Geos Institute helps communities build resilience in the face of climate change

The sobering reality and inspiring hope of climate change in Maui County

From the May 2022 Cornerstone Network Newsletter

I have spent the last few weeks putting the final touches on a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for Maui County, Hawai‘i, with a focus on the three populated islands of Maui, Lana‘i, and Moloka‘i. It has been a sobering experience to see how these small islands are facing climate change impacts that threaten to transform their communities – and not in good ways.  

The obvious risk in Hawai’i is sea level rise, but that’s just the beginning. Trade winds, which bring moisture and help cool the inland areas, have decreased markedly in recent years. For Maui County, climate change means increasing drought, wildfire, larger hurricanes, bigger floods, coral reef loss, invasive species explosions, and potentially massive supply chain problems, including for food. It also means severe disruption for the cultural foods, practices, and burial grounds of Native Hawaiians.

It would be easy to get depressed by this, but here’s why I’m optimistic about the future of these islands.  

People across the County are already on the move making changes, and in some cases, returning to long-time cultural practices of native Hawaiians to help address their current challenges. They are facing the issue head on, which includes recognizing the long trail of problems created by colonialism that still affect their communities today.   

I am heartened by conversations with people across Maui, Lana‘i, and Moloka‘i who hold the vision of a vibrant future for their island communities and are willing to do the hard work to make it happen. In preparing for this project, I came across an article about how Hawaiian and other Pacific Island cultures are offering an alternative to the doomsday perspective of climate change.  

I see this alternative perspective and approach in our work with the people of Maui County and I’m inspired by it. It is an honor to work alongside those who are so connected to each other and their environment, helping them decide what needs to happen to protect their people, natural systems, and communities in the face of climate change.   

In other news, we have an exciting announcement coming about Climate Ready America that I’ll share soon. In the meantime, enjoy the end of spring and beginning of summer. 

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