policy.

Schneider said there is no doubt human actions have affected the Earth’s climate over the past 50 years, and governments need to adopt stronger policies to help prevent and perhaps reverse the future impact of global warming.

Addressing another Hawaii concern, he noted that the islands already harbor numerous species listed as endangered and threatened.

As habitat is lost, temperatures change and hurricanes become stronger, birds will have a tough time, he said.

“You’ve got a problem,” he said. “Hawaii has already trashed a lot of its avians,” which have been harmed by invasive species, feral pigs and diminishing habitats.

Schneider said he is heartened that the issue is becoming more urgent for more people, but is pessimistic about quick action from governments and multinational corporations.

“That’s frustrating. It won’t change until people get mad and force them to do something,” he said, adding that there are signs of stepped-up concern.

“The only time in my 35-plus year career when I’ve had as many calls as I’m getting now was back in 1988 — the summer of the super heat waves. Everybody was talking about it.”

Attention faded, though, and it has only been since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf region, and former Vice President Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” that the spotlight has returned, he said.

“Fortunately in that time, nature cooperated with the theory and now it’s obvious” that it’s an important issue, Schneider said.

He pointed to a recent campaign in California to reduce its greenhouse emissions 80 percent by 2050.

“California already has the lowest emissions in the U.S. They’ve stayed flat while the economy has grown,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult to do. But even if we don’t make 80 percent and only make 40, that’s a heck of a lot better than going up.”

Schneider’s appearance in Hilo was co-sponsored by The Kohala Center, the U.S. National Science Foundation, Whitman College and the University of Oregon.

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