After I quoted Kepa Kruse in yesterday's post, he called me and we shared our dismay over the growing divisiveness and ugliness of the GMO-pesticide debate, the polarization of our island evidenced so starkly by the blue and red shirts at Wednesday's Council hearing on Bill 2491, the structure of public hearings, which more closely resemble a boxing match where people are issued gloves, but told, "don't fight."
So much energy has been expended trying to destroy and discredit the other side, and it's staged to continue as the Council begins to massage the bill in Committee. How can we marshall it into something more positive?
“I'm interested in exploring solutions,” Kepa said. “I would love to hear what other people have in their minds. We should stage an open discussion where people could share ideas.”
As in ideas for developing good jobs on the westside, remediating the soil, generating products and/or services that directly benefit our island. In other words, if we don't want biotech, what can take its place and how do we get there?
Kepa is a thoughtful man with a lot of ideas, and one of them is a partnership agreement — as opposed to a lease — that has the Department of Defense financing a massive solar farm on Hawaiian Homelands. The system would generate enough power for PMRF's needs, while also producing electricity that could be fed into the KIUC system to produce revenues for DHHL and subsidize (lower) the cost of electricity elsewhere on the island. “The westside has 321 days of sun a year,” he said.
And with the ample water resources on that side, some of that energy could be used to pump water uphill during the day that would be released as hydro-power to generate electricity when the sun goes down. “That's being done all over the world,” he said.
“We also need to have discussions about finding a process to clean the soil of pesticides over time,” Kepa said, noting that he'd read about the use of mushrooms and other fungi to remediate soil.
Unfortunately, a bill that would have authorized UH to establish a two-year pilot project to study the use of industrial hemp in soil remediation and as a biofuel crop got stuck in the last legislative session. All the Kauai legislators supported it, so perhaps we can urge them to move it through in the next round, with the westside as the test site.
I've heard some folks call for replacing the biotech fields with small farms, which is a lovely vision, and no doubt many of the green-thumb folks who now work in biotech would be very successful at running their own farms, which could feed us. But that requires the state and private landowners to bust loose with some affordable land — land they are leasing to the seed companies, sometimes displacing ranchers and small farmers in the process, because they pay top dollar.
Our discussions need to be broadened to include the landowners, who have been pretty much flying under the radar as the arrows fly at their biotech tenants. But let's be honest here. The biotech companies didn't just walk in, the door was opened. There are a few local companies — most notably, Grove Farm and Gay and Robinson — that should be thoroughly questioned about their long- and short-term goals for their land and the island. These companies love to claim they're good neighbors and good stewards, and they need to be held accountable.
“I'm sure that other people have lots of great ideas,” Kepa said. “I'd love to hear more about Pat Gegen's plans for solar. I know we can come up with some solutions, but it will take open eyes, open ears and open hearts.”
I'm hoping those same open eyes, ears and hearts will come into play as the bill moves through the Council. Because if it's left solely to reds and blues with blinders on, we're going to end up with either nothing, or a piece of crap that the Council cobbles together in appease whichever side screams loudest or turns up the most heat.
It's not a pleasant arena, and it's no surprise that thoughtful, akamai people want to avoid it like the plague. But this is our home, and with an issue this emotional and divisive, it requires our best effort.
Let's start sharing ideas now for improving Bill 2491 — Councilman Gary Hooser himself called for suggestions on ways to make it better — and transitioning the westside into something beyond biotech.
But first, let's open our eyes, ears and hearts.