Cost-Effective For Whom? Responding to NextEra

I cringed when I saw this morning’s Hawaii Tribune-Herald article NextEra Adviser: Co-ops Not Cost-Effective. Now NextEra, the company hoping to acquire Hawaii Electric Industries (HEI), has a Massachusetts-based spokesman speaking for it.

NextEra says it’s sensitive to Hawai‘i, but this spokesman is from Massachusetts. It’s exactly what many of us are wary of – mainland advisors with no idea of the complexity of the issues. The NextEra spokesman didn’t even seem to know that the Big Island has an abundance of natural resources quite different from what’s available on the mainland.

NextEra says if it purchases HEI in its proposed $4.3 billion deal, it would let us have an advisory board – but that doesn’t really mean anything. An advisory board wouldn’t have any power. It would be the same thing as a representative to Congress back in the Territorial days.

NextEra would be investor-owned, which means its goal would be to make money for it investors and shareholders. That would be the priority. If it benefits the Hawai‘i ratepayer at all, that would be incidental.

Contrast that with the co-op, which is non-profit and it is not taxed (that savings is returned to the ratepayers). Right there, even without making any other changes, a co-op already saves money compared to an investor-owned utility because it pays no taxes.

The co-op is not going to tell you exactly what it is going to do. We are going to set the framework so we and future generations will always be equipped to make decisions and do what is best as conditions change. There’s no way we can know now what the future holds.

Co-ops have a nine-member board of directors, with each member having a staggered term. Every year, three positions come up for election. This keeps it sensitive to what’s going on in the community. The co-op’s board structure is a self-correcting mechanism that is responsive to what the people are thinking as attitudes change over time. You don’t see that in a powerful company that’s located far away.

A company like NextEra tells you what it’s going to do and then locks it in – because that’s how it makes money for its investors. Not because it works for the local community, or saves money for ratepayers.

Keep in mind, it’s not the biggest or the strongest that survive; it’s the ones that can adapt to change. NextEra is by far the biggest (but so were the dinosaurs, and they’re not around anymore).

Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative is big enough (it will be part of a 900-member cooperative association with its own, healthy, financial institution) and it’s about adapting. It’s about doing what we have the opportunity to do for the Big Island right now – changing our energy utility to a cooperative model –  so we, and future generations, can adapt to changing conditions as needed, and survive and thrive.

Community Listening Sessions: The PUC Wants To Hear

This is probably the last chance in this generation to have a say in how our electric utility is run.

The PUC is going to travel around the state in September holding “community listening sessions.” They want to know what we think about the HEI/NextEra merger application.

Here on the Big Island, we want to ask the PUC to consider a co-op model, similar to the Kauai Island Energy Cooperative.

The reason I say it’s probably our only opportunity is because you have to have a willing seller to put such a plan into place, and in the absense of something earth-shattering, this probably won’t come up again in our lifetime. It’s speak up now, or miss our chance.

It’s definitely in our best interest to show up at these PUC meetings and ask them to consider our co-op model: the Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative. Otherwise we miss our chance to make a change for the better.

If you are not clear on what a co-op model would look like, it’s really very simple: We’re only suggesting a change in the business model of how the electric utility operates, and that means three essential differences from how things operate now.

Some people will say we don’t have enough qualified people. Well, let’s say we didn’t change any of the employees running Hawaiian Electric, but only changed the business model. There goes that argument. There is no argument.

Essentially, there would just be three differences.

1)    The co-op would be an investor-owned, non-profit utility that does not pay taxes, and the money we save would go straight back to the people.

2)    The co-op would be a non-profit model that existed to do what the people want. People would elect the board of directors, and if people were not happy with the board of directors, they could fire them by not electing them again.

3)    People always wonder if the co-op would have enough money. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, or NRECA, which is made up of 900 co-ops in the United States, owns its own finance company; its own bank. Its whole objective is to manage co-ops. That’s why they are called co-ops—they cooperate with each other. They have plenty of money.

