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    Hawaii takes on the rising seas around it
    • November 11, 2023

    For the past three weeks, working from home has for me meant from a surf shack in a remote part of Wainiha on Kauai’s North Shore. So, yes, don’t cry for me, Mainlander, and I will be back in Southern California as you read this.

    After taking a break one afternoon and catching a few waist-highs on my Papa Sau at Pine Trees in Hanalei, I grabbed my phone and a can of beer and looked for a place in the shade of the ironwood trees to check my email. The only picnic table available was already occupied by a young woman with a supermarket sushi lunch spread and a bottle of Corona.

    “Mind if I share this for a minute? Swear I won’t bother you with another word.”

    “Sure thing,” she said. “Aloha.”

    After five or six minutes, she looked up from her own phone. “You local?”

    “Kind of, yeah,” I replied.

    “Me, too,” she said. “I mean, I grew up here in Kapa’a.”


    “But when I got married, we moved to Maui.”


    “Yeah. Only — well, we were living in Lahaina.”

    That caught my attention. I put down my phone.

    “Oh, no,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

    “Yeah,” she said, introducing herself as Danielle. “Nice apartment on Front Street. All we had time to grab was three surfboards, our dog and our cat. Everything’s gone. All I can tell you is that it’s been even worse than you’ve heard.”

    And she proceeded to regale me with her and her husband’s story of having to flee that gorgeous little town as the wind-blown wildfire bore down on it, killing 97 and leaving thousands such as themselves homeless.

    “There’s still about 8,000 of us without a place to stay, and no work — nothing. They put us up in a hotel for a while. No power. It’s hot down there these days. No fans or AC. Then even that expired. We just had to leave. Now we’re staying with my dad here, and can’t find a place of our own. They want like $2,700 for a one-bedroom, and no one wants us with our pets.”

    It wasn’t climate change alone that caused the Maui fires. But the weather on that western shore is much drier than it used to be, and the land use is vastly different than formerly, with  invasive grasses providing fuel for the deadliest fire in recent American history.

    Here in the Islands, while climate activists and politicians would agree that what they can do won’t by itself change the entire global crisis, they are doing something anyway. And I say good on them.

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    As Jennifer Hijazi of Bloomberg reported this month, “When it comes to mitigating climate change, ‘yesterday’s good enough has become today’s unacceptable.’ That was what judges on Hawaii’s Supreme Court ruled earlier this year, in the first U.S. decision to declare a stable climate as an affirmative right.” At the “state’s special environmental court — one of only two designated environmental courts nationwide — a youth coalition is pursuing a first-of-its-kind constitutional lawsuit against the state’s transportation department for approving high-emission projects.”

    Looking out the window here, with the Pacific just below me, the crisis is already real. The predicted 3.2-foot rise in the sea level by the end of this century would have the waves almost lapping at the lanai.

    Denise Antolini, a retired law professor, told Bloomberg she “credits Hawaii’s emergence as a climate litigation trailblazer to a ‘perfect triangle’ of influences: strong Native Hawaiian rights, robust environmental protections and the inclusion of natural resources in the state’s public trust doctrine, which has roots in Indigenous law.”

    The 50th state is fighting back. Mahalo for that, Kama’aina.

    Larry Wilson is on the Southern California News Group editorial board. [email protected]

    ​ Orange County Register