Tag Archives: Peak Oil

An Invitation for Young People

Nate Hagens, a well-known expert of global resource depletion, spoke on Turning 21 in the Anthropocene: An Invitation for Young People to Participate in their Future at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens PointIt encapsulates everything I learned at the Peak Oil conferences.

He visited our farm last year and stood under our sign that says “Powered by Water.” Read about his January 2014 visit to Hamakua Springs at this post Next 40 Years Will Not be As Easy.


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.


Big Island Community Coalition

Richard Ha, President,

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


OHA & the Thirty Meter Telescope

Richard Ha writes:

I testified at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) on Wednesday regarding the protests over the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). Sixty-five people showed up, the vast majority of them in favor of the TMT.

I introduced myself as a Big Island farmer who produced more than 100 million pounds of fruits and vegetables in the last 35 years. I flunked out of the University of Hawai‘i and then got drafted and went to Vietnam, where the unspoken rule was that we all come back or no one does. After we all came back, I returned to school and majored in accounting to be able to keep score. I was the only person from Hawai‘i to attend five Peak Oil conferences. I have attended most of the TMT meetings over the past seven years.

I made two main points.

1. OHA needs to act like parents and kupuna.

We are starting to see lots of outside Islanders coming to stick their spoon into Big Island business. Activist Walter Ritte even came from Moloka‘i to advocate for the removal of all the telescopes from Mauna Kea.

When Big Islanders were in charge, I didn’t worry about public safety. Now, though, I am very worried. We are seeing folks wearing hoodies and bandanas, and they’re hiding their identities. The leaders have got to stop that. It puts a hair trigger on the situation, and it’s dangerous.

We saw someone like that recently, and we knew he wasn’t from the Big Island because he was driving a bright red Jeep. Nobody drives a bright red Jeep; those are only rental cars.

The folks protesting are getting false hope that they can get all the telescopes off the mountain if only they push back harder. And the discourse is pilau. People are insulting people. This is very dangerous.

OHA needs to act like parents and kupuna. This is not rocket science. You folks all know that the process was followed; that is why the permits were issued. Don’t give people false hope. The young people protesting who are college-age now were only in middle school when we started the process to make sure the project was done right. This is why they don’t know about the intricate, seven-year process the Thirty Meter Telescope people went through to work through all the issues the protestors are just now talking about.

It is OHA’s job now to do the right thing. Just tell them—they’re not going to change the law. Letting them think that will possibly escalate the problem and the mounting safety issues. That’s the kind of thing that is going to cause something to happen. We don’t want anybody getting hurt.

2. Remember what the TMT will bring to our community. The Big Island has the lowest median family income of all the counties. And the Kona side is higher than the county average, making the east side even lower than the county’s average. The Pahoa/Ka‘u/Kea‘au school complex is in the top four in the state for the free/subsidized lunch program. This island’s spouse abuse, substance abuse, and teen pregnancy rates are high.

Henry Yang, president of the TMT Corporation, came to the Big Island to talk with the community fifteen times. He came personally and talked to folks on the other side of the table, and he listened. He didn’t assign someone else to come; he came himself. That’s how the THINK fund was born. Nothing fancy, just listen. They are developing a work force so kids now in high school can follow a path to jobs. They did an environmental study, instead of taking the shorter way.

The TMT set the bar for how other big companies should interact with the community. To turn them away would be the most irresponsible thing we could do.

The Big Island needs jobs, and we need to diversify our economy to protect ourselves from rising oil and gas prices. The TMT is free money. The THINK fund helps our kids not fortunate enough to have gotten a Kamehameha Schools education. They are the ones who need help. Once you get an education, no one can take it away.

Acting like parents and kupuna will ensure that you address public safety as well as move up the folks on the lower rungs of the economic ladder—those not fortunate enough to go to Kamehameha Schools, or to take advantage of the GI bill like me. Education is the great equalizer.


Why LNG is Such a Bad Risk

Richard Ha writes:

We are getting ready to make huge liquified natural gas (LNG) decisions, and LNG is a big risk. We need to understand the risk and who’s going to be left paying the price.

