On Sept. 28, about 60 students and faculty members crowded into ‘Ākoakoa room 103 for a climate change forum featuring Charles “Chip” Fletcher.
Fletcher is the associate dean for academic affairs and professor of geology and geophysics at the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He has 35 years of climate change experience and is the author of three books related to climate change.
“Climate change is a potentially catastrophic process,” Fletcher said. “But there is something that everybody can do which is to cut their carbon footprint by 50 percent every decade. We are making strong headway but believe that climate change is capable of being horrendous.”
The two-hour presentation was one of many chemistry forums co-sponsored by WCC and the American Chemical Society-Hawai’i Section. Leticia Colmenares, a chemistry professor at WCC, has been the coordinator of the chemistry forums and has worked with Fletcher in the past.
“Basically, the purpose of these presentations is to let the students know that science is important,” Colmenares said. “This is a way of encouraging our students to study science.”
During the presentation, Fletcher discussed several topics relating to climate change such as extreme weather, sea-level rise, reef bleaching, ecosystem impacts, declining rain, El Nino, Hawai‘i’s weather system and natural climate change. Fletcher said that recent natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were affected by rapid climate change.
“Climate change did not cause these storms but they gave them more intensity,” he said. “The sea level is higher, so the flooding was greater. There’s more water in the air, so the rainfall was greater. The oceans are hotter, so the storms are Category 5 rather than some lower category. The storms are larger and wider, and the winds blow faster. So it’s an increase in intensity because of climate change.”
Climate change is also being felt here in Hawai‘i. Student Vincent Murai says that he’s seen a lot of changes in weather and deterioration of resources over the years.
“I grew up on the Windward side, and when I was younger, you could catch more fish and there was more seaweed that we used to collect at the beach,” Murai said. “You can’t really do that anymore because the resources aren’t there. Also in areas where you could drive, like Kam. (Kamehameha) Highway, roads are overflowing. With these last couple of years with no water or rain, landslide and erosion has been greater. So I definitely have seen, in my short life here, many changes happening.”
Fletcher agreed that Hawai‘i is already seeing the impacts of climate change.
“Right now, in the Wai‘anae coast, there are no free flowing streams,” he said. “The only time a stream on the Wai‘anae coast has water in it is immediately following a rain event. The whole Wai‘anae coast has dried out. People who grew up there 30 years ago know that there were lots of active streams and springs. El Nino has gotten stronger, the temperature has gotten higher, we’re setting records in terms of hurricanes. We (Hawai‘i) have been very lucky that we haven’t been hit by a hurricane recently. But the hurricanes are shifting, moving away from the equator, and migrating north which is coming into our territory. It’s only a matter of time before a hurricane makes landfall in Hawai‘i.”
But there is some good news. Fletcher believes that Hawai‘i’s climate change efforts are working.
“We actually are already, in many respects, acting as an example for the rest of the country of how to move forward and adapting to climate change,” he said. “Our elected officials get it. They understand that climate change is a huge threat. They are a little bit confused as to what is the best step to take, but they have put together study groups and committees to help them figure out what are the best steps to take.”
Students left Fletcher’s presentation with an increased sense of responsibility and interest in climate change.
“The presentation gave me a little more perspective on what is real,” said Aaron Wilson, a Geology 210 student. “Seeing how global warming affects Hawai‘i on a local scale. Seeing all the damage that is to come or hopefully not to come within the century. Some of the points he made about how to change your lifestyle and halving our carbon footprint each year. I think that is all super important.”
Education on climate change is something that Fletcher believes will help save Earth’s future.
“It’s not complex or difficult,” he said. “There’s lots of sources of information. By reading up on climate change, you become comfortable talking about it, and young people who can talk about climate change can change the world.”
For more information about WCC chemistry forums, visit www.windward.hawaii.edu/chemistry_forum or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Leighland Tagawa, Ka ‘Ohana Editor in Chief