Sunday, November 4, 2007

Musings: Growthmania

It’s been wonderful to have this rain. I can literally see the plants rejoicing. Had the thrill of a little lightening show last night, too, as flashes illuminated clouds in both the eastern and northwest skies.

Spent several hours yesterday cleaning and cooking taro, then peeling and grinding it into poi in a Champion juicer. My friend Kaimi and I used to show kids how to pound poi the old fashioned way when we ran the educational program at a taro farm in Hanalei, but this was my first venture with a juicer. It worked really well, and now I’ve got fresh poi to share around.

As I processed the taro, listening to Country Comfort, Gabby, Olomana and the rain, I thought of how much our eating habits have changed since I was a kid. Cooking from scratch is almost an anomaly these days, as is cooking in a group, and so much of what we eat is heavily processed garbage imported from elsewhere.

I’ve been making a concerted effort to eat locally, as I think that is one cornerstone of sustainable living. I read the other day that Kauai cattlemen are shipping beef off-island because they don’t have a big enough market here on-island. Yet even locally-owned grocery stores like Big Save sell only mainland beef.

It seems to me that mainland and local beef is competitively priced, and the local meat, which is pasture fed rather than raised in those disgusting factory farm/feed lot set ups, has a far superior taste. It’s healthier, too, since it’s not so fatty.

Yesterday’s post about the fallacies of our endless growth approach to economics generated a comment from blogger Aaron Stene challenging me, and others who complain about over-development, “to look in mirror (sic) and come up with alternatives to the current unsustainable economic forces.”

OK, eating locally, and learning to like what can be grown easily in your own community, is one. But the most important first step is to change your consciousness, starting with the idea that growth is inevitable and good.

I became interested in ecology and environmental economics some 30 years ago when I was fortunate to have some akamai college professors. One of the most influential books I read is “Toward a Steady-State Economy,” edited by Herman Daly.

I pulled it off the shelf last night and found it’s just as cogent and applicable today as when I first read it. In future posts, I’ll share more from it, but let’s start with this, from an essay by Herman Daly:

“’Growthmania” is an insufficiently pejorative term for the paradigm or mind-set that always puts growth in first place — the attitude that there is no such thing as enough, that cannot conceive of too much of a good thing.

“Growthmania is the attitude in economic theory that begins with the theological assumption of infinite wants, and then with infinite hubris goes on to presume that the original sin of infinite wants has its redemption vouchsafed by the omnipotent savior of technology, and that the first commandment is to produce more and more goods for more and more people, world without end. And that this is not only possible, but desirable.

“The growth paradigm has outlived its usefulness. It is a senile ideology that should be unceremoniously retired into the history of economic doctrines…. What will the new paradigm be? This idea is that of the steady state economy.

“The world is finite, the ecosystem is a steady state. The human economy is a subsystem of the steady-state ecosystem. Therefore at some level and over some time period the subsystem must also become a steady state, at least in its physical dimensions of people and physical wealth.

“Such a policy is radical, but less radical than attempting the impossible, i.e., growing forever.”


Larry said...

Aha! There is another Herman Daly fan in Hawaii. Maybe also Hazel Henderson? (

Before there were blogs to write in, I expounded a couple of times that an economy based on growth is not appropriate for an island. For thousands of years these islands and others were completely sustainable. Close boundaries of water prohibit unlimited growth.

Of course, if we want our iPods and iPhones, not to mention cars and plasma televisions, we have to earn dollars to buy them, which of course is not part of a self-contained, sustainable economy. But we need only enough dollars to buy those outside things we want.

The growth model is foisted upon us so that we can be exploited by others. Which, since we want those plasma TVs, we seem to be willing to endure.

Anonymous said...

Yes, good point Aaron and Joan, and I've been doing lots of reading about sustainability. I met Kelly King of Pacific Biodiesel last week. She has formed a group called the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance ( in response to MECO and BluePacific who (NIMBY) are building another Biodiesel plant on this island. They planned to bring in Palm oil to process and NOT do an EIS. Sound familiar?

They will do an EIS now and maybe the HSF fiasco had something to do with their coming around but it's still not clear where the feedstock will come from. They want to use locally grown crops but there are none. Cane makes ethanol and Pineapples probably would yield some fermented concoction like ethanol. I just read the Oahu plant will process canola oil brought in from Canada.