The first time I heard about shale oil and gas was at an Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) conference. I attended five of those conferences, the only person from Hawai‘i to do so. Hawai‘i County paid for the trip to the 2010 ASPO conference, held in Washington D.C., and is still benefitting from that small investment.

That discussion about shale oil and gas though was at the 2009 ASPO conference, in Denver, and it turned into a sharp discussion between the geologist Art Berman and a drilling company executive.

Art said he had studied data from 4,000 wells in the Barnett Shale and found that the average well gave off 72 percent of its production in the first year.

The executive countered that his figures showed a hyperbolic curve indicating that production lasts for 22 years.

Somebody was wrong. Later I learned that hyperbolic curves only mean that the following year is less than the one previous.

I didn’t know the definition then, but common sense told me that at the end of 22 years, maybe just a gallon might be coming out per hour. I felt like the executive was just trying to sell stock.

Later, a study of 19,000 wells showed that the average well gave more than ninety percent of its production in its first five years. This was not rocket science – even a banana farmer could tell that you would need to replace one-fifth of the wells each year just to stay even. More if production is higher in the first few years.

As of 2010, it was common knowledge that the average shale oil and gas well depleted in a short time, and it was a subject of intense discussion among those of us who attended the ASPO conferences.

In the meantime, some of the folks out there trying to sell stocks were using the terms “resource” and “reserves” interchangeably in describing what was available. The phrase “Saudi America” started to be thrown around.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) finally estimated that the U.S. had an economically accessible shale oil supply of about 100 more years.

But David Hughes, a Canadian geologist, challenged the availability of the Monterey Shale oil due to its geological characteristics. Instead of being flat, the resource rock was wavy and squished. It was hard to access via horizontal drilling.

And then this March, the EIA quietly changed its estimate. In a low-key announcement, it readjusted its estimate of Monterey Shale oil availability – which was two-thirds of our national recoverable supply – downward by an amazing 96 percent.

I saw the announcement and realized its significance immediately. Readjusting the estimate of the US supply of oil downward by two-thirds was a huge, huge deal. But the news kind of just slipped by.

Shale gas has the same characteristics of shale oil – it depletes rapidly. If you ask me who I believe about shale oil and gas? Based on his track record, I believe the data and conclusions of David Hughes.

He based his studies on the same historical data and information the U.S. EIA used, but analyzed it in a more meticulous and targeted way. His data shows natural gas declining much, much faster than does the EIA. A recent University of Texas study agrees more with David Hughes than with the EIA.

This Peak Prosperity podcast features an interview with David Hughes talking about shale production and how he did his analysis. It’s a good interview (47:24). Alternately, you can read the transcript here.

On p. 300 of his report, in figure 3-116, Hughes shows an interesting graph of the EIA’s forecast for shale gas projections and how, in the long term, they are greatly overestimated.

At the end of Hughes’ study on natural gas, he cautions (click to enlarge) :

David Hughes report

Here on the Big Island, based on the precautionary principle, I would rely on geothermal rather than liquid natural gas for our electricity generation. A faster decline probably means a faster rise in natural gas price. If we rely on LNG, the rate payer will assume that risk.

And in Hawai‘i we do not have methane underground. So the bad effects of fracking does not apply to us at all. We have drilled 85,000 wells by now. It’s a mature industry that deals with H2S routinely.

In the future, geothermal could also help us solve our transportation problem by providing hydrogen for fuel-celled vehicles. The cost of hydrogen comes from either natural gas or from passing electricity through water. Eventually, the cost of making hydrogen from natural gas will pass the cost of making hydrogen from electricity from geothermal. Then we will have a permanent advantage over the rest of the world. That’s what we want!

Geothermal is climate change-friendly and as infinite as we can get—we will sit for 500,000 to a million years over the “hot spot.” And we are one of the few places in the world with these circumstances and this opportunity.

We have truly come to a crossroads in our history. We must put our personal agendas behind us and do the right thing for ourselves and future generations.


‘Peak Cheap Oil’ & Slaves in the Basement

Richard Ha writes:

Have you looked at the free Crash Course series I’ve been posting? It's from Chris Martenson's blog Peak Prosperity and it's excellent. This chapter by Adam Taggart is on “Peak Cheap Oil,” and you can watch the current video (19:30) or read this chapter.  

