Polluters Should Help Protect Homes, Habitats, Lives in Hawaiʻi

From sea level rise to storms, the Aloha State is under siege

With ecosystems and communities as uniquely vibrant and varied as those of the Hawaiian archipelago, it follows that the climate impacts plaguing the islands are similarly diverse: coastal erosion and flooding that imperil its agriculture, reduce freshwater availability, and degrade vital infrastructure; extreme heat that threatens native peoples’ livelihoods, increases the spread of disease, and devastates ecosystems; severe weather events that damage businesses and homes and even take lives. These are just some of the consequences of climate change that have and will continue to cost Hawaiʻi billions.

Snapshot of Damages

$19 billion

That’s the projected amount 3.2 ft of sea level rise will cost the state in lost value of flooded structures and land as early as the middle of the century. That number doesn’t take into account the impact on the state’s tourist economy, ecosystems, roads and other critical infrastructure — nor does it factor in the cost of extreme weather events.

$15 billion

That’s how much it will cost to update roads, bridges and other highway infrastructure in Hawaiʻi, 15 percent of which the state Department of Transportation expects to be compromised by sea level rise. The department’s annual budget for highways is $280 million — less than 2 percent of that figure.


That’s how much cauliflower coral died between 1999 and 2012 as a result of rising ocean temperatures around Hawaiʻi. With about $520 million generated each year by recreational scuba divers alone, that’s a loss that could drastically reduce the state’s tourist economy.

Hold Big Oil Accountable: Local Legal Perspectives

On May 3rd, 2019, the University of Hawaiʻi School of Law hosted a panel discussion on litigation as an avenue for communities to recover the rising costs of mitigating and adapting to climate impacts in Hawaiʻi. Co-hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi and the Center for Climate Integrity, the event brought local and mainland experts to discuss the science and economics of Hawaiʻi's climate crisis and, modeled after the cases brought against the tobacco industry, the legal rationale and basis for courts to hold polluters accountable for harms they knowingly caused.

Read more about the case for cost recovery litigation in Hawaiʻi here.