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Tipsheet

Hawaii Governor Makes an Unusual Connection Between Climate Change and the Wildfires

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

During an interview on “Face the Nation,” Democrat Gov. Josh Green of Hawaii discussed the deadly wildfires that destroyed parts of Maui and some of the mistakes officials made regarding the disaster, which he agreed were “amplified” by climate change.

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Video recorded from Aug. 8 appears to show a power line in Lahaina emitting sparks, which ignites dry grass, hours before the fire wreaked havoc on the city. That’s put intense focus on Hawaiian Electric, which knew since at least 2019 that more needed to be done to strengthen its equipment to prevent such a disaster. But according to the Wall Street Journal, not much happened in the years afterward, with only $245,000 spent on wildfire prevention projects. Instead, the company was focused on renewable energy.

Referring to Hawaiian Electric, host Margaret Brennan wondered if Green knew why the company proposal for a rate hike to upgrade the grid didn’t happen and if it possibly contributed to the fire.

“I don't know personally, whether or not the power lines were the primary reason the fire occurred. That's why I asked for a comprehensive review," he said. "We have to ask the question on every level of how any one city, county, state could have done better and the private sector. This is the world that we live in now. In this case, and I've seen footage of it from some of the survivors, I've seen footage of how it looked during the fire and how things were exploding and what the fierce winds looked like. They were 80 miles per hour gusting and the fire, I'm now told, was as high as 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It just destroyed everything. It's not to excuse anything else from any company. It's just to explain what the world should prepare for and I humbly asked all of the cities and states to spend that money now to prevent disasters like we are seeing here.”

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“So just to be clear, when you're talking about global warming, are you saying that climate change amplified the cost of human error?” Brennan wondered.

“Yes, it did,” he responded. “There's always going to be incredible things that people do to save lives, from the firefighters, from citizens. And there's always going to be decisions that are made that I'm sure aren't perfect in the moment. And- but when you have fire that move more than a mile a minute, and what happened I'm told by some of the survivors, they were at the initial fire. It was put out sometime late in the afternoon in Lahaina, and then the firefighters had to go to three other fires that had started because of the conditions. When they left the fire started up again. And then when the storm winds from Dora, which were that strong, swept it out, it just destroyed everything. So, there's no excuses to ever be made. But there are finite- there are finite resources sometimes in the moment.”

Author Michael Shellenberger explained that Hawaii's wildfire problem is similar to California's - both "failed to invest in wildfire prevention."

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"[J]ust like in California, they have failed to properly manage the forests and the grasslands, keeping the area around the electrical wires clear," he said. "That was the cause of the fire, not modestly higher temperatures or slightly less rain."

In addition to the failure to invest in wildfire prevention, a state agency reportedly delayed a request from the West Maui Land Company to divert water to fight the fires - a point Shellenberger also highlighted on X. 



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