By Ruby Pap
This month, I had the opportunity to attend the “Ascent: Building a Secure and Sustainable Water and Energy Future for Hawai‘i” conference at University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.
An in-depth discussion on whether Hawai‘i can achieve a sustainable future, this day-long conference hosted by UH Sea Grant and U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz brought together a host of national and local perspectives in developing, promoting and financing sustainable solutions.
You may have heard about the capstone of the conference, a lecture from former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore that brought thousands to UH Manoa’s Stan Sherriff Center. While it was great to see this famous, charismatic leader speak intelligently about the science of climate change and motivate the next generation of leaders, the day leading up to it really got down to brass tacks about Hawai‘i’s unique situation.
As the most isolated archipelago in the world, Hawai‘i faces heightened challenges regarding energy, water and waste management. Our energy source — imported petroleum — is used and wasted in incredible proportions. Water use — which is deeply connected to energy use — is unsustainable. We also face groundwater and surface water contamination as well as water shortages, which is being compounded by reduced rainfall associated with climate change. Owing in large part to the design of our communities, automobiles are the primary mode of transportation, contributing to major public health concerns.
At the same time, Hawai‘i’s isolation and size provide unique opportunities to serve as a model for sustainability. This was underscored by keynote speaker U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and the morning’s roundtable discussion, which brought together diverse perspectives and experiences on these issues.
Panelists included Polynesian Voyaging Society President Nainoa Thompson, Hawai‘i Public Utilities Commission Chair Hermina Morita, Stephen Meder, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Physical, Environmental and Long Range Planning from UH, Kyle Datta of the Ulupono Initiative, Smart Growth America President Geoff Anderson and Bruce Karas of the Coca Cola Company.
While all of these experts provided important facts and opinions, Thompson, who spoke with no visible notes, kept the crowd activated with his feelings about teaching the values of Polynesian ocean voyaging and the parallels with sustainability. He pointed out that after the first Hawaiians arrived 2,000 years ago, the population crashed and reemerged to levels estimated at 800,000 to 1,000,000. A population that was “fully sustainable,” producing for themselves without reliance on cargo ships. He emphasized the importance of kindness, caring and teaching our children — that society cannot be sustainable without that and, “We become what we teach our children.”
With that spirit from the morning to guide us, the afternoon panels got together with more experts to delve further into issues of energy policy, green building design, community design, water sustainability and bringing about change.
It is impossible to convey the major conclusions in this column’s limited space. But the fact is, the conclusions are still being written and will continue to evolve, hopefully with every citizen’s help. Conference organizers and participants will be producing various papers in different forms to help lead the way forward.
Stay tuned at seagrant.soest.hawaii.edu for more information and continuing discussion.
- Ruby Pap is a Coastal Land Use Extension Agent at University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Polynesian Voyaging Society President Nainoa Thompson and Hawai‘i Public Utilities Commission Chair Hermina Morita are seen here during the Ascent Conference at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa April 15.