It’s not any more complicated than that. The big question here is which business model will work best for the people in terms of managing our utility. This is not rocket science.

It’s important that we show up and speak up when the PUC asks us to. Attend the meetings next month — I’ll post when and where they are — and ask the PUC to consider the co-op. Ask them to consider what’s really best for the people of the Big Island.

Hurricane Ignacio Update: Sunday 2:45 p.m.

Update, 8:45 p.m.:

Civil Defense, Young Brothers and everyone lifted the Tropical Storm watch. We dodged the bullet again. Thanks, everyone!

***

It’s been quite a hurricane season already this year!

Right now we are watching Ignacio. At 2:45 p.m. today, Hawaii County Civil Defense announced that Hurricane Ignacio was posing an “anticipated reduced threat.” It’s still a Category 3 hurricane, currently with sustained winds of 115 miles per hour and higher gusts, and right now it’s about 380 miles east of Hilo moving 12 miles per hour to the northwest. They say it’s gradually weakening.

Everything indicates, too, that it’s moving more to the north of the islands now and will move parallel to the Hamakua coast. This is good, but what worries me is the size of the hurricane. As it moves along its path, spinning counterclockwise, its winds affect us on the Hamakua coast first. This is a big coastline up alongside a mountain, so it operates like a valley. The winds come from the north and are forced up against the slopes of the mountain. The energy doesn’t go over the top of the mountain, but runs down the slope and is concentrated along the Hamakua coast from the north to the south.

That’s why we’re still a bit concerned about this one. That’s good news that it’s weakening, but its winds are still 115 miles per hour and it only takes 55 mph winds to flatten a banana tree.

So they can say what they way to say, but at the moment those winds are traveling at 100-something miles per hour, so am I going to go catch a plan to Honolulu because I’m so sure nothing’s going to happen here? I don’t think so!

But we’ve secured everything at the farm that needs to be secured. So we’ll wait and see.

Take care everyone. The update from Hawaii County Civil Defense is here:

This is a Hurricane information update for Sunday August 30th at 2:45PM.

As of 2:00 PM this afternoon Hurricane Ignacio was continuing on a northwest track at 12 miles per hour and remains a category 3 hurricane. Ignacio was located approximately 380 miles east of Hilo and recording sustained winds of 115 miles per hour with higher gusts. Hurricane force winds extend outwards from the center up to 30 miles and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 160 miles.

Although the National Weather Service Tropical Storm Watch for Hawaii Island remains in effect, the present track and gradual weakening of Ignacio is presenting with an anticipated reduced threat to Hawaii Island. Based on the anticipated and improved forecast outlook, evacuation centers will not be opened at this time. The Civil Defense Agency will continue to maintain close communication with the National Weather Service and monitor the system. 

All DOE public schools and private schools will be open tomorrow.

In addition all government offices will be open for normal business. 

The High Surf Warning issued for the east facing shores of Hawaii Island will remain in effect through 6:00PM Tuesday evening. Surf heights are expected to increase today and build to possibly 15 to 20 feet. Residents in low lying coastal areas and boat owners are advised to take necessary precautions. 

Please monitor your local radio broadcast for additional updates.

Kalakaua at Lick Observatory

Did you know that Kalakaua was a true astronomy buff? He sailed across the ocean and rode a stagecoach up to the Lick Observatory outside San Jose.

My friend Peter Matlock, who just visited Lick Observatory, sent me this account of his visit:

My wife and I were recently at the University of California’s Lick Observatory, built outside San Jose back in 1880. 

For all those invoking the monarchy as they protest at the new leading location for astronomy, it might be useful to remind them that one of the first visitors to Lick, and an evident supporter, was King Kalakaua.

When Kalakaua made the trip in the 1880s, there was a single lane dirt road and it took 4 to 5 hours to travel by stagecoach from San Jose—and this after the voyage to get from Hawai`i to San Jose in the first place.

