Vulnerable Hawaii Asks Senate to Pass Climate Bill This Year

HONOLULU, Hawaii, June 10, 2010 (ENS) – Hawaii elected officials as well as community leaders representing over 100,000 residents of the state have formed a coalition that is urging the U.S. Senate to pass a comprehensive climate and clean energy bill this year.

On World Oceans Day, June 8, the coalition met to declare their call to action and explain why federal climate and clean energy is so important to the island state.

As an archipelago, Hawaii is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change and oil catastrophes such as the ongoing Gulf of Mexico tragedy.

“Back in 1977, the oil tanker Hawaiian Patriot caught fire and sank 300 miles off the coast of Honolulu spilling 30 million gallons of crude. This was roughly three times the 10.7 million gallons that spilled from the Exxon Valdez,” recalled Mike Gabbard, a Democrat who chairs the State Senate Energy and Environment Committee.

Hawaii depends entirely on imported fuel. (Photo credit unknown)

“The question is not if we will have a disaster, but when, if we keep importing over 40 million barrels of oil each year and do not make a major push toward renewable energy now,” Gabbard warned.

Hawaii imports about 45 million barrels annually and burns over five million gallons of oil per day to meet roughly 90 percent of its current energy needs. It costs nearly $10 million daily to buy this oil. On average, each Hawaii resident produces approximately 18 tons of carbon dioxide each year.

The call to action was organized by the Conservation Council for Hawaii, the Hawaii affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation.

Marjorie Ziegler, executive director of the Conservation Council for Hawaii, said, “Funding to mitigate the effects of climate change on wildlife and habitats could also provide hundreds of jobs in Hawaii, where coral reef management, reforestation, invasive species control, and recovery of endangered and threatened species are needed to protect the environment, culture, and the economy.”

All 50 states gain economically from strong federal energy climate policy, the coalition declared.

If such a bill is enacted, Hawaii is likely to gain between 4,000 and 10,000 high-paying clean-energy jobs by 2020, according to a recent study by Dr. David Roland-Holst with the University of California, Berkeley, cited by participants in the World Oceans Day event.

“This is not about sustainability, but about survivability – survivability of the island way of life,” said Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation. Blue Planet founder Henk Rogers said he and many others “are committed to ending fossil fuel use in Hawaii.”

Speakers from the Native Hawaiian, faith, peace, and justice communities pointed out that native people and the poor are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

“I depend on the ocean to feed my family and support my culture,” said William Aila, cultural practitioner and community leader from the Waianae Coast.

“Our kupuna recognized that working in harmony with the environment would protect our fisheries, estuaries, and reefs; it is time we lived up to those ancient and yet relevant ideals. Our kupuna also understood the difference between talk and action. It is now time for the U.S. Senate to stop talking and take action,” Aila said.

“Global climate change is among the greatest threats to the world’s coral reefs,” said Dr. Robert Richmond, research professor at the Kewalo Marine Laboratory University of Hawaii, Manoa. “Elevated seawater temperatures have already been responsible for extensive mass-bleaching events that have destroyed large areas of coral reef in the Pacific and Caribbean. Increased levels of atmospheric CO2 are already changing the ocean’s chemistry, reducing growth rates in corals and other organisms with shells.”

“Poor communities around the world have been made to pay the highest social costs of climate change and irresponsible energy policies,” said Kyle Kajihiro, Program Director for American Friends Service Committee Hawaii.

“The poor must not be unjustly burdened with the cost of fixing this problem. This means that a comprehensive climate and clean energy bill must ensure that poor and vulnerable communities are not left behind by the changes required for healing our energy and climate crisis,” Kajihiro said.

“We can pay for this if funding for America’s wars, now at $1 trillion, and at least a quarter of the military budget were redirected to meet human needs, including responsible climate and energy policy,” he said.

Rob Kinslow, executive coordinator for the Steering Committee of Hawaii Interfaith Power and Light, said, “We all share a spiritual responsibility as stewards of creation to preserve life for future generations. In this spirit, we call upon our politicians, our island faith communities, and all people of Earth to accept the reality of the common danger we face, the imperative for immediate and decisive action, and our opportunity to be the change we wish our children to see.”

A resolution urging the U.S. Senate to pass a comprehensive climate and clean energy bill this year was endorsed by the Democratic Party of Hawaii at its state convention in May and will be transmitted to members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation, members of the U.S. Senate, and President Barack Obama.

The coalition views its call to action as timely given that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has alerted Senate committee chairs to have comprehensive energy legislation ready by July 4.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.