Apparently the cave people recognized Meco was on the wrong track and are trying to have some influence. As you know, there are so many wrong ways to produce sustainable fuels and $100 barrel oil is pushing production beyond reasonableness at the moment so some ground rules make good sense. I wish Kelly and her group success. I think it's important at this point to put pressure on the PUC to get Meco/Heco to come around to accepting more sustainable answers. Our windmill group is ready to add to their plant but Meco is dragging it's feet. Apparently something they're good at. Not invented here appears to be part of their corporate culture.

It looks like GM, Toyota, Nissan, and others are lining up for EV intro's into the 09 market. If Prius can get the Lithium ion (laptop) batteries incorporated into their new model MPG could double. Lots of exciting stuff coming like diesel hybrid (Toyota/Isuzu) maybe 70mph. (Toyota has been selling a diesel hybrid van in Japan since 04) And VW is working on a modern clean diesel(bluetec).

The solar panels will come when the car comes. Yes, they are spendy. I want to let Meco use my EV batteries to store power when I'm not using my car. Google has plunked a few dollars into this effort. A fascinating model would start with new feedstock....can the cane. Produce the biodiesel to power the Meco plant, and fill our tanks. Use the windmills and a thermal solar plant for peak power. Use a fleet of EV's parked in the mcmansions for storage and solar panels for zero metering...and to run the plasma TVs.

Anonymous said...

We all have bills to pay, some have children to feed etc. Things like that take money to do.

The reality is we cannot survive making lauhala hats, for example.

It's been obvious to me that depending on real estate, construction, military and tourism
is not sustainable.

But whenever someone new comes here to try to diversify our economy, the CAVE/NIMBY's come out in force.
The latter happens time and time again. It gets very frustrating for me.

The end effect of Hawaii being based on unsustainable economy forces is Hawaii turning into only
a playground for the rich.

Larry said...

It's already a playground for the rich. In part, that's what the tourism biz is. They are also buying up homes and condos.

If anyone comes up with a workable model for a diverse economy, that would be great. Giving tax credits to corporations (corporate welfare) may be good for investors, but unless jobs are generated in significant numbers there is little chance that tourism/military will be displaced.

At the other end, ag land is being gobbled up for gentlemen farmers, pushing up land prices so that farming becomes more difficult. Shouldn't we be producing more food locally, to keep the buck circulating within the state if for no other reason?

Imagine some nut blows up a bomb in Waikiki. Tourism would take a huge hit, and there's no fallback and no sustainable agriculture safety net.

Anonymous said...

That is exactly my point. Hawaii is not going to move forward UNLESS we move away from its current unsustainable economic base.

Larry, it seems like to me that you are complaining on the way things are.But you are also saying there
no way Hawaii can wean itself away from. You are contradicting yourself
like Hillary Clinton did in a recent debate.

In short, thing are are not going to get better unless our economy diversifies away from the military and tourism.

If not the brain drain will continue and Hawaii will not be Hawaii anymore.

Anonymous said...

First all of us who are settlers here needs to ask ourselves what the heck we are are doing here. We are a big part of the problem.

Also, I'm disgusted by these brand-new priuses driving around. I really question whether it would have been more sustainable for the owners of these shiny new cars to do like the rest of us: just drive your old car until the wheels fall off instead of paying for a brand-new car.

I think we all need to question the whole ball of wax: private ownership of land, buying more than we need, depending on modern "conveniences" like airplanes to travel half-way around the world at a moment's notice, this computer I'm tapping on right now.

Anonymous said...

Complaining about something and implying nothing can be done is not contradictory. Sometimes there is nothing that can be done, at least in the near term (50yrs?), and one is not happy about it.

One problem with diversfying our economy is that, belive it or not, not that many people actually want to live here full time. Too far from family, high quality education, lack of urban culture, etc.

Argriculture is dead as a leader of diversification. If not for the military, who will NOT go away (good!) and will expand (good!) and tourism, this state would really be "third world".

I think this "sustainable" thing is getting out of hand. I do not believe Hawaii will ever become stand-alone sustainable, but will always rely on outside resources and money.

People living here do not necessarily want to "go native" and give up what they are used to. We sure aren't.

Anonymous said...