Here’s a random bit I pulled from it, but it’s all this interesting:

In order to understand why oil is so important to our economy and our daily lives, we have to understand something about what it does for us.

We value any source of energy because we can harness it to do work for us.  For example, every time you turn on a 100-watt light bulb, it is the same as if you had a fit human being in the basement pedaling as hard as they could to keep that bulb lit. 

That is how much energy a single 100-watt light bulb uses. In the background while you run water, take hot showers, and vacuum the floor, it is as if your house is employing the services of at least 50 such extremely fit bike riders. 

This “energy slave count” if you will, exceeds that of some kings in times past. It can therefore truly be said that we are all living like kings. Although we may not appreciate that because it all seems so ordinary that we take it for granted.

And how much ‘work’ is embodied in a gallon of gasoline, our most favorite substance of them all? Well, if you put a single gallon in a car, drove it until it ran out, and then turned around and pushed the car home you’d find out. 

It turns out that a gallon of gas has the equivalent energy of 500 hours of hard human labor, or 12-and-a-half 40 hour work weeks.

So how much is a gallon of gas worth? $4 $10? If you wanted to pay this poor man $15 an hour to push your car home then we might value a gallon of gas at $7,500.

Here’s another example. It has been calculated that the amount of food that average North America citizen consumes in year requires the equivalent of 400 gallons of petroleum to produce and ship. At $4/gallon that works out to $1600 of your yearly food bill is spent on fuel, which doesn’t sound too extreme. 

However, when we consider that those 400 gallons represent the energy equivalent of 100 humans working year round at 40 hours a week, then it takes on an entirely different meaning.  

This puts your diet well out of the reach of most kings of times past. Just to put this in context, as it is currently configured, food production and distribution uses fully 2/3rds of our domestic oil production.  This is one reason why a cessation of imports would be, shall we say, disruptive….

How easily could we replace the role of oil in our style of consumer-led, growth-based economy? Not very.   

We currently use oil mainly for transportation, sitting at right around 70% of all oil consumption.  The next biggest block is for industrial purposes followed by residential which means heating oil…. 

Biofuels and coal could potentially fill some of these functions but certainly not without a massive reinvestment program and not anytime soon….

Mostly hidden from us in plain sight is Key Concept #10: The amount of work that oil performs in service to the average person is equivalent to having hundreds of slaves…. 

The next key concept of the crash course is that oil is a magical substance of finite supply but of unlimited importance. This cannot be overstated. 

Transitioning from one fuel source to another is a devilishly expensive proposition posing enormous challenges with respect to cost, scale and time. 

Our species transitioned over many decades from wood to coal because coal was a better fuel source. 

And we transitioned over several decades from coal to oil for the same reason. In both cases this happened because the new fuel source was plentiful, cheap, and higher-yielding in terms of energy output per unit of weight compared to the older fuel.

Nobody has been able to advance any candidates as our next source of transportation energy that is better than oil on all three counts. 

A common pushback to this point is a firm belief many people hold that new technological breakthroughs will ride to our rescue here. 

I’ll explain in a future chapter why this is very likely to prove a false hope.

All I’ll do here is remind you that technology is not a source of energy – it may well help us to better exploit our existing energy sources by extracting them more easily, or consuming them more efficiently – but technology can’t create energy for us. 

Read the rest

Hawaii is no longer isolated from the rest of the world, and it’s important we know what’s going on out there. This isn’t rocket science, and there are going to be winners and losers.

We know that two-thirds of our economy is made up of consumer spending – so how about we set a goal of increasing the discretionary income of the rubbah slippah folks?

We can do this by advocating for cheaper electricity, and for affordable locally grown food close to home.  

The Big Island’s electricity rates have been 25 percent higher than Oahu’s for as long as anyone can remember. And yet we “curtail,” or throw away, many megawatts of electricity every day.  

Geothermally-generated electricity costs half that of oil, and the Big Island will be sitting over the “hot spot” for 500,000 to a million years. The flanks of Maunakea could hold as much geothermal heat as the entire East Rift. The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) sits on top of a large portion of that geothermal heat. If the DHHL chooses to act decisively, it could improve its beneficiaries’ lives, as well as the rest of ours, in unimagined ways.

