On Maui, 'Climate Change' Is Not to Blame

Lisa Schiffren27 Aug, 2023 7 Min Read
Says it all.

The wildfire that destroyed Lahaina, on Maui on August 8, was a terrible tragedy. Two weeks after it happened the death toll stands at 115, and there are still hundreds of people missing. It is likely that the death toll will reach higher, and most of those people will be children or families, who huddled together against a fire they couldn’t outrun. (It didn't help that the road out of town had been barricaded.) The fire is one of the deadliest in American history.

As evidence mounts that the fire got out of control due to human error, Hawaii's Democrat governor, Josh Green, clung to his narrative blaming the fire on “climate change.” Asked by CBS’s Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation about causes, he responded, “I know that there is debate out there about whether we should be talking about climate change or not. Well, let’s be real. Climate change is here. We are in the midst of it with a hotter planet and fiercer storms.”

Just 1,400 sunny miles north of the equator.

This is manifestly untrue. Hawaiian weather remains remarkably stable throughout the year, with only a few degrees of variation in temperatures:

Weather in the Hawaiian Islands is very consistent, with only minor changes in temperature throughout the year. There are really only two seasons in Hawaiʻi: summer (kau) from May to October and winter (hoʻoilo) from November to April. The average daytime summer temperature at sea level is 85°F (29.4°C), while the average daytime winter temperature is 78° (25.6°C). Temperatures at night are approximately 10°F lower than the daytime.

What's really important in understanding Hawaiian geography is not the compass but direction in relation to the sea: mauka (toward the central mountains) and makai (toward the sea). Climatologically, the windward side gets most of the near-daily rain, the leeward side does not. 

Throughout the year, Hawaiian weather patterns are affected primarily by high-pressure zones in the north Pacific that pump cool, moist trade winds down onto the islands’ northeastern slopes. These winds are forced upslope by the mountain heights, where their moisture condenses into clouds that produce rain. Most of the rain falls in the mountains and valleys on the windward (northeastern) side of the islands. It is this weather phenomenon that creates Hawaiʻi’s rich, green, tropical environment.

Lahaina, famously, lies on the lee side of Maui. Which is to say, the dry side:

The most popular region for visitors is the leeward side, which consists of the south shore (Kihei/Wailea/Makena) and the west side (Lahaina, Kaanapali and Kapalua). Here is where the trade winds really come in to play. The West Maui Mountains splits the winds. As the winds on the north side of island blow, they will continue to hug the north shore, but these same winds will also be funneled between the West Maui Mountains and Haleakala. This blast of wind ends up releasing in Maalaea then wrapping along the Kihei/Wailea coasts. This is why it can be so incredibly windy in the Maalaea harbor and the south shore.

Lahaina's charred remains.

There were strong winds that night coming from Hurricane Dora hundreds of miles to the south, in the Pacific Ocean. That is not the same thing as a “fierce storm,” on the island. At least Gov. Green acknowledged the human errors – which were enormous. The New York Times, entirely ignorant of island geography, initially blamed the fires on "climate change" because of course it did. Check out the lede on its Aug. 10 story: 

The fires in Hawaii would be shocking anywhere — killing at least 36 people, in one of the deadliest wildfires in the United States in modern history. But the devastation is especially striking because of where it happened: In a state defined by its lush vegetation, a far cry from the dry landscape normally associated with fire threats.

Except that, as noted above, the lee shore of Maui is a comparatively dry landscape.

Those underlying threats [allegedly caused by "climate change"] were amplified in Hawaii this week by a separate threat: Hurricane Dora, which passed south of Hawaii as a Category 4 storm on Tuesday. Though the storm was hundreds of miles off the coast of Maui, it contributed to wind speeds of greater than 60 miles per hour, helping the fire to spread at a ferocious speed.

The human errors fall into two categories: Extraordinarily foolish acts of commission which made a local fire into a massive, deadly conflagration. And longstanding environmental "net-zero" policies in place that made everyone more vulnerable to the inevitabilities of downed wires and dry beach grasses. The egregious acts include the decision by Maui’s head of emergency management agency not to sound sirens as the flames raced through the residential neighborhood. The chief, Herman Andaya, actually defended his decision not to warn people of the fire, a day before he stepped down from his position in the fire's aftermath, citing “personal health issues.” His explanation is that people would have mistaken the siren for a tsunami and sought higher ground. When asked if he regretted his decision not to sound the alarms, Andaya responded, “I do not.”

