As climate-related disasters become more frequent, more unpredictable and intensively destructive, a step change is needed in how governments and societies respond to the threat. In this regard, state authorities in Hawaii appear to have been badly behind the curve. An emergency management plan, published by state officials last year, identified tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic hazards as potentially deadly threats, but described the risk of wildfires to human life as “low”. That judgment now looks culpably complacent.

Global heating has inaugurated an era of climatic instability and volatility. Proactively analysing and preparing for worst-case scenarios means acting to anticipate disasters that may not happen, and persuading the public that such caution is worth the cost – both financially and in terms of disruption. The rest of the world, not just Hawaii, needs to wake up to this new and deeply challenging reality.

The Guardian view on Hawaii’s lethal wildfire: lessons to learn from a catastrophe