The Big Island Community Coalition fights for lower cost electricity. Here is a Huffington Post article about one of its successes.

From a risk assessment point of view, the rising oil price is much more dangerous than perceived GMO dangers. Trillions of meals have been served without one negative incident that can be attributed to GMOs.

The reason we see so many young people hitchhiking nowadays is not because of environmental protest. It’s because of lack of jobs! The average age of farmers is getting older every year and it’s because young farmers are having a tough time making money.

Lower electricity rates will give farmers’ customers more discretionary income to support the farmers. Technology that helps farmers to farm will lower farmers’ costs. The effect of banning GMOs is to force farmers to rely more on oil for the production of food. We should know that this is a dangerous path and will not help future generations.

If we agree on our final destination, we can get ourselves to a place where our future generations are winners, and not losers.


The Declining Oil Price

Richard Ha writes:

From a 40,000-foot view, a declining oil price is good for the U.S. and Hawai‘i in the short run because it gives us time to adapt.

A lower oil price makes oil-exporting countries vulnerable if they cannot maintain their domestic budgets and take care of their people in the manner in which they have become accustomed.

From PeakOil.com:

Financial reserves of oil-producing countries vulnerable to depletion

A specialized economist said that the financial reserves and surpluses of oil-producing countries are vulnerable to depletion in the event of continuing decline of global oil prices and with the pace of public spending remaining around the current high levels.

Professor of economics at the College of Administrative Sciences, Kuwait University, Dr. Mohammed Al-Saqqa said in an interview with Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) on Sunday that the economies of oil-producing countries (including Kuwait) are facing a real challenge represented in the growth of public spending without “control” to high levels amid the decline witnessed in oil prices in global markets approaching the level of USD 80 per barrel (bd).

Read the rest

The world works on net energy plus technology to extend that net energy. When that net energy starts to decline, there are going to be winners and losers.

The GMO debate going on all around us is a big distraction from the real danger, which is declining net energy!


Yes, We’ll Have No Tomatoes

Richard Ha writes:

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but we have been phasing out production of our tomatoes.

This came about because of what I’ve been saying here for years: The price of oil has raised farming costs substantially. The pluses of growing our hydroponic tomatoes were no longer exceeding the minuses.

When we started growing tomatoes back in 2002, we had been banana growers. Oil prices were low and banana prices were also low; it was hard to make a living that way. We needed to diversify, which is one of the reasons we went into tomatoes. It was a good decision.

But costs have been increasing drastically, and our tomato growing infrastructure is getting old and will start falling apart soon, so we had to make a decision. Do we take it apart and rebuild the tomato houses? Or do we replace them? Replacing them would cost an eye-opening three times what it cost 12 years ago when we put them up.

It’s a real-life consequence of what I keep saying here: The price of oil is four times higher than it was 10 years ago and there are significant consequences. Everything costs so much more now. We are in the middle of major changes and most people don’t even realize it.

We took into account that our customers are under increasing economic pressure, as well—meaning they have less disposable income—and that our tomatoes are a high-end product. We also knew, as we made this decision, that oil and other costs are expected to keep rising.

Our plan had always been to take our tomato farming to the next step, which would have been to leverage our excess hydroelectricity in a controlled environment that allowed us to exclude insects and optimize light and temperature. Unfortunately, it just took too long to get our hydro plant operating.

It’s been a very difficult decision, and one that we’ve been carefully considering and making for quite some time, taking not only all these conditions into account but also our next generation. As hard as it’s been to make this decision, we all agreed it was the right thing to do. It allows us to continue farming. 

We’re definitely not closing up shop; just refocusing our farming efforts based on economic factors.

We will stay in bananas. They do well in our rain and deep soil and other conditions. The banana infrastructure we have in place, such as the coolers and concrete, is good for another 20 years. The pluses exceed the minuses.

I continue to be very interested in producing a cost-effective protein source here on the farm, such as tilapia and other fish. We are currently working on the problems of protein feed and oxygenation of water, which we can do with gravity and electricity. We’re always thinking about where we need to be in 10 or 20 years.

