Guest Post: We Underestimate The Old Hawaiians

By guest blogger Rodrigo Romo:

With every question that seems to stir up controversy (geothermal, the Thirty Meter Telescope [TMT], etc.), the way I see it is to ask: "What would Kamehameha (or the old Hawaiians) do?"

The old Hawaiians lived in harmony with what the land/sea provided them, making sure they took care of their resources and making sure they were not depleted.

Would the old Hawaiians bring oil from distant lands to meet their energy needs? Or would they take advantage of what the land and the gods provided them (geothermal, solar, wind, hydroelectric)?

The old Hawaiians were famous for their star-based navigational skills. If they had the chance to further understand the universe from the top of Mauna Kea, would they pass on that opportunity? Or would they take advantage of the privileged location they were given by the land/gods to learn more about the universe?

I think part of the problem is that people underestimate what the old Hawaiians would do in today's technologically advanced world, and many think that they would still live like they did prior to the arrival of Cook.

I don't think that is the case. They were incredible wise people from an environmental point of view. They understood that by living on an island their resources were extremely limited and that their environment was very delicate.

Because of modern-day technology, we tend to forget that. It's easy for us to go to the grocery store and buy tomatoes from California, peaches from Chile and Atlantic salmon. We turn on the switch and expect the light to come on, because we know that there will be a ship/plane coming over to deliver our goods; goods that were not produced here from the land.

People see geothermal or wind as an intrusion to the environment, but have no problem with burning fossil fuels that are brought in from thousands of miles away.

They worry about the impact that a geothermal well may have on the air quality, but never think about the consequences that an oil spill from a tanker would have on our corals and the life around them.

People see the TMT as an intrusion into sacred land (regardless of the telescopes already present) but fail to see the wonderful opportunities it will provide to local young future Hawaiian scientists to be in the lead of space exploration.

We can learn a lot from the ways of the past: An understanding of the real value of our local resources, and how delicate our environment is. Combining that understanding with advances in technology will lead the path to achieving, or at least to moving closer to becoming a sustainable community/culture.


Rodrigo Romo was a member of the second Biosphere 2 crew. He is currently VP of Engineering for Zeta Corporation, where he is involved in water conservation projects. He lives in Hilo with his family.

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: We Underestimate The Old Hawaiians”

  1. The pre-contact Hawaiians lived with the daily reality that everything had to come from their islands. These islands have vast endemic energy and food sources, if developed efficiently. The problem now is Big Oil is spinning the supply/cost issue and that isn’t the point. Supply was an issue in the 80’s. The issue now is Climate Change From BURNING OIL. We need to decrease, then stop burning oil and natural gas, putting tons and tons of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Hawaii has endemic wind, solar, geothermal, and ocean power, all emitting no carbon. Biomass is still burning but efficient stacks can reduce the carbon footprint. It is crazy around here when so many people are ignoring these validated EPA reports about the thousands of tons of SO2 that is being put into the air over the east side, yet be on the verge of hysterical panic if somebody just mentions SO2 or H2S went over a few parts per billion around PGV. We know the Hawaiians were very grateful for geothermal, including a special menu that required runners from the coast running up to specific spiritual vents to heat that meal. The pre-contact ali’i were in a symbiotic relationship with the volcano, fearing but also respectful, admiring and in gratitude of the bounty Pele provides. Geothermal is a gift from Pele and should be accepted with awe, respect and gratitude.

  2. Great post! It’s true that living within our means as an island will mean getting quite a bit more realistic about the biophysical realities of our civilization -more than what we’re used to at this point.

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