Across the world right now extreme heat waves, wildfires and droughts are crippling the landscape, resulting in human misery, ecological devastation and severe economic impacts. An extreme heat wave killed more than 70 people in Canada earlier in July; another heat wave killed more than 80 people in Japan. Droughts are destroying crops in places like Texas, El Salvador and Russia. Rivers in France are too warm to properly cool nuclear power plants. And wildfires, exacerbated by extreme heat and drought, are currently burning in California, above the Arctic Circle in Norway and in Greece, and have killed hundreds of people, including two firefighters in California.
As a former wildland firefighter and a current graduate student researching wildfire ecology at UH Manoa, I can tell you this is only the beginning of what is to come. Every new year that I fought fire, I heard old-timers say that the fires they were fighting were unlike anything they had ever seen before. We have barely begun to get a sense of what the new normal will be. It is increasingly likely that much of Waikiki, the economic engine of our state, will be underwater by 2050 (with potential sea level rise up to 3 feet or more by 2060).
Even though I do scientific research, I don’t believe that more research will necessarily help us. Our crisis is political. Those of us who conduct this research already know what we need to do. But we have incredibly powerful and wealthy opponents in the form of oil and gas companies, their shareholders and CEOs. These entities and individuals oppose any meaningful change to mitigate the effects of climate chaos, fearing that these changes will (rightly) affect their bottom line. We are essentially asking these corporations to leave trillions of dollars of investments in the ground. To protect their wealth, they have purchased both politicians and our mainstream media outlets, and poisoned the well of our political discourse to block any progress in staving off a global catastrophe.
This is why when I look at who to volunteer and vote for come election time, I examine the climate change and environmental platforms of the candidates to evaluate whether or not they understand the real challenges facing us. If their climate change plan is not scientifically rigorous and well fleshed-out—if they utter vague platitudes about protecting the environment without setting targets and numbers in line with forecasted scenarios—I know immediately they are not a serious candidate. This is why I support Kaniela Ing for Congress.
Kaniela is the only candidate in CD1 calling for a shift to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. He is the only candidate that has promised to stop all new fossil fuel projects (including pipelines). He is the only candidate to pledge not to take contributions from fossil fuel companies or lobbyists.
He is the only candidate to propose a Green New Deal, which would create millions of new, high-paying jobs, and provide the infrastructure for real climate change mitigation and adaptation. There are still millions of Americans that are unemployed or underemployed, not making a living wage, and living in poverty. Meanwhile, there are trees to be planted, native ecosystems to be restored, public transportation to be built, and solar panels to be installed.
These are all scientifically rigorous, deeply serious policy proposals that will bring us closer to meeting our (currently inadequate) Paris agreements. Even our current commitments, imperiled by the Trump administration, put us on track for over 3 degrees Celsius of warming—an absolutely catastrophic amount of warming that will kill hundreds of millions of people and erase thousands of miles of coastline and islands from the globe.
Perhaps it’s because he’s a new father, and knows his child Laguna will be growing up in a hotter and more dangerous world, sapped of its natural wonders and resources, that Ing is the only candidate that has a detailed platform that really takes on the full scope of our ecological challenges. Laguna may grow up in a world where Waikiki and downtown Honolulu are underwater, where remnant native forests have burned down or been killed by disease, where coral reefs have died off, where our famous surf breaks have been drained of their energy, where food shortages occur every year, and where crop-killing droughts, 100-year storms, extreme wildfires, and deadly heat waves are a daily fact of life.
It’s incumbent upon regular, working people like you and I to organize together and demand real change. It is not inevitable that we have to live in a damaged world. But time is running out, and incremental policies are simply unscientific. We need radical change just to survive this century. To do that, however, we need to organize around political change. This is why I am voting and volunteering for Kaniela Ing.
Tim Zhu is a graduate student and former wildland firefighter pursuing his M.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Management at UH Manoa.