When Paradise Burns: The Real Cost of Climate Denial in Hawaii

As the ashes settle and families mourn their lost loved ones in Hawaii, questions arise. How did the tropical paradise become a death trap? Is this another cruel price to pay for humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels?

Last week, the Hawaiian wildfires, which have tragically claimed the lives of 80 people, became the emblem of climate change’s fury. Hawaiian State Attorney General Anne Lopez took a stand to review the decisions leading up to and during the wildfires. While her heart goes out to the victims, Lopez’s initiative signals the beginning of a deeper dive into understanding the disaster’s causes.

However, reports already suggest Hawaii was woefully ill-prepared. Despite acknowledging the growing wildfire threat, the state lacked the resources to address it effectively. Maui, in particular, had seen an alarming rise in acres consumed by wildfires, yet funds for prevention were scant. Furthermore, the county fire department’s strategic plan lacked proactive measures to prevent fires, a glaring omission.

Local officials were taken by surprise. Maui Fire Chief Brad Ventura recounted the horrific speed at which the fire spread in Lahaina, previously the Hawaiian Kingdom’s bustling capital. While Mother Nature’s fury, in the form of Hurricane Dora, exacerbated the situation, there was another critical issue at hand: communication. Numerous survivors claim they received no warning before the flames encroached upon them. Though official alerts were sent out, power and cellular outages rendered them ineffective.

Amidst this tragedy, it’s worth noting the staggering toll of the fires: over 1,400 displaced people seeking refuge, 86% of exposed structures being homes, and an estimated rebuilding cost of $5.52 billion. As firefighters continue to battle the remaining blazes and humanitarian groups assist the displaced, a cry is emerging – a call for accountability.

This tragedy isn’t merely the result of a downed power line or hurricane-force winds, but an outcome of systemic issues rooted in climate change. Kaniela Ing, a Native Hawaiian and national director of the Green New Deal Network, highlighted the undeniable connection between the climate emergency and the raging fires. He points out how the conditions for such devastating fires were shaped by climate change – the dry vegetation, low humidity, and overheating of our planet.

Delving into Hawaii’s history, Ing emphasizes how its land has been mismanaged by influential missionary families who diverted water for their corporate ventures, turning wetlands into vulnerable fire zones. This underscores the broader point: the events we often label “natural disasters” are influenced, if not directly caused, by human actions and decisions.

To truly care for our Earth, or ‘āina as Hawaiians call it, we must confront the polluters that are driving climate change. This isn’t about politics. It’s about survival. Hawaii’s fires have illuminated the pressing need for change. As the world watches and mourns, it’s clear: it’s high time to prioritize our planet before profit.