Climate change conference looks toward future planning

News Report
Joan Conrow

KAUAʻI—The intense rains that flooded Hanalei last weekend and closed the road into the valley for nearly 24 hours served as an example of the extreme weather events that scientists predict will occur more frequently as a result of global climate change.

Dr. Carl Berg, a marine biologist and senior scientist with Surfrider Foundation described how the heavy rainfall and flooding along the island’s windward side gave Kauaʻi residents a sneak preview of what lies ahead, setting the stage for an upcoming conference on how the cumulative effects of global climate change are likely to impact the Hawaiian Islands, and specifically Kauaʻi.

The free conference, sponsored by Surfrider Foundation Kauaʻi, University of Hawaiʻi Sea Grant College Program and Kauaʻi Community College, is set for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21 at the college’s Performing Arts Center.

“On Kauaʻi, global climate change is expected to have a tremendous impact on coastal areas, taro farming and endangered water birds, as evidenced by the recent flooding,” Berg said.

“More rain will come in fewer events,” Berg said. “Massive rain storms and sea level rise are expected. This will inundate the low level flood plains and block the drainage of the roads and rivers. The high sea levels will not allow the land to drain so well. For taro farmers, it sets their crops way back. There would be a great economic impact even if we have these floods once a year.”

Endangered nene geese and water birds also were impacted by the flooding, which destroyed their nests and killed chicks, Berg said: “We can see from this how it can affect wildlife.”

Berg, who organized the conference, said the event is unique because it allows a panel of scientific experts to present their research findings to a lay audience and focuses on how a global issue could play out locally.

“There was no reason to bring in experts from the mainland because we have local experts who are extremely knowledgeable about Hawaii’s climate,” Berg said. “These are guys who have basically worked in Hawaiʻi all their careers, doing research in their particular field for decades.”

Kauai Community College Chancellor Helen A. Cox sees the conference as an opportunity for Kauaʻi residents to participate in shaping much needed planning.

“We have to adapt to the impact of global climate change. We also have to realize that the severity of global climate change is not fixed.”

“Looking at the predicted local impacts of global climate change will help Kauaʻi residents plan for the future we have already created, while at the same time stirring us to act to create the future we can still influence,” Cox said.

Dr. Thomas Giambelluca of the UH Geography Department will speak on “Climate Overview: Rainfall/Drought;” Dr. Gordon Tribble of the U.S. Geological Survey will discuss “Water: Stream Flow and Groundwater;” Dr. Chip Fletcher of the UH Geology & Geophysics Department will talk about “Sea Level Rise: Coastal Problems;” and Dr. Paul Jokiel of the UH Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology will address “Ocean Changes: Coral Reefs.” James O’Connell of the UH Sea Grant College Program will serve as moderator and Berg will give a brief introduction.

The event is designed for high school and college students, government workers, farmers, military officials, representatives of Kauaiʻs major industries, community and environmental groups, and interested members of the public. Berg said more than 80 people have already pre-registered, including a number of college students, county officials and board members with the island’s utility cooperative.

“The big push, really, is public awareness,” Berg said. “We have to adapt to the impact of global climate change. We also have to realize that the severity of global climate change is not fixed. This is not a doomsday thing. We have to mitigate it. All of us, at all levels, can do something to reduce the warming. Every little bit helps, and there are many, many ways we can become involved as individuals and institutions.”

In addition to presenting their research findings, the scientists will also address methods of mitigation, adaptation and engagement, in terms of how people can make a difference.

“It’s about reaching out to others to join forces and reach solutions to the challenges posed by global climate change,” Berg said.

The event is free. Participants can just show up, or may pre-register by emailing [email protected]. For more information contact Berg at (808) 639-2968. The conference will also be streamed live at