LIHUE — Shorelines change on Kauai throughout the year as currents and other factors move the sand around, raise tides and cause occasional flooding.
But these routine changes in the environment are getting turbocharged, according to scientists.
“These normal events are being exacerbated by this very slow-growing thing in the background, which is climate change,” said Kauai geologist Chuck Blay, who has been studying shorelines on the Westside for five years.
He continued: “The problems they’re having with flooding because of the King Tides, this kind of stuff … sea level rise is making these changes more difficult.”
Those effects are just a few that the United States is experiencing, according to a recently released draft report for the upcoming federal National Climate Assessment.
The report was produced by 13 federal agencies, and it points out stark increases in frequency of heat waves, heavy rains and other extreme weather in the last 40 years.
Every four years the National Climate Assessment has been released, following a 1990 Congress mandate, and the current draft expands on conclusions drawn in the 2014 version.
According to Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, the draft report confirms what is already known.
“Climate change is real, it is caused by people, and we need to do something about it,” Schatz said in a statement. “The federal government should not suppress or deny these facts, nor should it try to silence government scientists.”
Leaders need to come together and find a way forward, he said, even though President Donald Trump and his Administration have publicly doubted the consequences of global warming and the theory that it is being driven by man-made factors.
“We can start by looking at carbon fee proposals as part of tax reform,” Schatz said.
Blay said he thinks it could be tricky to get politicians on the same page, because the conversation will eventually come down to cash.
“Policy makers, they have to deal with how much money they have and what they’re going to do with it,” he said. “They’ve been lagging because they have other concerns and climate change is this slow, tenacious thing — it’s not easy to see all of the changes.”
But, according to the federal report, the long-term evidence that global warming is being driven by humans is “unambiguous.”
“There are no alternative explanations, and no natural cycles are found in the observational record that can explain the observed changes in climate,” the report said, citing thousands of studies. “Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans.”
The report said the United States will see temperature increases of at least 2.5 degrees over the next few decades, even with significant cuts to carbon pollution.
Even if humans put the brakes on carbon emissions, the world will warm another half a degree over today’s temperatures, the report said, citing high confidence in those calculations.
Scientists, such as Stanford University’s Chris Field, say that even a few tenths of a degree of warming can have dramatic impacts on human civilization and the natural environment.
“Every increment in warming is an increment in risk,” said Field, who wasn’t part of the report but reviewed it for The National Academy of Sciences.
On Kauai, Blay pointed out the close proximity of developments and roads to the shorelines and wondered what would happen if they were to be chronically flooded due to sea level rise.
“Think of what it costs to move a road inland by just a couple hundred yards,” he said. “You’re talking astronomical costs — we’re not going to be able to afford this, so how are things going to play out?”
The report, currently in its fifth draft, comes on the heels of Trump’s announcement that the United States will pull out of the 2015 Paris climate accord.
One report author told the Associated Press because the assessment looks at how sea level rise, extreme weather and other things that impact global warming change with the amount of heat-trapping gases spewed by the world, the overriding message was how actions now on carbon dioxide pollution can limit damage in the future.
“Nobody really knows what’s actually going to happen, we’re speculating at this time,” Blay said. “It seems like it’s scarier than we thought it was going to be, though. It’s accelerating.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.