Wednesday, May 23, 2012

If Not You, Who?

Punahou Bulletin > Winter 2006   filed May 22, 2012
If Not You, Who?
Description: Paul "Doc" Berry
What makes Hawai‘i paradise? Perhaps it’s time to answer that question, to examine where we are, and where we appear to be headed. Then add more questions: What will it take to move you toward sustainable living? $7 per gallon gasoline? No gasoline at all? Beaches closed or simply gone? Not enough food? How much of paradise can we lose before it no longer feels like Hawai‘i?
Somewhere along the way, we crossed the line from a largely self-sufficient society on islands far at sea to a high-end consumer society heavily reliant on distant resources. Most of the goods we rely on – food, energy, medicines – all come from overseas. And so do our visitors, the core of our economy. 
In some ways, Hawaii’s residents are like the cargo cult natives in Papua, New Guinea. When U.S. military began bringing consumer goods into the New Guinea jungle during WWII, people assumed that if they just imitated the soldiers, the same cargo god would bring them the same goods. They still believe, and they’re still waiting. 
In our case, we assume that enough visitors will continue to come to Hawai‘i, and more, that they will leave us enough dollars and yen to lure Matson steamers around Diamond Head with our groceries and goods – our “cargo.” That we don’t have enough food or energy or other goods to sustain ourselves without deliveries from overseas rarely crosses our minds. We feel entitled to what the cargo god provides, and that makes sustainability difficult to grasp. 

Despite our cargo-cult beliefs, however, we remain vulnerable to global changes that we cannot control: a shipping strike, a global recession, an epidemic shutting down visitor traffic, and on another scale, changes brought by global warming and climate change. Climate scientists have determined that a one-meter rise in sea level equates with the sea moving inland 1,550 yards. Notably, they say this rise is doubling in speed. 

Imagine Hawaii’s major airports and docks awash, think of Waikiki and downtown Honolulu flooded, then wonder why we denied the possibility. How could we ignore the early signs and fail to cut local greenhouse gas emissions drastically, or fail to begin moving now toward sustainability? 
A new State Task Force on Sustainability ( is developing a state plan with the hope of moving us in the right direction, but they must work with the community to make the picture of sustainability possible. Hawai‘i State Legislators Russell Kokubun ’66, Lyla Berg ’69, Laura Thielen ’79, Fred Hemmings ’65, and Bill Kaneko ’78, President and CEO of Hawai‘i Institute for Public Affairs, among others, are leading the way.
Plan as we may, however, unexpected consequences always outnumber the expected ones. Sustainability will require creative thinking and a willingness to adapt to surprises. 
After all, I believe the alternative to sustainability is a Hawai‘i in denial, one stumbling through painful losses of what makes this place paradise. Denial or delay won’t change our present course. 
So if not you, if not me, then who will make Hawai‘i sustainable?
Where As-Is Growth Leads
Population Density
We have 79.6 people per square mile (psm) nationally, 188.6 psm in Hawai‘i, and 1,460 psm on O‘ahu, creating a population density more than 18 times that of the continental U.S. 
Population Growth
Population of Hawai‘i in 2005:  1,275.194. Projecting growth at roughly one percent per year means that the population will double in 72 years to 2,550,000 residents or 1.8 million residents on O‘ahu alone. 
Doubling the population means: doubling the sewer capacity, sewage, and trash; doubling the traffic and energy demand; doubling the number of residences and land area covered by housing. Doubling would mean 2,920 people per square mile. We already anticipate reaching maximum daily water yield on O‘ahu between 2018 and 2022.
Growth in Tourism
Tourism in 2005 grew 6.8 percent to 7.49 million visitors. At this growth rate, tourism numbers would double in 11 years to 15 million by 2017, requiring doubling the hotel room capacity, rental cars, etc.
Human Consumption
Humans presently consume at a rate requiring 5.6 acres of natural resources per person. Americans, however, consume natural resources at 23.7 acres per person. That's you and me. With 6.5 billion people, the world population is presently consuming the natural resources of 1.2 worlds.
In 2030, when this year's high school graduates turn 40, will tourists still visit O‘ahu? Will you still want to live here? 
To participate in the Hawai‘i State Task Force on Sustainability planning process, go to
Resources and Reading for Sustainability

Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins
A revolutionary blueprint for a new sustainable economy. A companion video of the same title. Authoritative and practical.
Plan B 4.0:
By Lester R. Brown
A superb, extraordinarily readable book looking at our basic sustainability problems and practical changes we can make to deal with them. Must reading. Chapters of this book are available in PDF at
Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth
By Lester R. Brown
Books and updated  chapters available at
For those interested in joining local efforts on sustainability, check out Sustain Hawaii at
Earth Policy Institute at
You'll find up-to-date, authoritative, readable articles on a wide range of global sustainability issues, from population and water scarcity to global warming and other issues and data.

Rocky Mountain Institute at
A think tank/consulting business focused on sustainability and ingenious conservation approaches. You'll also find books on energy-efficient green buildings, distributed alternative energy sources, sustainable building, reducing business and community energy uses, and lowering carbon emissions for profit.
Worldwatch at
Lots of up-to-date, valuable information on sustainability issues such as energy, economics, food security, fisheries, transportation, and health.

Paul “Doc” Berry writes books and documentary films. Chapters from his 1993 book, In The Wake of Dreams: Reflections of Hawai‘i, became editorial pieces in the Sunday Honolulu Advertiser, initiating a community discussion on sustainability issues. Berry is a former Punahou teacher and is presently working on sustainability education and collaborating on a book exploring the consequences of globalization.

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