Good point, but those old babies do belch some noxious fumes sometimes and your aren't going to get most of us to give up our cars very soon. Wouldn't it be a good start to drive something that gets 100 MPG, Belches French fry grease and draws its charge from the Sun while never sipping one drop of fossil fuel? I kept my Toyota pickup for 14 years...good truck.

Anonymous said...

I have never heard of Herman Daly before but I am most appreciative of his thoughts regarding growth. At least I know now that it doesn't have to be that way.
Time to get creative. Perhaps we can learn from other island nations like Cuba? I understand that they are very good at fixing up their old cars and driving them for 50 years. Aren't Cubans also experts in the area of permaculture?..and speaking of third world, that just might be a good thing for Hawaii.

Anonymous said...

My goal when I bought my honda civic wagon 16 years ago was to keep it to 20 years at least. So far, its still hanging in there. I would never trust the cars coming out now to last 20 years. I can see some need for our cars but not to the point of demanding more and more roads to satisfy our driving addiction.

Joan Conrow said...

I agree that more roads just lead to more cars. Look at Southern California. No matter how many lanes they have, or new freeways they add, they get jammed up quickly. Much as I love the convenience of my car, I also recognize it's unsustainable and responsible for a lot of other ills, like sprawl, strip zoning, good land paved for parking lots, etc.

Anonymous said...

Hawaii as a nation (fat chance!) might have a chance to turn back the clock and become a third world nation or a "Cuba". BTW, if the USA drops the embargo against Cuba, how many years would it take for it to become "Americanized?"

But Hawaii as a state of the USA doesn't have a chance to become third world like. Rich mainlanders will always buy and build (from owners who want to sell and counties who want to zone).

HawaiiWorld is the new reality...the playground of the people of means from elsewhere in the world.

There will be no agri, manufacturing, distribution industries of any substance, other than mac nuts and coffee.

InfoTech holds promise, but as mentioned above, not enough professionals want to live here full time. Telecommuting is nice for many, but that's a cottege industry, of course.

So...military (the largest employer in the state) and tourism supporting the "service industry" is about all I see us ever having for as long as the next couple of generations will be alive.

It's a great place to retire we did. We would have never come if we had kids to put in school or local jobs to get.

Nothing...absoutely nothing....pays equal to or greater than equivalent work on the mainland, where costs are lower.

As long as that doesn't get fixed, people won't come to diversify the economy.

PS - go HSF!!!

Joan Conrow said...

Dear Anonymous:
I just hope you don't get sick in your smugly comfortable retirement, as perhaps you're not aware of how poor the health care is in Hawaii, especially on the neighbor islands.

But then, you can just return to America, joining the droves of others who come here to take up space, use up resources and move on.

Anonymous said...

We're very well aware of the dismal health care and other "dismalities" in this state. Unlike so many, we did massive research prior to moving.

Fortunately, we are very healthy for the present and do not fall within the scope of any other of those dismalities.

Like they say in Costa Rica.."got a pain? Take the plane".

So, what's your solution to attracting quality med staff to your little island and my larger one? Reign in HMSA? State tort reform? Or just eat more roughage and walk alot.

Anonymous said...

ps - we're already in America...just not the best part for certain social services.

Anonymous said...

One of the solutions to our health care system is to get rid of the part of it that leeches on sick people to keep them sick. After all, if people don't stay sick, you can't make money off of them, right? I am talking about the good ole drug companies out there who peddle their drugs through our doctors, pay off the researchers to fudge the clinical trial numbers, deny the drug's bad side effects, make up sicknesses, etc. We don't need that kind of health care system here. The sooner we do away with that kind of sham of a health care system, the healthier we will be.

Anonymous said...

I miss strip zoning around here. It's usually restricted to around airports. Ah, one of the last and finest uses of a dollar bill...

Anonymous said...

I admit that I feel a bit insecure about not having enough doctors here in Kona to handle the increase. We really only need doctors for our serious problems (surgeries) and we should use more nurse practitioners for the not-so-serious problems. We also need to put an end to the hogwash of made up diseases (like high cholesterol) that have been erupting over the last 30 years. Made up diseases create more harmful drugs that make drug companies rich and make the rest of us sicker and poorer.Ending drug induced sicknesses (bye bye Lipitor) should make us a lot more healthier.