Long Live Lahaina

In Maui, wildfires have left little behind. Shameless developers are already looking to buy up the scorched land.

Long Live Lahaina
Photograph by Kurt Bauer / Instagram

LISTENING: to a whole lot of Lana Del Rey and Olivia Rodrigo
FEELING: sad because people suck
SEEING: fluffy white clouds float outside my office window

The wildfire in Maui, Hawai'i', has killed over a hundred people in the town of Lahaina. So far. Over 1,000 people remain missing. Gov. Josh Green does not expect any more survivors to be found. Instead, crews will likely recover 10 to 20 bodies a day.

I can't fathom the weight of such loss. Every life lost has such a widespread rippling effect. The uncle who died protecting a dog he loved. The sister who almost made it out but didn't. The grandpa who loved music. Reading the stories of the deceased brings tears to my eyes, especially as I recognize how many more stories we may never hear.

Authorities are finally unraveling the events that led to the massive wildfire spread. It seems that downed power lines likely sparked several of the flames on Maui. Imagine all that might've been possible for the historic town of Lahaina had utility Hawaiian Electric, which now faces lawsuits for the fires, taken appropriate steps to prevent such a disaster. Imagine if governments took the necessary steps to hold giant utilities accountable.

What possibilities would lie ahead for the victims had their lives not been cut short? We'll never know.

Welcome to Possibilities, a creative climate newsletter on the possibilities that lie where crisis meets community. I’m Yessenia Funes, and I'm heartbroken.

I've been to Hawai'i once — to the island of O'ahu — for work. I had never met people like the Native Hawai'ians I interviewed who were attempting to revive their ahupua‘a, an agricultural land management system that connects the mountains and the corals below as a single water system.

Before colonizers razed the Kingdom of Hawai'i, the islands were lush and wet. The ahupua‘a system played a big part in keeping the ecosystem healthy and moist and the people fed. It centered traditional crops that suit the Hawai'ian climate: taro, coconuts, bananas.

Nowadays, non-native grasses cover much of the lands throughout Hawai'i, growing on fields where sugar cane plantations once sat. The dry grasses fuel the spread of fire in ways native species do not. And yet, developers have wasted no time exploiting the tragic situation for financial gain. History is bound to repeat itself if people can't learn from the mistakes of their ancestors.

Luckily, the governor is exploring whether he can ban the sale of destroyed properties. Otherwise, Hawai'i is bound to follow in the steps of other disaster-stricken tropical paradises in the U.S. After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico saw a record number of resident investors interested in buying property and receiving tax benefits. The situation has been so dire that reggaeton artist Bad Bunny even made a music video in partnership with independent journalist Bianca Graulau (whom I profiled in 2021) calling out the worsening gentrification in Puerto Rico since the 2017 hurricane.

This can't happen to Lahaina. This can't happen again anywhere. Ever. And it needs to end in Puerto Rico. These are parts of the U.S. where the legacies of colonization remain the rawest. The residents of these coastal communities are among the most vulnerable to the realities of our planet's rising temperatures. They also remain among the most abandoned by the U.S. government.

Lahaina is not for sale — and its story won't end in flames. 🌀

Rest in Power

While we can't say for certain that climate change led to these specific weather events (we need attribution studies for that), we do know that the Earth's rising temperatures are already creating more disasters like these.

106 dead in Maui and counting.

Over the weekend, severe storms killed at least two in China's southwestern region.

In Bangladesh, flash floods have killed at least 52 people as of Friday.

A landslide in Myanmar has left at least 32 people dead. They were mining for jade.

Monsoon rains in India have ended the lives of more than 60 people in the northern part of the country.

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