Sunday, May 11, 2008

Musings: Bearing the Burden

Birds provide such delightful bookends to the day, as I observed this morning, lying in bed and listening to their pre-dawn songs and calls fill the valley below my house with music, and yesterday at sunset, when Koko and I went deep mauka, accompanied by a traveling bird symphony, to visit the ohia trees.

They’re blooming, adorned with feathery, deep-red lehua blossoms, and if there is a tree that more deeply touches my heart, for reasons I can’t explain — not that I need to — I haven’t yet encountered it.

The albizia, too, is blooming, a sight that fills me with some dread, as it’s easy, when their canopies are a mass of tiny white flowers, to see how quickly they’re marching up the mountains, how far they’ve already come.

They’ve traveled high up Makaleha and Hihimanu, two important watersheds in Kapahi and Hanalei, respectively, and they’ve pretty much taken over Kalihiwai Valley. In the remote, backcountry regions, they shade out uluhe fern and crowd out ohia — two plants that effectively collect water.

The uluhe also provide cover for the burrows of Newell’s shearwaters — a rare seabird that comes ashore on Kauai to nest and is already challenged by the proliferation of electric lines and lights in previously dark areas.

I think about these things when I’m out and about, and often I get to wondering why it is that we humans, with our oblivious, short-sighted ways, cause so much trouble for other species, and even our own.

That thought came to mind the other day when I was listening to Niumalu resident Gary Craft talking on KKCR about the air pollution emitted by Norwegian Cruise Lines when the “Pride of America” is in port at Nawiliwili.

As Gary, a teacher and reasonable-sounding man, discussed how he began researching the health effects of the sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide and particulate matter released from the ship’s smokestacks while it hangs overnight at the harbor, I heard the worry in his voice.

I also heard the frustration he and others experienced when they tried to seek help from the Legislature, only to have a bill that would have required the ships to burn cleaner fuel while in port defeated, and the state, only to be told it couldn’t determine the source of the contaminants.

“We want to support tourism,” Gary said. “We just don’t want to die for it.”

How much burden, I wondered, should one community have to bear to support Kauai’s predominant industry? And what burdens are already being borne by other communities?

Well, to name just a few, Koloa is being systematically destroyed to make way for more shops and vacation houses. Hanalei and Haena have been completely overrun by a proliferation of unregulated vacation rentals. Kapaa is choked with traffic.

Sure, tourism is our bread and butter, but how many of the impacts we’re feeling are the unnecessary result of poor planning, lack of political will, incompetence and sheer greed? I’d venture to say nearly all of them.

I remember once, many years ago, when Puna Geothermal Venture was building its plant to generate electricity in the Big Island’s Puna District and residents were complaining that it was emitting toxic fumes that were making them sick, destroying their community and driving down their property values. Ironically, many of them had chosen to build homes that were totally off the grid, so they wouldn’t even be using the electricity.

I happened to be interviewing Sen. Dan Inouye when he came to Hilo for a political affair, and asked what he thought of the residents’ concerns about geothermal. He replied that everyone had to share in the burden of providing the needs required by our modern society, just as he endured the traffic noise generated by the freeway that ran near his Honolulu apartment.

There’s some truth to that, but what about when the burdens can be mitigated, or entirely avoided? And is it fair to make those who aren’t gaining any direct benefits shoulder heavy burdens?

These kinds of questions, if they’re raised at all, are regularly ignored or dismissed by most government agencies and political leaders. Meanwhile, government continues on the same path, scuttling a bill that would make NCL clean up its act, approving a questionable biofuels project that will allow a company to plant more albizia downwind of the watersheds that serve us all.

Sometimes, though, attempts are made to break through this unconsciousness, and such is the case at Nawiliwili, where a number of actions are planned for May 22 that are intended to make Norwegian Cruise Lines — and its passengers — aware that real people are being affected by their business decisions, and these real people aren’t happy. It’s an effort that deserves support. And who knows? Maybe it’ll lead to more instances of people rising up to say “no!” When people go through the proper channels, and still get no relief, truly, what other options do they have?


Kauai Sanctuary said...

I'm happy to take on a burden that contributes to a long-range plan of sustainability. Like the burden of taking the bus. Or hanging my clothes out to dry. Or boycotting big box stores -- perhaps the most difficult burden for those on a budget.

But to tolerate multiple violations of our right to clean air and water, all to serve the perpetuation of a powerful system that is well on its way to killing the planet, is simply criminal.

Anonymous said...

i love our esteemed senior senator's sentiments of 'I suffered- so should others'. how has our community suffered/benefited from such vision? i'm glad he's getting remarried; maybe retirement will be considered for the senator's next phase of suffering, er life.

Anonymous said...

Although this is a log post but very meaningful too.

Anonymous said...

Those concerned re Norwegian Cruise Lines might be interested to know that at the Port of L.A., where there are environmental demands being made on the shipping companies, NCL has instituted environmental controls: