Maui in Flames: A Call to Hold Big Oil Accountable and Address Climate Change

The images of the devastating Maui fires that obliterated Lahaina were not just shocking—they were a glaring reminder of our world’s climate crisis. As President Biden gears up to visit the island, the echoing demand is clear: recognize the severity of this crisis and hold those responsible accountable.

Now, let’s be honest here. How much more evidence do we need to acknowledge that our planet is burning, quite literally? Just last week, Maui watched a disaster unfold with a fire that resulted in over 111 lives lost and caused damage worth over $5 billion. Lahaina, the historic heart and former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, faced unparalleled destruction.

And who’s to blame? The fossil fuel industry is at the very top of this list. Back in 2020, both Oahu and Maui took the step to file lawsuits against Big Oil, highlighting the evident link between rising global temperatures and the worsening fires on the islands.

Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, made a compelling point: “Hawaii communities are at the frontlines. President Biden must voice his support for the people of Maui and Honolulu. It’s high time that the fossil fuel industry stands trial for its blatant deception and pays for the havoc they’ve wreaked.”

There’s a growing sense of urgency, as evident from the Center for Climate Integrity’s declaration just before the hearing: “Maui’s deadly fires highlight the pressing need for polluters to answer for fueling the climate crisis.” It’s simple: Maui and Honolulu deserve their day in court.

But mere acknowledgment of the climate crisis won’t suffice. Connecting the tragic Maui fires to climate change is a start, but it’s imperative for Biden to drive home the fact that the oil and gas industry must face consequences for their continuing contribution to this emergency.

Despite the administration’s mixed stances on such litigation, there’s hope. Although they’ve supported Colorado communities in their fight against Big Oil, they’ve been inconsistent with claims like denying a “constitutional right to a stable climate system.”

The tragic fires, intensified by Hurricane Dora, have once again thrown the spotlight on the broader implications of climate change. It’s undeniable. Human-induced emissions from activities, especially fossil fuel consumption, make fires and hurricanes far more catastrophic.

But the ramifications of these events run even deeper for Hawaiians. Kaniela Ing, a seventh-generation Native Hawaiian and national director of the Green New Deal Network, shared his fears of outsiders exploiting the disaster for their gains, further perpetuating the long-standing trend of exploitation that Hawaiians have faced. It’s not just about recovery from the wildfires; it’s about “returning control of our cherished lands to the people who truly value them.”

Ing makes a poignant observation, urging President Biden to take concrete steps, including declaring a climate emergency. Only then can there be a halt to the very fossil fuel production that’s pushing our world to the brink? It’s more than just rebuilding. It’s about ensuring future catastrophes are prevented and working families are given priority in recovery initiatives.

This summer, marked by intense heatwaves, only reinforces the urgent need for a climate emergency declaration. The Center for Biological Diversity has outlined numerous actions Biden could undertake if he pays heed to these calls.

To sum it up, the Maui disaster isn’t just an isolated event. It’s a dire warning, a call to action. The time to act is now. Let’s ensure our planet’s cry for help doesn’t fall on deaf ears.