It still takes a high sense of dedication to and appreciation for the science of astronomy to make the trip to the Lick Observatory. Today it’s an hour drive and an elevation gain of over 4,200 feet from San Jose up a twisty narrow mountain road (365 turns, many hairpins)—often with a cliff on one side and a sheer drop-off on the other (and generally no guard rails).

I thought you might like to see some pictures I took there, as well.

IMG_3268

When the Lick Observatory  was built, it had the then-largest refracting and reflecting telescopes in the world.

IMG_0952
 
This facility was the leading astronomy facility at the end of the 19th century and has a long tradition of scientific innovations and discoveries. These include the almost immediate discovery of the fifth moon of Jupiter, use of photography and spectroscopy to record data and revolutionize our ability to probe and understand the universe, development of adaptive optics technology to improve resolution of astronomical images in real time, and Lick’s newest telescope—the Automated Planet Finder to discover planets outside our solar system.
The Lick Observatory continues to be a pioneer facility in astronomy.  

Cheaper Electricity: The Need Hasn’t Changed

Every so often I’m going to repost something here that I feel is still significant.

This article, which I submitted to the Big Island Chronicle and ran in April 2014, talks about some of the important principles behind why we formed the Big Island Community Coalition. It still applies.

***

A Call For Cheaper Electricity

Here is the single most important need facing Hawai‘i today. Everything else radiates from it:

We need cheaper electricity.

It can be done. Recently the Big Island Community Coalition, along with others, helped stop some fairly significant electricity rate hikes from showing up on everybody’s HELCO bills.

And we are very lucky to have resources here, such as geothermal energy, that we can use to generate much cheaper electricity.

Here’s why this is so important:

• We need enough food to eat, and we need to grow it here, instead of relying on it coming to us from somewhere else.

Food security – having enough food to eat, right here where we live – is truly the bottom line. We live in the middle of an ocean, we import more than 80 percent of what we eat, and sometimes there are natural or other disasters and shipping disruptions. This makes a lot of us a little nervous.

• To grow our food here, we need for our farmers to make a decent living: “If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm.”

The price of oil, and of petroleum byproducts like fertilizers and many other farming products, keeps going up, which raises farmers’ costs. They cannot pass on all these higher costs, and they lose money.

We use oil for 70 percent of our electricity here in Hawai‘i, whereas on the mainland they use oil for only 2 percent of theirs—so when the cost of oil increases, anything here that requires electricity to produce is less competitive. And farmers in Hawai‘i also pay four times as much for electricity as do their mainland competition, which puts them at an even bigger competitive disadvantage. Fewer young people are going into farming and this will impact our food security even further.

HELCO needs to be a major driver in reducing the cost of electricity. We believe that HELCO is fully capable of providing us with reliable and less costly electrical power, and ask that the PUC reviews its directives to and agreements with HELCO. Its directives should now be that HELCO’s primary objective should be making significant reductions in the real cost of reliable electric power to Hawai‘i Island residents.

At the same time, we ask that HELCO be given the power to break out of its current planning mode in order to find the most practicable means of achieving this end. We will support a long-range plan that realistically drives down our prices to ensure the viability of our local businesses and the survivability of our families. All considerations should be on the table, including power sources (i.e., oil, natural gas, geothermal, solar, biomass, etc.), changes in transmission policy including standby charges, and retaining currently operating power plants.

This is not “us” vs. “them.” We are all responsible for creating the political will to get it done.

Rising electricity costs act like a giant regressive tax: the people on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder get hurt first, and hardest. If our energy costs are lower – and we can absolutely make that happen – our farmers can keep their prices down, food will be cheaper, and consumers will have more money left over at the end of the month. This is good for our people, and for our economy.

We have good resources here and we need to maximize them. Geothermal and other options for cheaper for energy. We also have the University of Hawai‘i, the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center and others that help our farmers.

