RU ready for ‘weird’ weather? the case for adaptive investment

cold kauai decembers, click for larger

As we track and anticipate climate change in these islands, the one certainty seems to be that we are in for “weird” weather.

For example, the record-cold December on Kaua`i (see chart) and the recent Hanalei gusher that broke records (and gauges) certainly qualify as "Black Swan events"--things previously thought to be rare that occur with increasing frequency.

Of course, those who build models of "system dynamics" tell us this weirdness is an expected consequence of the "hockey stick" trends we're now seeing. Every major geo-physical indicator is ramping up faster and faster (see chart below), and this accelerating quantitative change is generating startling qualitative changes.

So, not just weird, but weirder-and-weirder is what's in sticks

Now, some of the Councilmembers chuckled when I testified that "extreme rain events" on top of drought conditions (which is what climate models predict for Hawai`i) will virtually guarantee a big boost in our pothole budget!

Yet, we'll probably also need to tweak our storm-drainage system with special provisions for these massive surges of water. Heck, there might even be a way to generate lots of energy from these rain events with a combination of inflatable bladders and micro-hydro.

Either way, as we look forward into the twenty-teens, our Mayor as well as island business, education and community leaders recognize that business-as-usual (BAU) is not an option. (I know this because dozens of these leaders have participated in my sustainability seminars, where we focus on weird weather as one of three principal threats from our unsustainability; the other two are resource depletion and social unrest.)

BAU is not an option because many features of our inherited system that have remained unchanged for decades will all change rapidly in the decades just ahead…Things like where our food and energy comes from, how we get around, and how we make stuff.

Moreover, much of this change will be forced upon us by altered circumstances. Especially out here at the end of some very long “supply chains”, our prospects for at least periodic disruptions are bankable.

Nor is "outside help" to be expected, and not just because other areas will have their own similar challenges, but especially because our Kaua`i circumstances are unique and we'll need to innovate our own solutions here.

So, RU ready for weird weather?

IMHO, these prospects are going to drive a new wave of innovation here on Kaua`i that will forge new sustainable systems for our island we produce and store our own food and energy, convert our vehicles and tools to electric power, and retrofit our buildings as integral energy, water and waste systems. I call these the "four investments" for sustainability.

In fact, we might consider adopting this "investment" approach as our island's "sense of mission" on top of all our personal resolutions for 2010.

After all, surrounded as we are by "Black Swans" and "hockey sticks", we don't want to end up saying "we thought we had more time."



Added: Andy Revkin reports on the Arctic Oscillation that seems to be causing our recent cold weather.


Added: Average daily low temperatures for December, recorded in my hometown of Kapa`a, for each of the last 4 years were:

63.5 (2006)

66.3 (2007)

65.8 (2008)

60.3 (2009)

Published by Ken on January 4th, 2010 tagged Climate Change, Community Initiatives

One Response to “RU ready for ‘weird’ weather? the case for adaptive investment”

  1. AhmetKazanc Says:

    Thx Ken for this thoughtful article. I believe Kauai's weather is God's Gift to Kauai society. Its a beautiful gift towards achieving sustainability.

    Nothing will be BAU, you are right. But Kauai will be very windy, rainy and sunny. This will make it possible to grow plants that would never grow elsewhere, develop energy system that will not make economical sense in other parts the world, produce its own water without needing to buy it from elsewhere...