Roadblocks from Hell.

Not surprisingly, it turns out that Andaya comes out of the island’s political machine. Before he assumed his position, he was chief of staff to Maui’s mayor. He claims to have worked on prior emergencies but did not have any particular training for his job. Although just how much training you need to know to sound an alarm when there is a fire, with cell towers and power lines down, is a reasonable question.

Another reason that the fires got out of control is that the bureaucrat in charge of making the decision whether or not to use water to fight the fires –how is this even a choice?– decided water was too sacred to be used merely to put out fires. So fire hydrants went dry as the water system collapsed and flames spread. This happened because when the West Maui Land Co. requested additional water to prevent the fire from spreading, M. Kaleo Manuel, the Department of Land and Natural Resources deputy director, failed to respond.

Instead, he sent a message to a local downstream taro farm asking if it was okay to divert the water. That farm did not respond for five hours, so no water was distributed. Why, in face of a life or death emergency, did he ask the taro farmer? Manuel’s actions were dictated by his native Hawaiian spiritual practices which deem water a God-like substance, and by the Democratic sense of “equity,” that the farmer’s crop deserved the water before the residents of Lahaina deserved to have the infernal flames doused. So he let hundreds of people burn to death.

On top of all this, the 911 system went down, and gridlock on Lahaina’s one main road trapped people in their cars to burn to death. People who disobeyed government instructions telling them not to leave the area are the ones who survived. Manuel did not resign his job. He was reassigned within the company. On the Left, there is never any penalty for failure.

Some of the conditions that made the conflagration especially disastrous stem from Hawaii’s longer term energy policies, which are geared around a statewide mandate that all electricity must be produced from renewable energy sources by 2045. “Zero carbon extremism diverted the island’s main electrical producer, Hawaiian Electric, from insulating wires, clearing areas around vulnerable transmission sites, and taking other precautions to prevent wildfires it knew were likely to occur,” explained New York Post columnist Betsy McCaughey. “It dithered on prevention, while pouring funds and manpower into meeting the Hawaiian government’s mandate that all electricity must be produced from renewables by 2045.”

Apparently, “four years ago, in the aftermath of a damaging 2019 wildfire season, Hawaiian electric concluded that power lines emitting sparks were a serious threat, and the company prepared a plan for fire retardant poles, monitoring technology and insulation.“ But instead of moving forward with that, it spent less than $245,000 on fire prevention, while diverting its spending to big renewable energy projects. The destruction of Lahaina is the fruit of these national Democratic policy priorities.

Hawaii is a one-party state, and that party is the Democrats. Most Americans come to Hawaii for vacation and are charmed. I know I was. We don’t pay attention to the local politics. But it’s a total blue monopoly. Everyone making decisions in Hawaii is a Democrat, so there isn’t even anyone to second guess bad decisions or insist on consequences.

To add insult to injury, the White House basically ignored this major disaster for a week. Then, ten days in, President Biden interrupted his second vacation of the month – at Lake Tahoe – to spend a mere five hours in Hawaii and delivering a speech. The speech was stunning in its tone-deafness.

After tapping a boot on the dirt and making a joke about the ground being hot, he went on to compare the experience of those who have just faced death and destruction of all they own, to a small kitchen fire he and his wife had in one of their Delaware homes a few years ago. "I don’t want to compare difficulties, but we have a little sense, Jill and I, of what it was like to lose a home," Biden said. "Years ago, now, 15 years, I was in Washington doing ‘Meet the Press’… Lightning struck at home on a little lake outside the home, not a lake a big pond. And hit a wire and came up underneath our home, into the air conditioning ducts. To make a long story short, I almost lost my wife, my 67 Corvette, and my cat," the president claimed.

In fact, firefighters put out the small kitchen fire in 20 minutes. Unsurprisingly Lahaina residents were not amused. Who could blame them?

Lisa Schiffren has been an editorial writer, political reporter, war correspondent, (Afghanistan during the Soviet war, before there were roads), and GOP speechwriter. She wrote speeches for Vice President Dan Quayle, and worked in Counterterrorism/Special Operations policy at the Department of Defense. She writes these days from her native New York City.


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