To learn more about achieving cheaper electricity rates, consider joining the Big Island Community Coalition (bigislandcommunitycoalition.org; there’s no cost). We send out an occasional email with information on what we’re doing to get electricity costs down, and how people can help.

Remember the bottom line: every one of us needs to call for cheaper electricity, and this will directly and positively impact our food security.

Shale Gas: Should We Take Their Word For It?

Do we really want to bet the Big Island’s future on the Energy Information Agency’s projections? It’s much more prudent to hedge our bets. Have a look at what people are saying about recent projections.

From the Post Carbon Institute:

Shale Gas Reality Check

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently released its Annual Energy Outlook 2015. How have their projections and assumptions changed over the last year, and how does it hold up to scrutiny against up-to-date production data from key shale gas and tight oil plays?

In 2014, Post Carbon Institute and David Hughes published the most thorough independent analysis of U.S. shale gas and tight oil production ever conducted, and now that analysis has been updated to assess the most current thinking from the EIA. 

The update shows that the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2015 reference case suffers from even greater optimism than the previous year—raising what were already highly questionable projections for cumulative shale gas production through 2040 by nine percent…. Read the rest

This recent Los Angeles Times article is one example of some of the reality:

U.S. officials cut estimate of recoverable Monterey Shale oil by 96%

By Louis Sahagun

Federal energy authorities have slashed by 96% the estimated amount of recoverable oil buried in California’s vast Monterey Shale deposits, deflating its potential as a national “black gold mine” of petroleum.

Just 600 million barrels of oil can be extracted with existing technology, far below the 13.7 billion barrels once thought recoverable from the jumbled layers of subterranean rock spread across much of Central California, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said…. Read the rest

Steve Horn, Research Fellow with DeSmogBlog, also wrote about the EIA’s projects. This article, Drilling Deeper: New Report Casts Doubt on Fracking Production Numbers, appeared in the Huffington Post:

The report’s findings differ vastly from the forward-looking projections published by the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA), a statistical sub-unit of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

…”The Department of Energy’s forecasts–the ones everyone is relying on to guide our energy policy and planning–are overly optimistic based on what the actual well data are telling us,” Hughes — a geoscientist who formerly analyzed energy resources for over three decades for the Geological Survey of Canada — said in a press release about the reporting’s findings. 

“By asking the right questions you soon realize that if the future of U.S. oil and natural gas production depends on resources in the country’s deep shale deposits…we are in for a big disappointment in the longer term….” Read the rest

Guest Post: Rat Lungworm Disease in Hawai‘i

  • Did you know that 90 percent of the confirmed Rat Lungworm cases in Hawai‘i are found in people from East Hawai‘i?
  • That you should remove lettuce leaves by hand before washing them, not chop them off the core? (That one stopped me, careful me, in my tracks.)

We have a guest post today written by Marlena Castro Dixon, M.S., an epidemiological specialist with the Hawai‘i State Department of Health, Hawaii District Health office.

Marlena was born and raised in Hilo and received her education from the University of New Mexico. She works for the Disease Outbreak Control Division, Disease Investigation Branch.

She’s well qualified to tell us about Rat Lungworm disease, which, of course, is especially prevalent here on the Big Island. She tells us what it is, how it happens, and especially how to prevent it.

Rat Lungworm Disease in Hawai‘i

by Marlene Castro Dixon, M.S.

One of the benefits of living in Hawaii’s great climate is having access to fresh produce year-round. However, a rare disease called Angiostrongyliasis or Rat Lungworm Disease (RLWD) has gained the attention of the community, especially on the Big Island. The severity and symptoms of Rat Lungworm disease varies from person to person and can be a very devastating illness to the patient and their families.

RLWD can affect anyone — residents, farmers, visitors, even other animals such as dogs. All face the risk, especially if they are not aware of this illness. Prevention is crucial, so that all can enjoy our local produce without being infected with the Rat Lungworm. RLWD cannot be passed from human to human, making prevention crucial.

