Social Issues and Psychology:
Psychology & The Environment
Fall, 1997


El Niņo, Listen Now or Pay Later:
Current Environmental Problems and Long Term Solutions

Wendi Hauck, Ehren Hines, Denise Sobieski & John Ward

Please Note: These materials may be used for research, study, and education, but please credit the authors and source.

 The Ant and the Grasshopper

    Grasshopper loved the summer. She liked to sit in the bright, warm sun singing the hours away. "Tra-la-la-la, tra-la-la-lee!" she sang merrily.

ant.gif (3243 bytes)    Ant love summer, too.  But she knew better than to sit around singing. She knew that summer would not last forever, and when winter arrived there would be no food around. So she worked hard gathering corn to store for the cold months ahead.    

    "You’re so busy!" chuckled Grasshopper. "Why don’t you sit awhile and enjoy my songs."

    "Take my advice," said Ant. "If singing is all you do now, you’ll be sorry later."

    But Grasshopper wouldn’t listen. She sang all summer long and right into autumn. Before she knew it, winter came rushing in.

    Grasshopper was in trouble. She was so hungry she could hardly sing a note. "Tra-la, tra-lee," she whispered weakly. She tried to dance to keep the cold away, but finally sheghopper.gif (4693 bytes) dropped to the ground, exhausted.

    Grasshopper was lying in a heap in the snow when she saw Ant pass by with her corn. Grasshopper tried calling to Ant, but her cries for help were carried off in the cold winter wind.

    "If only I had listened," thought the weary Grasshopper, "I would not be in this trouble." 

- From The Children’s Aesop retold by Stephanie Calmenson

 

    The moral of this fable is, "Prepare today for the needs of tomorrow." This is good advice for anyone to live by, and it can be applied to any aspect of one’s life, for example, water. Clean drinking water and non-drinking water are very important resources that are not being replenished fast enough. Water conservation is a solution, and that is what the Ant would do. The residents of Maui, with their aquifers and reservoirs being depleted, have good reason to be concerned about their water supply. It is not too late for them to take action, but it is up to them to decide if they want to be grasshoppers or ants.

    The arrival of El Niņo could be a foreshadowing for the residents of Maui. El Niņo should bring a severe reduction in rainfall to Maui, and a possible water supply shortage problem. If the residents of Maui do not take the Ant’s advice, then El Niņo could possibly provide a preview of a future without water.

    This analysis will examine Maui’s constant water problem and El Niņo, and take a psychological approach to understanding these problems. Specifically it will look at: El Niņo as a complex system, Maui’s residents’ perceptions of the effects of El Niņo and the water problem, incentives and educational tools for water conservation with short and long-term solutions, and community management of El Niņo and the water problem.

Table of Contents

What is El Niņo?
What El Niņo Means for Hawaii
Hawaii’s Constant Water Problem
Humans’ Attempts to Understand and Predict El Niņo and its Effects:Humans and Complex Systems
El Niņo and Psychological Perceptions
Incentives and Education
Community Management
Conclusion & References

 

 

 

What is El Niņo?

El Niņo is a phenomenon that occurs irregularly every two to ten years around Christmas time. It begins when trade winds over the Pacific Ocean which blow from east to west along the equator suddenly slacken. These winds normally keep warm ocean water in the west Pacific near Indonesia. The winds actually push the warm water toward the west until the sea surface is about a half meter higher in Indonesia than in Ecuador. However, when the trade winds cease, the warm water levels out and moves back into the middle of the ocean toward the U.S. This prevents any upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water from the depths of the ocean which fish and other marine life depend upon for their food supply. With the lack of trade winds, other winds, such as jet streams, are now able to blow in from the west to the east and to the north, bringing rains and storms normally confined to the western Pacific.

RTN1.gif (18826 bytes)
(diagram used by permission of RTN)

    Associated with the El Niņo is another phenomenon known as the  Southern Oscillation. The ocean and the atmosphere carry on continuous dialogue such that any changes in the sea surface temperature will in turn affect the winds. It was discovered that along with the warm waters of El Niņo comes a fluctuation of atmospheric pressure between Australia and the central Pacific. When the atmospheric pressure rises in the eastern Pacific, it naturally falls in the western Pacific and vice versa. This pressure seesaw tends to occur during the El Niņo, and thus, the system together is referred to as El Niņo/Southern Oscillation or ENSO.

    El  has been known to make large changes in global atmospheric systems and weather patterns. Therefore, it is of great interest to scientists to learn about the phenomenon. However, they have had their hands full trying to study this complex and often chaotic system. No two El Niņos are exactly alike. They occur at different times and can last anywhere from three or more seasons or approximately 14-22 months. Furthermore, some El Niņos are stronger than others. Weaker El Niņos only raise the ocean water temperature one to two degrees Fahrenheit, while stronger ones can have major impacts on the global climate. For example, the El Niņo of 1982-1983 was one of stronger El Niņos, but it caught everyone by surprise because it was unlike any previous El Niņo. It was not introduced by the normal precursors and it occurred unusually late in the year.

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What El Niņo Means for Hawaii

 

At the beginning of an El Niņo, Hawaii tends to experience an increase in rainfall, but in the second year of an El Niņo, drought follows due to a jet stream produced by the ENSO known as the "pineapple express." The "pineapple express" is called so because it starts near Hawaii and moves up toward southern California, through Arizona and the gulf states, taking with it the wetness and storm systems that normally would be found in the western Pacific.

The impacts of El Niņo upon the global climates shows up most clearly during the wintertime, thus the related droughts are likely to occur during the period of October through March on the islands. This fact is well-known by the residents—the islands having experienced six major ENSO related droughts in the period between 1941-1983 (Lindsey, 1997). Another nine-month drought, from October to June, occurred during the 1991-1992 El Niņo (Lindsey, 1997). The El Niņo this year is expected to be an unusually strong one.

    These droughts can be extremely damaging to the islands and the economy of the state. Not only are residents highly inconvenienced by the lack of water for every day living, but several of the islands’ industries are damaged. The islands depend heavily upon their agriculture, especially the sugar and pineapple industries. Both of these crops need large amounts of water to sustain them. The island of Maui, specifically, relies heavily on its agriculture and is already preparing for the drought. East Maui supplies all of Upcountry’s drinking water from collected surface water, and it provides the bulk of irrigation water to the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company. A drought on East Maui affects a great deal of the island. Therefore, the Board of Water Supply on East Maui is eager to support a study of rainfall to prepare for El Niņo. These studies should allow an accuracy of sixty percent or greater.

    Tourism, another important industry on the islands, also demands a great deal of water to keep hotels and resorts running. Furthermore, the animals of the island are also put at risk. A study carried out during the 1991-1992 El Niņo found that a number of the species of native Hawaiian birds were reduced in number, had lower fat scores, and fewer active nests because the drought affected their food source, a plant that needed water to generate the seeds that the birds ate (Lindsey, 1997). Coral reefs can also be damaged by the risingRTN2.gif (25817 bytes) ocean temperatures which cause the coral tobleach and die. Finally, fish are forced to migrate due to rising temperatures which deplete their food sources, thus disrupting the fishing industry (photo used by permission of RTN).

    While drought is usually the main effect of El Niņo on Hawaii, it is not the only possible event the Hawaiians need to be concerned about. In the El Niņo of 1982-1983, abnormal wind patterns led typhoons off their usual tracks and unto the islands of Hawaii which are unaccustomed to such severe weather.

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Psy 412 Miami University. Last revised: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 17:06:36. This document has been accessed 4,359 times since July 15, 1997. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman . Also See: Social Psychology at Miami University