Column: Climate change demands action now

EDITORIAL | ISLAND VOICES
By Kawika Pegram Sept. 29, 2019

In Hawaii, thousands of people across the islands went on strike from their schools, workplaces and their regular lives to join the climate fight in their neighborhood. We did it to show the political will for bold action on climate. On Sept. 20, we demonstrated for political leaders at every level of government here that we have their backs when they stand up to the giant, wealthy fossil fuel industry.

We know that it is now or never. Either we push now beyond the boundaries of what is normal and enter us all into a new age of climate solutions, justice and action, or we suffer the consequences of an unwinding climate.

Real climate solutions come in the form of local decisions and actions that directly reduce carbon emissions. For the Youth Climate Strike on Oahu, those real solutions included:

Meatless Mondays in all public schools

This program offers students in public school a vegetarian or vegan meal for breakfast and lunch every Monday. Estimates from the United Nations puts meat consumption at 14.5% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. If we can cut down on that source of emissions even just one day, we will make a huge contribution to the fight against climate change.

Cleaner energy on Oahu

Bill 25 is a Honolulu City and County bill to give residents lower energy maintenance costs while also encouraging the use of electric vehicles. This bill mandates that new single-family homes be constructed with solar water heaters instead of gas heaters, which will save homeowners money daily and also significantly reduce carbon emissions from residential housing.

Coal-free Hawaii by 2023

We want to see Hawaii’s last coal plant shut down by the end of 2022. The AES coal plant in Honolulu is the dirtiest source of energy in the islands. It produces 180 megawatts of energy and 660 thousand pounds of toxic gas every year. In addition, AES produces toxic coal ash that is dumped near homes in Nanakuli. AES is currently trying to increase their carbon emissions (which exacerbate climate change) and is using the carbon savings at other facilities to justify their increase. This facility should be shut down and all the workers retrained in high-quality jobs in the clean energy industry.

As an island community, we are at the forefront of the climate crisis. Without immediate and sweeping change to tackle this issue right now, Hawaii will definitely undermine the future for all keiki here. A future of worse hurricanes than we’ve ever seen, raging wildfires, and a dead ocean. Why make the keiki pay for the climate disasters caused by the carbon emissions of previous generations? Please do not stick us with that burden.

This reality is not a long time away, but with immediate, urgent action we can still prevent the worst of it. We have all the technological, political and cultural means of easing the climate crisis at this very moment in this state. The only factor left is the will to do it. I and all of my peers are looking to you now to help us manifest the political will to make these changes.

Call your state legislators and tell them you’d like them to support Meatless Mondays. Call your City Council member and tell them you support Bill 25. Call the state Health Department to deny AES an increase in carbon emissions.

When our kids see the news over the next decade about each new climate catastrophe, they will want to know that we did everything we could to stop it. Did we?

Kawika Pegram is the Hawaii state lead for the Youth Climate Strikes; he is a student at Waipahu High School.