There are lots of facts to know, but understanding how this disease transmits from rats and other vectors to humans is important. RLWD is caused by a parasite, Angiostrongylus cantonensis. Adult worms reside in the lungs of rats, hence the name “Rat Lungworm.” Infected rats pass the larvae in their feces which are then passed onto hosts such as slugs, snails, fresh water prawns, crabs, flatworms, frogs and other vectors by consuming the infected feces. Humans can become infected when they eat raw produce containing slugs or snails or eat undercooked fresh water shrimp or crab, other infected vectors or contaminated water.

Once consumed by a human, the larvae cannot finish their lifecycle. The parasites invade the nervous system and the brain tissue, causing specific neurologic symptoms depending on where in the brain they migrate. Neurologic symptoms such as parasthesia, hyperesthesia (severe sensitivity to the touch) skin pain, sensitivity or numbness, and photophobia subside as initial damage is done by the migration of the worms.

Secondary damage is done by the inflammatory response to the presence of dead and dying worms. This inflammatory response causes swelling of the protective covering of the brain and the spinal cord, a condition known as Eosinophilic Meningitis. As previously mentioned, symptoms will vary from person to person, making Angiostrongyliasis or Rat Lungworm disease very difficult to diagnose.

Diagnosis of the disease can be difficult and involves an extensive look at the patient’s food history and possible environmental exposures. Currently, the only way to test and confirm a case of RLWD is through a spinal tap. Due to its invasive nature, not all patients come in for testing. As a result, some potentially infected patients are not seeking a proper diagnosis, which has contributed to the low number of confirmed cases.

Between 2007 and 2014, Hawaii has had 42 confirmed cases of RLWD. However, the Big Island of Hawaii, particularly the east side, is disproportionately affected by Rat Lungworm Disease, accounting for approximately 90% of these cases. Because of this, the Department of Health (DOH) partners with other agencies to work on educating the public in various ways to be sure there is public awareness, allowing residents and visitors to enjoy our local produce safely.

The DOH has also worked on things like testing for RLWD locally. The DOH can now test for RLWD here in Hawaii, instead of having to send specimens to the CDC, enabling physicians to make a diagnosis and treat the patient earlier. Despite our efforts, we still have a long way to go.

Fortunately, there are precautions that can prevent transmission of the disease. Always carefully rinse fresh produce with potable water, and discard any that looks like it may have the presence of slugs or snails. It’s easier than you might think to miss a tiny creature in the folds of a leafy vegetable. For leafy greens, open up, peel off each leaf (do not chop off the core), and rinse each leaf one by one to the base of the stems. Visually inspect the produce while rinsing. Use a steady stream of water as there currently is no product or solution to wash your produce that will kill this parasite.

Cooking vegetables will kill the parasite. Boil snails, freshwater prawns, crabs and frogs for at least 3-5 minutes. Never handle slugs and snails with your bare hands. Control the slugs and snails on your property as well as the rodent population. Proper filtering and maintenance of catchment tanks and a proper cover is important for prevention as the parasite can survive in water. Prevent children from putting objects in their mouths, especially when playing outside. Bring food and water dishes for your pets indoors at night if possible.

Whether visiting or living in Hawaii, enjoy the local food, but know the exposure risks and keep in mind that there are preventative measures that can prevent a devastating disease from harming you and your family.

For more information, please visit:
Angiostrongyliasis, or ANGIOSTRONGYLIASIS (RAT LUNGWORM)

or call 808-586-4586.
For details on slug and snail control visit: Control and management of slug and snail vectors, with special reference to species in Hawaii.

Could Big Island Feed All Its People Using Traditional Methods?

Sometimes, here on the Big Island, we hear someone say this:

“The Big Island used to feed a population about this size by farming without the use of GMOs, pesticides, and other farming aids, and we can do it again.”

