Maui Wildfire Is Not Due to Climate Change

The fire that devastated the island of Maui, one of the archipelago chain of Pacific islands that make up the state of Hawaii, is the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century. Environmentalists are demanding that President Biden immediately declare an unprecedented Climate Emergency, with sweeping powers. But the climate is far less a factor in this catastrophe than the deliberate destruction of agriculture, industry and infrastructure.

(Incidentally, the wildfire points to the insanity of the European Union’s newly concocted “Nature Restoration Law”, which is supposed to “restore” nature to its original state, by prohibiting farming, forestry and fishing on at least 20% of the land and sea habitats in the European Union now considered “endangered” by human activity.)

To grasp what happened in Hawaii, one has to go back to the way the islands were run. Pineapple plantations were established there in the 1890s, and by the early 1980s, they were sprawling, mostly under the control of the food cartel giants Dole and Del Monte. There were also large sugar cane plantations. The farmers of the plantations, mostly indigenous Hawaiians, were paid limited wages and assigned to drab housing.

By the late 1980s, Dole and Del Monte moved most of their pineapple production out of Hawaii, to areas of of lower labor costs (Indonesia, the Philippines, Guatemala), and had abandoned it completely by the first decade of the 21st Century. The last sugar mill in Hawaii closed at the end of 2016.

Alternative crops of nutritious food should have been planted on those abandoned plantations, and some manufacturing facilities should have been built. But nothing was done. Overall, during the last 40 years, the real value of Hawaiian farm products crashed by 50%, while the state turned toward tourism. More than 75% of the revenues on Maui come from tourism.

USA Today, in an Aug. 9 article, cited Clay Trauernicht, a professor of natural resources and environmental management at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, who points to the need to look at “the unmanaged, non-native grasslands that have flourished in Hawaii after decades of declining agriculture, where, in reality, nothing was planted on the land”.

The New York Times reported on the same day on “the relentless spread of extremely flammable, nonnative grasses on the idled lands where cash crops once flourished. Varieties like guinea grass, molasses grass and buffel grass –which originated in Africa and were introduced to Hawaii as livestock forage — now occupy nearly a quarter of Hawaii’s landmass. Fast growing when it rains and drought resistant when lands are parched, such grasses are fueling wildfires across Hawaii, including the blaze that claimed [in Maui] at least 93 lives.” Simultaneously, Hurricane Dora generated 100 km per-hour winds, which helped spread the flames.

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