And I’ll let you know what other interesting projects crop up along the way. 

In the meantime, you’ll see our Hamakua Springs Country Farms tomatoes until the end of November; that’s when the last of them will come off the vines, go through our packing houses, and hit the supermarkets.

We thank you for supporting, and enjoying, our tomatoes all these years.

Hamakua Springs tomatoes


Charles Hall on Fossil Fuels & Economic Growth

Richard Ha writes:

This Scientific American article talks about fossil fuels, economic growth, and why I'm always talking about the importance of our (much cheaper) geothermal energy here.

It looks at the work of Charles Hall, who talks about how the energy it takes to obtain energy, minus the energy you use to get your food, equals your lifestyle. That formula – energy return on investment, or EROI – lets us compare how we live now with how Hawaiians lived in older times. It allows us to compare apples to apples.

I know Charlie Hall very well. I brought him to Hawai‘i to give talks about this at UH Hilo and Manoa, as well as to visit Puna Geothermal Venture and our farm.

From the Scientific American article Will Fossil Fuels Be Able to Maintain Economic Growth? A Q&A with Charles Hall:

Q. What happens when the EROI gets too low? What’s achievable at different EROIs?

A. If you've got an EROI of 1.1:1, you can pump the oil out of the ground and look at it. If you've got 1.2:1, you can refine it and look at it. At 1.3:1, you can move it to where you want it and look at it. We looked at the minimum EROI you need to drive a truck, and you need at least 3:1 at the wellhead. Now, if you want to put anything in the truck, like grain, you need to have an EROI of 5:1. And that includes the depreciation for the truck. But if you want to include the depreciation for the truck driver and the oil worker and the farmer, then you've got to support the families. And then you need an EROI of 7:1. And if you want education, you need 8:1 or 9:1. And if you want health care, you need 10:1 or 11:1.

Civilization requires a substantial energy return on investment. You can't do it on some kind of crummy fuel like corn-based ethanol [with an EROI of around 1:1].

A big problem we have facing the alternatives is they're all so low EROI. We'd all like to go toward renewable fuels, but it's not going to be easy at all. And it may be impossible. We may not be able to sustain our civilization on these alternative fuels. I hope we can, but we've got to deal with it realistically.

Do you think we're facing limits to growth now?

I think if you correct the U.S. GDP for debt—in other words, the debt is some kind of not-real growth—then I think the GDP hasn't grown at all since 2005. It's just grown through debt. I think clearly growth has declined; it's possible that growth has either stopped or may soon stop.

Read the rest of the article



Natural Gas, Hydrogen, & What Kids Learn in Fourth Grade

Richard Ha writes:

The online site Peak-oil.org has an interesting write-up about natural gas and essentially points out that its high decline rate will make the recent spike in natural gas relatively short-lived.

U.S. LNG exports: What Would Randy Udall Say?

There has been considerable talk in the US of late about not only future energy exports but even about using an “energy weapon” against Russia.  While that might be nice, it’s wishful thinking.

An energy commentator who thought in depth about the US’s energy policy back-story and the myth of oil independence was Randy Udall, who passed away suddenly in late June last year.  

On March 21, 2013, during one of his last presentations, Randy delivered some remarks, accompanying a set of power-point slides, which provide the type of cautionary background that Washington insiders—including his brother Senator Mark Udall and cousin Senator Tom Udall—should heed.

His complete remarks, now posted on YouTube, were recently transcribed by Steve Andrews; key points are listed below.  The first remark about natural gas exports is actually a response to a question from the audience; the remainder is from his loosely scripted remarks. 

  • This meme that we’ve got a 100-year supply of natural gas started at the Colorado School of Mines.  They have a volunteer group there called the Potential Gas Committee, but the Potential Gas Committee is not looking at proven reserves; they’re looking at how much carbon might there be in 5000 feet of the Mancos shale.
  • I look around and I start running the numbers.  You know how much we’ve produced in this part of the world, in Weld County and Larimer County and the DJ Basin and the Wattenberg field we’ve been drilling for 80 years?  Now, this field is primarily an oil field.  But in that 80-year period of time we’ve produced enough natural gas to run the US for four months.
  • In the Powder River Basin, with those 25,000 natural gas wells, we’ve produced enough natural gas to run the US for four or five months.  When you look into it, there are only about six natural gas plays that are of any size; they’re dominated by three or four of the big ones—the Marcellus in Pennsylvania…maybe it will end up supplying five years’ of US gas demand over the next 60 or 70 years….