But could we? We examined this from several angles. 

Dr. Bruce Mathews, interim dean of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources, says research shows that in pre-Western contact times, most Hawai‘i Island residents spent most of their days on activities related to agriculture. He says this would be a big shock if we tried to return to a subsistence type of lifestyle.

“I’ve seen a lot of times at the College of Agriculture where people want to spend a day in the field, doing agricultural things, and they end up saying, Gosh, I’ve never worked so hard in my life.”

“It sounds very, very challenging,” he says, “just in terms of the amount of labor to grow all that food without mechanization and without fertilizers. I don’t know how many people today really want to spend a lot of time on drudgery labor. Going in the forest to clear, digging holes, sticking mulch inside them, waiting awhile for everything to rot, and to transplant.”

He says it would be even more challenging these days, because now we have imported diseases, pests, and other invasives.

“I’m okay if people don’t want to use GMOs and chemicals, but I’d want to know who’s going to do all the labor,” he says. “Who’s going to pull all the weeds and control all the pests? Because if you’re going to do that naturally, you’re going to have to be out there every day spraying with natural products and pulling weeds all the time. I think it’s delusional, unless everybody’s going to only be involved with agriculture and there’s no other forms of livelihood.”

Jeff Melrose, who authored the Hawai‘i County Food Self-Sufficiency Baseline Study 2012, agrees about the tremendous amount of work it would entail.

“‘Back in the day,’ everybody played a part in the farming and feeding process,” he says. “We didn’t have students, we didn’t have scientists, we didn’t have retail workers; none of the specialization we have today.” He points out that means no one would have time to work in our hospitals; our ancestors kept sick people at home, wrapped in poultices, and they died much younger than people do today. “Everybody had to be involved in this process of feeding, catching, storing, preserving, whatever.”

“There are certainly some people today that aspire to be more self-reliant and live off the land, and fish and hunt, and do,” he says. “They also still go to town and do what they gotta do, and that’s fine. But it’s not for everybody.”

There’s also the practical matter that in pre-contact days, Hawaiians had a very different system of land use. “We have [private] land ownership now,” says Mathews, “and we don’t have a king mandating what people should do and grow. You don’t have a king to say, ‘This ahupua‘a shall be managed as one big contiguous unit.’”

Mathews points out that, initially, Hawaiians cultivated the most fertile Big Island valleys – Waipi‘o, Waimanu, and Pololu – and then when the population grew larger and they needed to feed more people, they needed other areas to cultivate.

They sought out “sweet spots” in terms of rainfall, which turn out to be places with about 50 to 60 inches of rain per year. This is enough that the soil is broken down and will have sufficient nutrients to sustain good crop growth, but not so much that it leeches the nutrients out of the soil. Much less rainfall than that, though, and the crops fail. This is what led them to develop the Kohala Field System. (In contrast, Kauai’s population never got that large, so that island never needed to develop its uplands and only farmed its valleys.)

“[Ecologist] Peter Vitousek did plenty of work looking at whether the Big Island’s [field] systems were really sustainable, and his work questioned that,” says Mathews. “Because when there were periods of drought the yields were low, and that put tremendous pressures on the population. Furthermore, when he looked at soil samples underneath the rock walls as compared to the former fields themselves, he found that despite all the best practices the native Hawaiians were using, be it fallows and mulching, etc., they were still depleting the soil fertility. So if Hawaiians hadn’t had contact with Western society, that would have really put a lot of pressure on those lands.”

Eventually, Mathews says, that system, too, would have broken down. Just as the population had outgrown its system of cultivating food in the valleys, they too were in the process of outgrowing their field system of agriculture. What would have happened next?

(As an aside, anthropologists tell us that in pre-contact times, you’d have to have good relationships with people that have food for when times of drought came or upland crops failed, or else be able to exert power for trading purposes. There’s evidence that this island had very severe droughts.

