SAEM Pulse March-April 2021

Page 18

CLIMATE CHANGE AND HEALTH

The Climate Crisis in Hawai’i By Anna Brandes and Caitlin Rublee, MD, MPH, submitted on behalf of the SAEM Climate Change and Health Interest Group

SAEM PULSE | MARCH-APRIL 2021

Last November, I was driving around the east side of Oahu along Kamehameha Highway with my dad. It was a beautiful day, sunny with some heavy clouds along the Ko’olau mountains, waves crashing along the shore and turquoise blue water all the way to the horizon.

18

“Anna, you see this road we’re driving on?” my dad asked. “This is one of the most at-risk roads on the island and in the state of Hawaii.” My dad was a civil and ocean engineer at the University of Hawaii, and one of the most recent projects he had been working on was assessing the vulnerability of coastal roads to sea level rise. Sea level rise from anthropogenic climate change was something we talked a lot about. Extreme heat, sea level rise, and other extreme weather events are not just distant threats but

“Extreme heat, sea level rise, and other extreme weather events are not just distant threats but something the state of Hawaii and many people around the world face today. ” something the state of Hawaii and many people around the world face today. It was something my dad, who was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer during my third year of medical school, was still thinking about, as cancer and chemotherapy ravaged his body. I could tell he hated leaving this problem to future generations — especially my sister and me.

What struck me on that particular day as we drove through Ka’a’awa was just how close the houses were to the road. When I asked my dad about it, he told me that if rising greenhouse gas emissions followed even the intermediate risk scenarios as projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the houses and families living in them would be seriously