More thought needed in 'saving' the environment


POSTED: Monday, June 01, 2009

The Star-Bulletin, wire services and other publications often refer to activities of “;environmentalists.”; A little thought and consideration will reveal that most of these people speaking or writing are not really environmentalists in the true sense of the word. They are primarily activists for some cause or against some cause or project.

In the environmental assessment course I developed and taught at the University of Hawaii in Hilo, I pointed out the problem of “;single issue environmentalists”; and of doing a fair environmental assessment. A reasonable environmental assessment requires consideration of the overall environmental impact and not just the narrow concern of one group.

Examples abound: Surfers on Kauai yelling about the new ferry, which had no effect on surf sites; enduring lengthy delays for minor concerns on the Saddle Road, dragging it out while people died on the most dangerous road in the state; pressure from the EPA resulting in drilling a well requiring imported oil and increasing emissions rather than continuing a spring source for water on the Big Island, etc. Unfortunately, politicians yield easily to some of these outspoken, pseudo-environmentalists, with adverse results.

Failure to use valid scientific input has resulted in adverse consequences from such laws as requiring that ethanol (ethyl alcohol) be added to our automotive gasoline. Most drivers report lower mileage resulting in more emissions, and users of small engines have seen damage from the alcohol the engines were not intended to use.

Meanwhile, the few remaining sugar plantations have not produced any alcohol and it must be imported from Brazil or the mainland. This is another example of the urge to “;go green”;; the result is not unexpected consequences but consequences not considered by some of those involved.

Clearly, Hawaii needs science and technical knowledge more than ever. In the past, sugar had the HSPA and pineapples had the PRI. These activities applied science to produce the highest yields anywhere in the world. Their scientists and engineers provided talents which were applied to the water supply, electric power, disaster relief, and other needs which greatly benefited the state—though with some problem consequences.

Especially, we need genuine environmentalists, we need to identify them separately from the “;CAVE”; people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything), and we need to urge our legislators to call on them and listen to them. The local media often has a reporter who realizes this and may know whom to call for valid information. The wire services often do not.

Without these resources, legislators and regulators and politicians tend to pay more heed to groups that speak with a loud voice rather than getting advice from organizations such as the Hawaii Association of Environmental Professionals, retired scientists and engineers, as well as applying critical thinking, considering history, and stopping long enough to use just plain common sense. These are the factors that all of the above as well as citizens should think over before rushing to join the PC, “;green”; bandwagon. The intent is good; the means may not be.


George D. Curtis is an affiliate professor at the University of Hawaii.