Some anthropologists think it makes sense, therefore, that the strongest political power – Kamehameha, the only chief to unite the islands – emerged on Hawai‘i Island. If you’re the leader of a place that’s under stress for food and security, you have to be tougher politically and militarily.)

Because we don’t have mineable sources of fertilizer on the Big Island, says Mathews, trying to farm without it would come down to trying to concentrate animal waste. And there’s science behind that.

“Generally in modern times people rely on organic methods, but they are usually robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he says. “You’ve got the organic farmer going down to a livestock enterprise and getting the manure and putting it in their garden, but those nutrients came from somewhere else. Eventually those systems where those nutrients are being captured, even if they rely on biological nitrogen fixation for nitrogen, they begin to collapse because they’re removing the phosphorous, the potassium and eventually the nitrogen fixation. Biologically, nitrogen fixation doesn’t work so well when the soil becomes depleted of phosphorus and potassium.”

“We could grow mulch crops like nitrogen-fixing trees,” he says, “and use them for mulches to release nitrogen and nutrients to the soil for the crops to grow in between them. But one of the dilemmas with that is that the microbes don’t always release the nutrients in synchrony with what the plant needs and when the plant needs it. And if you get a heavy rainfall, it just washes everything out and then you’re stuck. If you have fertilizer, you can go out there and correct it immediately.”

We have also diverted, changed and blocked many of the old waterways. “In many of those old ahupua‘a in the Kohala area, the water was diverted long ago and the streams and water conveyance systems have dried up,” he says. “It would take massive reengineering and restoration, and even then, there’s been some climate change. It would be challenging.”

Fishing made up a large part of the traditional, pre-Western diet. Could that work again on a large sale?

Not anytime soon, says Mathews. “When you talk to native Hawaiians and others who fish, a lot of our fisheries are overfished and depleted. The near-shore fisheries are really in bad shape. Everybody tells me they aren’t in anywhere near as good a shape as they were a hundred years ago.”

On a practical level, Melrose points out that our contact with the outside world has dramatically changed who we are.

“If you were to say, ‘Let’s just eat what we grow,’ well, we have a very seasonal and limited body of products that we grow,” he says. “I can just see your kid with his iPhone. ‘No, Mom, not ulu again.’ ‘Sweet potatoes, AGAIN?’ ‘Poi again?!’”

“We have evolved substantially into a much more discerning people,” he says. “You’d have to change fundamentally who everybody is.”

The bottom line, according to Mathews: Conditions have changed drastically since those pre-Western contact days, and if for some reason we were cut off from the U.S. Mainland, we’d have to eat a lot of wild pig and Parker Ranch cattle for awhile while we figured out what we were going to do.

“I think there’s a lot of romance in Hawai‘i,” he says. “A lot of Eden-like thinking that it was so good back then, back in the day.”

Mathews, who has children in high school, says he thinks it’s “a little bit tragic” that sustainability from an agricultural standpoint is not taught better in Hawai‘i’s school system. He sees a bias against new and modern technologies in general, and a general assumption that all new things are bad without evaluating them on a case-by-case basis.

“They really don’t get into how sustainable we are now and how sustainable it was in the past,” he says, “and I wish the schools would teach sustainability science with much deeper thought and understanding.

“I don’t like all new technologies,” he says, “but I think these blanket bans are not good.”

photo: CC BY-SA 3.0 AlaskaDave

Is Our Culture Falling Backward?

This editorial ran in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald today. In case you didn’t see it, I’ll run what we sent them here.

***

The purpose of the Big Island Community Coalition is to work towards reduced electrical energy costs on the Island of Hawaii – where we pay up to four times the national average for our power.  We are particularly sensitive to electric power rates as very high rates serve essentially as a regressive tax on our population while greatly reducing the probability of generating jobs in any sector that is dependent on electricity.

There are occasions when events are so alarming that groups such as ours feel compelled to move beyond our primary task.  This is such a time.