Read the rest

This next video—of Randy Udall speaking at the Colorado Renewable Energy Society meeting in 2013—shows what it looks like down there where we are fracking for oil and gas; it shows how the world looked millions of years ago when the oil and gas was forming. Ingenious human beings. This is a very good video if you are interested in this topic.

It’s also very interesting to see how ingenious the oil and gas industry folks are as they developed the technology that resulted in fracking. It’s incredible. But, as Nate Hagens points out, after shale oil and gas, it’s all gone. There’s no more. (I wrote about the global resource depletion authority Nate Hagens, his visit to our farm earlier this year, and his reactions to what we’re doing there.)

But, for us here in Hawai‘i, we can do what Iceland did. With cheap electricity, they make hydrogen on site and they have a hydrogen refueling station. I went over there and looked at it myself. The cars are rolling out now. They are eighty percent green and they will be ninety percent fossil free. We can do the same here with our curtailed and otherwise unused electricity.

We could also create a mini-ammonia processing plant. We really have a lot of interesting and real possibilities.

Leslie Lang, who helps me with this blog, and I were talking about this, and the importance of respecting the past while planning for the future, and she told me about a field trip her daughter took in fourth grade at Kamehameha Schools.

The theme was “Preservation vs. Progress,” and she went along to chaperone. She shared with me something she wrote about it at the time and I asked her if I could include some of her words here, because it really makes the point well that we must honor the past but lead the way into the future. I’m glad they are teaching that to our kids.

Unlike in the old days, when we followed the teachings of the missionaries,today and tomorrow our kids need to be the ones leading the direction based on a healthy respect for our history.

(Note too that we cannot just blindly follow what the folks in the cold country are doing, either. This is not cold country. Some things apply and some things don’t.)

From Leslie, on the fourth grade “Preservation vs. Progress” field trip she accompanied:

The teachers did a great job of talking about the importance of preserving our past, our wahi pana (sacred places), as well as how progress brings what is sometimes necessary change, and how we have to balance those things. We saw this first at Pu‘ukohola Heiau in Kawaihae.

Kamehameha was told that if he built a heiau at that site, he would be able to unite the very divided islands. The ranger explained that if you traveled from Kea‘au (where the school is) to Kawaihae (where the heiau is) in the old days, you’d travel through several different chiefdoms, many of which would be at war with each other. It would be dangerous and difficult. Those wars lasted for 500 years.

He talked about how the heiau was built, and had the kids try to lift a relatively small rock compared to some of the rocks in the heiau. Some of these kids could, and many couldn’t. 

The heiau was so important to Kamehameha, who believed he would receive the gods’ mana upon building it, that this happened: His younger brother was to be its kahu (priest), and he told the brother not to touch any of the rocks. But the brother did, he pitched in to help, and Kamehameha saw. He was worried about that disturbing the mana that he took the rocks his brother touched out in a wa‘a, a canoe, and went far out into the ocean and dumped them.

The rocks that make up Pu‘ukohola all came from Pololu Valley, about 25 miles away. They were passed hand to hand along a very long human chain of men. We know this because occasionally a rock was dropped, and then it was not used in the heiau so it was left where it lay. There is still a rough path of large pohaku, rocks, lining the route from Pololu to Pu‘ukohola. 

Just off Pu‘ukohola there used to an island called Puaka‘ilima, we learned. It was significant because the ‘ilima flower grew all over that island, and that’s a flower that is cherished for leimaking (and you need hundreds of blossoms to make one lei).

That treasured island was destroyed, blown up, when the state decided it needed to dredge the harbor so big ships could come in with food and supplies. 

