Nick Pope on August 20, 2023
Democratic Hawaii Gov. Josh Green attributed some blame for the catastrophic Maui fires to climate change when he appeared on CBS’ Face The Nation on Sunday to address the tragedy.
In his interview with Margaret Brennan, Green suggested the theory that global warming and climate change exacerbated the damage and severity of the fire that devastated the town of Lahaina, after numerous reports surfaced suggesting that human error before and during the crisis may have worsened a dangerous situation into a full-scale calamity. He further pointed to arid conditions and the winds of Hurricane Dora, which was passing the Hawaiian archipelago hundreds of miles to the south as the fires raged on Aug. 8.
“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 asked.
“Yes, it did,” Green responded, adding, “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.”
The winds that fanned the flames that destroyed Lahaina appear to have been natural trade winds, not from Hurricane Dora, according to analysis by Cliff Mass, a meteorologist and professor for the University of Washington’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences.
Reports have indicated that the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) waited about five hours to approve a request to divert water that would have been used to fight fires in the town, by which time the siphon needed to divert the water could not be reached because conditions had deteriorated. Fire hydrants in Lahaina reportedly ran dry, leaving firefighters unable to battle the blazes.
“I know that there is debate out there whether we should be talking about climate change or not,” Green said during the interview. “Well, let’s be real world, climate change is here, we are in the midst of it with a hotter planet, and fiercer storms.”
Maui’s crisis response agency opted against sounding the emergency siren system, a move which Herman Andaya, the agency’s leader, defended in a press conference last week. Andaya resigned from his post Thursday as public and media backlash to his agency’s decision mounted.
“For perspective, we’ve had six fire emergencies this August, we had six fire emergencies between 1953 and 2003,” Green said during the interview. “That’s how- how fast things are changing.”
Overgrown non-native grasses rendered large swaths of Maui akin to an open-air tinderbox, thereby increasing risks of a massive wildfire, a fact known to the state’s government for years before these fires started, according to The New York Times. These grasses took over lands that once served as the sites of sugar farms for much of the 20th century, which eventually moved to other regions of the world as globalized trade made relocation economically advantageous.
Green’s office did not respond immediately to a request for comment.