We have observed with increasing alarm as our community has taken steps that inexorably blunt the forward movement of our economy and even move us backwards.  These include:

  1. Anti-Geothermal activists encouraged County government to ban nighttime drilling, effectively stopping expansion of a major source of renewable and inexpensive electric power beyond already-existing permits.This action was taken despite the existing plant meeting all applicable noise standards.  It appears that government officials took this action without first going to the site to verify that the noise was disruptive.  Once they did go to the site, some years later, government found that the noise was less than other environmental sounds (i.e., coqui frogs) and essentially no more than typical background noise.
  2. Anti-GMO activists lobbied to stop any new GMO products from being grown on the island – despite the fact that the vast majority of scientific, peer-reviewed studies found such products to be as safe, and in some cases more nutritious, as their non-GMO counterparts.  Legislation even prohibited GMO flowers – not consumed by anyone – from being grown on the island.  Thus family farmers lost the most effective new tools needed to reduce pesticide and herbicide usage while increasing productivity needed to keep their farms competitive.
  3. Now we have anti-Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) activists taking steps to stop construction of the most advanced telescope in the world.  If successful in stopping TMT, despite its sponsors following every legal requirement over a seven-year period, we will lose our world leading advantage in understanding the universe.

All of these actions share similar characteristics:

  • The arguments used to justify such actions are consistently anti-scientific.
  • “Anti” groups often obscure the lack of scientific evidence to support their position by using emotional pleas intended to incite fear.
  • The only “win” for many of these groups is to completely stop, thereby making them completely unwilling to consider any facts that refute their position or to make any reasonable compromise.
  • Long-term consequences are significant both culturally and economically.

Cultures that survive and thrive embrace new technologies carefully, thoughtfully and steadily.  Cultures and economies that thrive are innovative beccause they generate ideas and solutions, solve problems and take calculated but careful risks.

Cultures that fall backwards are those that fear advancement, fear change and cling to a mythicized view of yesteryear.  The net result is loss of their brightest and most hard working youth.  Those youth that remain find fewer and fewer jobs – those jobs having greatly diminished economic value and lower wages.  The downward spiral becomes inexorable.

As we look to tomorrow, we need to ask ourselves whether we wish to give our children the exciting and invigorating job market typified by Silicon Valley or a job market that is much closer to the poorer regions of third world countries.  It is up to us to point one way or another.  Driving TMT out will be one more major step to cultural and economic poverty.

Signed,

Big Island Community Coalition

Richard Ha, President,

David DeLuz Jr., Rockne Freitas, Michelle Galimba, Wallace Ishibashi, Noe Kalipi, H.R “Monty” Richards, William Walter.

10,000 Hours and a Mountain

Editor Rory Flynn wrote a really interesting editorial in the June 2015 edition of Farmers and Friends.

He talks about Malcolm Gladwell’s theory (from his book Outliers) that 10,000 hours of practice, plus determination, helps some people develop excellence in their field. He cites concert violinists, the Beatles, Bill Gates, and Hawai‘i’s Kolten Wong.

And then Flynn adds to the equation the importance of place.

He takes us through a really interesting look at what the Hawaiian islands’ geography has meant in the past – to Polynesian explorers, 18th-century British explorers, Americans, Chinese, and others, and what opportunities and livelihoods have been generated here from all those interactions.

And he writes about what advantage geography offers Hawai‘i today, Mauna Kea being one incredible advantage.

“It beckons to a fascinating cohort of 10,000-hour people – accomplished astronomers from around the world. This is where the natural resource of a mountain summit 2-1⁄2 miles high intersects with the excellence of people at the top of their game.”

There’s a lot more. Really good article; I recommend it.

It’s easy to forget all the people and opportunities and livelihoods that were here before. Like the people who came before us, we have amazing resources and we should use them in the smartest way we can.

Read Rory Flynn’s article.