Editor’s note: This article was written on behalf of the Editorial Board.
After years of begging mainland tourists to stop vacationing in Hawai’i, demands from the Kānaka Maoli — the Indigenous people of Hawai’i — are finally being heard.
All it took was one of the deadliest fires in modern U.S. history.
The Lahaina and Upcountry/Kula Fires ravaged through 2,848 acres of Maui, leaving 115 dead and at least 388 individuals confirmed missing. In the wake of its destruction, the Lahaina Fire has sparked divisive discussion about resource extraction and exploitative tourism’s role in the continued oppression of the global south.
While the Kānaka Maoli grapple with what they’ve lost, people are still vacationing. Amidst fire and ash, tourists remain lounging on the beach.
That’s the problem: we have made it virtually impossible for the Kānaka Maoli to build livelihoods outside of catering to tourists. If we wanted to do something about it, we could simply stop vacationing there.
According to Washington Post’s Jessica Lipscomb, Maui residents were hit with water restrictions in 2021 that mandated $500 fines for using water “unnecessarily,” whether that be washing a car or watering a lawn. Water usage in tourist spots, however, remains largely unchecked.
“Stop coming to Hawai’i. They are treating us like second class citizens, literally cutting off our water to feed over-tourism,” tweeted former Hawai’ian legislator and current National Director for the Green New Deal Network, Kaniela Ing, on August 10. “Don’t come to Maui.”
Water is a resource that’s supposed to be abundant in Hawai’i, and our vacations have only made this water crisis worse.
Hawai’i’s reputation as a vacation spot didn’t come solely from its stunning views — it came from being an American outpost during World War II. And whether it’s wartime or not, the U.S. military maintains a serious track record when it comes to climate imperialism.
It almost goes without saying: the U.S. military is the largest polluter in the entire world, from its 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions since 2001, to its use of chemical herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. In Hawai’i, U.S. imperial power is also exercised through the continued establishment of sugar and pineapple plantations, which have extracted billions of gallons of water since the late 1800s.
In December 2021, NPR reported that Hawai’i officials had ordered the U.S. Navy to halt operations at Red Hill Bunk — a World War II-era facility — after a petroleum leak contaminated nearby water supply in Honolulu. Nearly a thousand military households were placed in temporary housing, displaced by the very system they’re on payroll for.
The U.S. military’s steel-lined tanks, filled to the brim with petroleum, sit atop aquifers that provide a quarter of Honolulu’s water supply.
If we’re not careful, plantations, resorts, and military bases will turn Hawai’i into a wasteland — a fate that we might all share soon.
Whether we call it climate change, climate crisis, catastrophe, or doom, it’s time to take the climate a lot more seriously than we’ve ever before. According to the Migration Data Portal, 32.6 million were internally displaced by climate disasters during 2022 alone, with 8.7 million still displaced at the end of the year.
It’s hard not to sound like a broken record when every summer is the hottest summer we’ve ever lived through. And with every year, the sea rises, threatening entire cities with displacement.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this calendar year has marked record breaking heat more than 20,431 times in the United States alone. Similarly, 2023 has brought devastating fires and flood-bearing rains to all parts of the world: from the Canary Islands in Spain to Maui, from Nova Scotia to Chongqing.
Even Santa Cruz, in all of its idyllic splendor, has not been spared.
It’s often dismaying to think about the climate — trust us, we know. At times, it feels like we can’t do anything: we cast our votes for politicians who promise to take climate seriously, but they end up voting for billion-dollar military budgets and regressive climate policies anyway.
But deciding not to buy a plane ticket to Hawai’i? That’s something we can all do — and we have to start now.