Here was the point of that day’s lesson. Progress = change. We have all these people here and are not producing enough food on our own anymore, so we need ships to bring in enough food for us all to eat. That’s why they had to destroy the island. In this case, progress and preservation were at odds. 

Was this the only way to solve that problem? asked the kumu (teacher). I don’t know, she said. Was it the best decision? I don’t know, she said. I don’t know all the details.

“But some day it is going to be you children making these decisions. You are going to have to weigh preservation vs. change.” You have to know about the past and the present to make good decisions about the future, she told them.

Then we went to Kona, to the King Kamehameha Hotel. This is a touristy spot—but just at the back of the hotel is a very important historical place called Kamakahonu. Ahu‘ena Heiau is there, and that’s where Kamehameha died. It was both the end of the story we had been hearing of his life, and another demonstration of preservation vs. progress.

Before we got there, the kumu looked hard at the kids and talked to them for quite a long time about how we are not going there for the hotel, or to look at all the guests, or to talk about the pool. We were not going there to play. 

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” she said. “I like this hotel. It’s where I stay when I come to Kona. But that’s not what we are here for today.” She told them they were there to respect and learn about the heiau. 

Again she talked to them about focusing, and she told them this was going to be the hardest place of all to focus because of all the stuff, the playing, going on all around us. But she told them they needed to do so, to focus, to chant with their attention in the right place.

When they’d been at the Pololu overlook, they’d had this same reminder. When they were done there with their chants and their song about the place, tourists all around us broke into applause. Of course the tourists didn’t know, but it felt inappropriate because although, yes, these kids sound good, they were not entertaining. They were facing the valley and the ocean, not the people, and were paying their respects. 

And when that applause broke out, not one kid looked around, like they would have if it had been a concert for fun. They kept their focus and their attention. It was very interesting to see and not a little impressive.

So back to the hotel, where the kids walked through the somewhat crowded lobby single file and in silence. It was pretty impressive, because believe me these kids can also be normal fourth graders: loud and boisterous. But apparently they also know when not to be. It was really something—people stopped and watched.

We were expected, and hotel Security knew we were going to go into the heiau area beyond the normal kapu (keep out) signs. The kids chanted, and we heard more about the significance of that heiau, and again, Kumu talked about preservation (the heiau) vs. progress/change (the hotel). She presented it so well. She stressed again that someday they are going to be the ones who have to weigh the one against the other. That they have to know both the past and the present to determine the future.

The kumu kept stressing that they were giving these stories about the past to the kids and it was their kuleana, their responsibility, to remember them and pass them on. You cannot make good decisions about preservation vs. progress if you don’t know the importance of what is there to preserve, they said.

It was such an impressive and important field trip. I am not a fourth grader, and I got a hundred times more out of it than I expected. So well thought out and presented. Our kids are very fortunate to be learning such important lessons.


Preparing for Climate Change, The Overview

Richard Ha writes:

I was asked to talk this morning at the Hawai‘i State Association of Counties 2014 Annual Conference, which was held in Waikiki. I spoke on the panel called Preparing for Climate Change. Here’s what I said.


Aloha everyone. Thanks for inviting me.

Food security has to do with farmers farming. If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm!

The Hawaiian side of our family is Kamahele, from lower Puna. All the Kamaheles are related. The Okinawa side of our family is Higa. The Korean side of our family is the Ha name. It’s about all of us in Hawaii. Not just a few of us!

I write an ag and energy blog Hahaha.hamakuasprings.com. It stands for three generations of us.

What is the difference between climate and weather? Neil DeGrasse Tyson, on Cosmos, describes it like the guy strolling down the beach with his dog. The dog running back and forth is the weather. The guy walking along the beach is climate.

Background: 35 years farming, more than 100 million pounds of fruits and vegetables. We farm 600 fee-simple acres which the family and 70 workers farm. Not having any money, we started out by trading chicken manure for banana keiki and went on to become the largest banana farm in the U.S. We were green farmers early. In 1992, we were first banana farm in the world certified Eco-OK by the Rainforest Alliance. In 2008, we were one of six national finalists for the Patrick Madden SARE award. We were one of the first farms in Hawai‘i to be food-safety certified.

