Post-Earth Day reflections: Hawaii's future is now
OUR NATION'S recent observation of Earth Day signifies the growing appreciation we have for the role that nature plays in our lives. Pause for a moment and ask yourself, what makes Hawaii special? Many would agree that it is Hawaii's beauty that sets us apart, a beauty inextricably linked to our islands' natural environment.
Every year, Earth Day reminds us that we must be responsible and faithful stewards of the Earth we have inherited. Earth Day's commemoration also serves as an opportunity to evaluate our actions over the past year and to judge whether we have stepped closer toward the goal of securing a sustainable future for our children. The future, and possibly the very existence of our children and fragile environment, all depend upon the actions we take today.
Thanks to years of work by conservationists, the Lingle administration, the Department of Land and Natural Resources and its outgoing director Peter Young, last year Hawaii reached a historic milestone when President Bush signed a proclamation that resulted in the designation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a national monument. Spanning about 140,000 square miles, Papahanaumokuakea is the world's largest marine sanctuary and home to a unique ecosystem that supports more than 7,000 species, 25 percent of which cannot be found anywhere else.
Coral reefs living off of the archipelago remain pristine and undisturbed -- while many others on the planet are in serious decline due to external interference and commercial exploitation. Papahanaumokuakea is Hawaii's gift to the world of conservation. I was proud to be a part of the effort.
The observation of Earth Day should have prompted us to ponder Hawaii's responsibility in the overall scheme of mankind's conservation efforts. What are we doing to reduce energy dependence? More important, what is the carrying capacity of our state?
Energy independence is vital environmentally, geopolitically and economically. Unfortunately, Hawaii relies on imported fossil fuels to meet approximately 92 percent of our energy needs -- a figure greater than that of any other state in the Union. This is a dangerous and needless reality. Hawaii should be one of the most self-sufficient states in the nation. Our state has been blessed with an abundance of renewable wind, solar, ocean and geothermal energy resources. We should be pioneering the shift away from energy dependence. We are the ones who ought to be spearheading the implementation of cutting-edge initiatives to avert future crises and alleviate current economic realities tied to disruptions in oil supply.
Through the use of renewable energies, especially geothermal energy, Hawaii can produce hydrogen and become one of the first states to run its ground transportation propelled primarily by hydrogen fuel cells. This is an attainable goal -- evidenced by Iceland's successful utilization of hydrogen as an integral part of its national plan to reach energy independence by 2050.
In light of current conditions, Hawaii cannot afford to wait for the price of oil to drop to $6 per gallon, nor can we afford, given Hawaii's isolated location, to be held hostage by terrorist nations controlling oil production.
This session, the Republican minority introduced legislation (Senate Bill 1913, 1914, 1915) that addressed pressing environmental concerns now facing our state. Though none passed this year, if eventually enacted, they would, respectively: incorporate ideas from our traditional ahupuaa system to address user conflicts in Hawaii's ocean waters, promote and invest in Hawaii's hydrogen infrastructure and designate renewable energy opportunity zones to wean our state from its fossil fuel addiction.
As for the question of carrying capacity, it is a fact that there is a limit to the number of people who can be reasonably supported by a finite amount of land. In Hawaii our quality of life is not measured solely by revenues generated from our land, but also by the blessings we receive from our natural environment. Stabilizing the number of tourist accommodations will increase the industry's economic productivity, pre-empting many of the consequences associated with too much of a good thing -- an unmanageable number of tourists.
Directly linked to the issue of carrying capacity is the subject of waste. Waste problems have reached epic proportions, rivaling in importance the problem of fossil fuel emissions, which have an indisputable impact on rising sea levels, resulting in disastrous consequences for coastal areas. Just remember last year's spill of raw sewage into the Ala Wai canal, the contamination of Waikiki and the black eye the tourism industry received as a result of the debacle. While the industry's rebound is laudable, the catastrophe forces us to consider the effect future spills could have upon our health and our vulnerable tourism industry.
Studies conducted by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism concluded that each day our visitors use nearly three times the amount of electricity and twice as much water and sewer services than do our residents. Hawaii's inability to dispose of our own waste and our voracious consumption of energy and natural resources has set us on a collision course. History has shown that cultures in isolated areas have collapsed due to poor stewardship and mismanagement; entry into the 21st century has exacerbated this reality. In today's interconnected world, we must resolve global challenges in a forward-thinking and cooperative manner; there is no room for isolationist attitudes.
As this year's commemoration of Earth Day passed, I was left with a sense of urgency: We must act now -- we cannot wait for the future to get here to do so.
Fred Hemmings, Republican minority leader, represents District 25 (Lanikai-Waimanalo) in the state Senate.