Climate Change has arrived and scientists are calling for urgent action. Within 8 years fossil fuel use needs to stop, if the world wants a decent chance at a livable future. Maui has made great progress in solar and wind energy and together they keep 0.4 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere every year.
But hardly anyone talks about the elephant in the room: Tourism’s CO2 impact overshadows all other CO2 sources.
It just doesn’t make sense anymore. 3 million people fly to Maui to spend just 8 days on average. Their flights emit 2 million tons of CO2 per year, five times of what we save with renewable energy. And if we count in the NOX emissions, the disturbances in the upper atmosphere, etc. we should truthfully count the climate impact as 6 million tons of CO2/year.
The average human is responsible for 4 tons of CO2. Europeans emit 10 tons. Americans 20 tons. Mauians also 20 tons, but if we divide the flight emissions by 170,000 residents, the average Mauian is at 55 tons of CO2 total. That may look like a funny calculation, but tourism is our industry and there can be an argument made that each industry is responsible for its emissions.
Politicians and planners have been carefully avoiding this issue and spent the last decades focused on reducing CO2 emissions in the electricity sector.
But with the increasing awareness that our world is on fire, it will be only a question of time that tourists will look for destinations that are closer. Next summer, when the California wildfires break out again, many people will ask themselves what they can do to reduce their carbon footprint. “Flight Shame” is already a big word in Europe and has caused a reduction of up to 10% in flights.
This is an issue that airlines are wrestling with and they understand that their future growth may not be secure. ICAO has created a scheme to make additional international flights after 2021 carbon neutral. Two airlines (EasyJet and JetBlue) have become carbon neutral by buying carbon offsets, which are based on forest preservation, tree planting or solar.
So, shall we close the airport, then?
It is urgent to think about Maui’s future and how it fits into a carbon-conscious world. Can we extend the average stay of tourists? Can we transition to a healthcare economy where patients come for months? How would Maui handle 10, 20, 30% reductions in tourist traffic?
How about this: Close the airport to all flights that are not carbon neutral.
This will force the airlines to purchase carbon offsets that soak up the CO2 emitted and it will support efforts towards aviation biofuel. It’s not a budget killer – those offsets should not add more that $40 to a roundtrip ticket. Easyjet did not even increase its prices when going carbon neutral.
Or, even better, charge a $40 carbon offset fee in addition to landing fees. With this we can create our own offset industry. Planting trees on Haleakala, Molokai and Lanai that are paid for by the $120 million/year windfall.
Some of those trees could be fast growing species that can serve our needs for building materials. In fact, tree planting is a great investment in insecure times and it generally outperforms the stock market. There are trees that can be harvested in a matter of 8 or 10 years.
And then there is Biochar – the transformation of agricultural waste into a form of carbon that supports a healthy soil and locks in CO2 for thousands of years. With money from carbon fees that could become a viable business, employing lots of people.
So there are some paths that Maui can take – but if not, closing the airport would be the very best thing for the planet we could do. And some folks would like a quiet paradise and are rooting for that! #NOGG
Maui data: https://www.hisbdc.org/BusinessResearchLibrary/MauiCountyDataBook2018.aspx
Triple effect: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_aviation#Total_climate_effects
2,500,000 US visitors @ 650kg CO2 plus 500,000 Intl visitors @ 730 kg CO2
= 1,625,000 + 365,000 = 2,000,000 tons CO2 per return flight
Carbon offset: $20/ton, calculate triple effect = 2 tons/return flight