When we needed to find a solution for a disease problem, we took a class in tissue culture and tried to culture the plants in our back bedroom. But there was too much contamination, from cat hair maybe. So we made our own tissue culture lab. We have our own hydroelectric plant, which provides all our electricity. Our trucks and tractors operate with fuel from Hawai‘i biodiesel.

My pop told me that, “Get a thousand reasons why no can.” I’m only looking for the one reason why CAN.

As we stroll along the climate change beach, there are two things that we notice.

The first is energy. Without energy, work stops. Petroleum products are finite and costs will rise. Farmers’ costs will rise and farmers’ customers’ costs will rise. How can we dodge the bullet?

I attended five Peak Oil conferences. The world has been using twice and three times as much oil as we have been finding. So the price is going to keep on going up. It will increase farmers’ costs and will increase the farmers’ customers’ costs. We need to do something that will help all of us, not just a few of us. Something that can help future generations cope.

That something is hydrogen. The geothermal plant can be curtailed at 70 MW per day. That’s throwing away 70 MW of electricity every night. The new eucalyptus chip plant Hu Honua can be curtailed by 10 MW for ten hours per night. The key to hydrogen is electricity cost. On the mainland it is made from natural gas. Here it can be made from running electricity through water. We are throwing away lots of electricity at night. We know that oil and gas prices will be steadily going up in the future. Hydrogen from our renewable resources will become more and more attractive as oil and gas prices rise. At some point we will have an advantage to the rest of the world. And as a bonus, hydrogen combined with nitrogen in the air will produce nitrogen fertilizer.

You may be interested to know the inside scoop about the lawsuit that Big Island farmers brought against the County.

Why? Clarity: Farmers are law-abiding citizens and we play by the rules. We thought that the Feds and the State had jurisdiction. We want clarity about the rules of the game.

Equal treatment: Only Big Island farmers are prohibited from using biotech solutions that all our competitors can use. How is that equal? It’s discriminatory against local farmers.

When the law was first proposed, they wanted to ban all GMOs. We asked what are papaya farmers supposed to do? They said, we can help them get new jobs, to transition. We were speechless. It was as if they were just another commodity. So farmers and ranchers got together and ran a convoy around the County building in protest. Then they said they would give the Rainbow papaya farmers a break. I was there when the papaya farmers had a vote to accept the grandfather clause for Rainbow papayas. There were a lot of young, second- and third-generation farmers there in the room.

In the end, the papaya farmers said, We are not going to abandon our friends who supported us when we needed help. That is not who we are. Then they voted unanimously to reject the offer. I was there and being a Vietnam vet, where the unspoken rule was we all come back or no one comes back, I could not have been prouder of the papaya farmers. That explains why the Big Island farmers are tight. Old-fashioned values. The rubbah slippah folks absolutely get all of this.

So who are these farmers? I am one. I don’t grow GMOs. It isn’t about me. I’ll make 70 this year and, like almost all the farmers, have never sued anyone. But there comes a time when you have to stand up for what is right.

The group we formed, Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United, grows more than 90 percent of the farm value on the Big Island.

This is about food security. The GMO portion of food security is small. This is not about large corporations. It is about local farmers. It is not about organics; we need everybody. But organics only supply 4 percent of the national food supply and maybe 1 percent of Hawai‘i’s. Our organic farmers are not threatened by modern farming. Hawaii organic farmers are threatened by mainland, industrial-scale organic farms. That is why there are hardly any locally grown organics in the retail stores. It’s about cost of production. Also, on the mainland winter kills off the bad bugs and weeds and the organic farmers can outrun the bugs through the early part of summer. Hawai‘i farmers don’t have winter to help us.

Most importantly, this is about pro-science and anti-science. That is why farmers are stepping up. We know that science is self-correcting. It gives us a solid frame of reference. You don’t end up fooling yourself. In all of Hawai‘i’s history, now is no time to be fooling ourselves.

My pop told me that there were a thousand reasons why No Can. He said, look for the one reason why Can! He said to look for two solutions to every problem and one more, just in case.

He would pound the dinner table and dishes would bounce in the air and he would point in the air and say, “Not no can. CAN!”

We can have a better world for future generations. It’s all common sense and attitude.