Saturday, May 17, 2008

Musings: Food or Fuel?

I wondered where the light was when I got up this morning, thinking surely there should be more of it, but it was subdued by a thick layer of vog that obscured the mountains and turned the sun into an eerie red disc as it rose, its intensity greatly dimmed, while Koko and I were feasting on yellow waiwi along the road.

Actually, only I was eating guava. Koko was sniffing, one of her favorite pastimes whenever she’s out of the house.

Ran into my neighbor Andy, who was out early before joining an on-line auction, and he said he’d never before seen vog like this in Hawaii, where he was born and raised, and while I don’t know exactly how old he is, I’m presuming, since he’s retired, that he’s at least 60.

We got to wondering what effect Kilauea’s ongoing eruption is having on global warming, which prompted him to remark on a book he’s been reading about primitive cultures that included a time line on temperatures. Seems there have been peaks and lows throughout history, but we’ve been in a prolonged warm “peak” period for a while, which helped him understand why humans didn’t develop agriculture sooner.

“It was just too darn cold,” he said.

So now it’s warm, and getting warmer, with uncertain implications, except our growing population is always going to need food, and it’s generally easier to grow it in a warm climate than cold.

Unless, of course, you’ve begun using your farmland to grow crops that feed our hungry electrical plants and cars, rather than us.

We’re seeing this play out globally, as food prices soar and the world’s poorest people go hungry — a scenario that prompted Jean Ziegler, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, to speak out harshly against the practice. According to a BBC report:

It was, he said, a crime against humanity to divert arable land to the production of crops which are then burned for fuel.
He called for a five-year ban on the practice.

Now this global issue is playing out locally, with the state Board of Land and Natural Resources slated to vote Friday, May 23, on a proposal to allow the Green Energy Team to lease 250 acres of state ag lands at Kalepa — one quarter of all the land that’s irrigated there — to grow trees for their biofuels project.

Green Energy reportedly has backed away from its controversial plans to grow invasive albizia there, and plans to grow eucalyptus instead, which it will then chip up and burn to make electricity for KIUC.

Funny how real farmers can’t get any of that choice Kalepa acreage — the last public ag lands on the eastside — until it’s transferred over to the Agribusiness Development Corp. But Green Energy can snap up 250 acres without an open bidding process. And ironically, if a big chunk of the irrigated lands is no longer available for farmers, the ADC won’t accept Kalepa at all.

This would open the door to the seed companies, which have already said they want to move into Kalepa, or reinforce it as the domain of cattle ranchers, who currently are viewed as interim users and so are on month to month revocable permits.

Meanwhile, Gay and Robinson has already said it wants the entire 6,000 acres at Kalepa for a biofuels project — even though they haven’t managed to get one using bagasse up and running on their own Westside land.

So we’ve got several issues at stake here, the most crucial of which is preserving the original intent of the Kalepa acreage, which is to make land available to bona fide farmers through reasonably-priced, long term leases.

Then there’s the injustice of letting Green Energy snake their way in to Kalepa with a project that is totally unproven and in all likelihood will fail. That’s coupled with the unlikelihood the state would actually make them clean up their mess when they do go bankrupt, thus leaving a big chunk of viable farm land rendered useless because it’s covered with eucalyptus.

And then there’s the whole question of pursuing biofuels at all — especially on public land — when we’re seeing it turn into a global boondoggle and we aren’t even close to feeding ourselves in this state, much less on the so-called Garden Island.

In fact, if you look at the most recent Hawaii agricultural statistics, of the 1.3 million acres in farm acreage throughout the state, only about a third is devoted to stuff you can actually eat.

The situation is even worse on Kauai, which lags behind Maui, Big Island and even urbanized Oahu in real food production. (I’m not including sugar, though I know some people consider it one of the basic food groups). We’ve got just 100 acres in veggies and melons, compared to 3,500 acres in the City and County of Honolulu.

This makes me a tiny bit nervous, living as I do on the most isolated inhabited land mass on Earth, as I watch government allow our farm land — especially that precious irrigated farm land — to be gobbled up for luxury homes/vacation rentals and speculative biofuel projects with their enticing tax credits.

If you’re concerned, too, please submit testimony urging the Board to vote against agenda item D-3. If Green Energy wants to pursue its project, let them find land some place else. They do not need the irrigated lands at Kalepa.

You can fax testimony to (808) 587-0390 Attn: Board Members or e-mail it to


Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who thinks the vog is MASSIVELY FUCKED UP!!??

Because today's Advertiser says "experts" say this vog is not necessarily unhealthy. Yeah, right --and it was propane (!) that sent to the hospital the kids at the school next to the pesticide spraying.

If the vog is this heinous here, pity the poor folks on the big island, with what they must be going through.

A vulcanologist from Alaska visiting here said all the volcanos are going off in the arctic circle as well -- Russia, Japan, Alaska. I followed up by checking a volcano web site and saw, sure enough, there has been unusually high volcanic activity all around the world. That was before the Chile volcano spewed.

My mother also told me that she heard that there is also an unusually high level of undersea volcanic activity taking place.

Did you ever think about how all this volcanic activity might be due to the absence of the icecaps' stabilized cold temperatures on the top and bottom of our planet? We've been hearing plenty of theories about how the melting ice caps might catalyze changes in the warming Gulf Stream. But what about changes to currents *within* the planet, not just on its surface? I mean the liquid magma. Surely, they must follow current paths as well, which follow a routine pattern -- as long as there is a stable temperature range, that is.

So maybe all that seismic activity -- including the China earthquake -- is a symptom of cataclysmic subterranean shifts caused by magma currents redistributing themselves according to the laws of thermal physics?

Before our eyes, we are watching the symbiotic, chicken-and-egg escalation of global warming. The ice caps melt. The volcanos spew. The ice caps melt faster. More volcanos spew more. Etc.

Yesterday, someone told me that people in Greenland were concerned because the rapidly melting ice shelf was somehow "unlocking" the activity of hundreds of geysers, spewing hot steam.

In reaction, tests were conducted that concluded that the ice had been a sort of "brace" on the land, and the heat beneath the earth is always wanting to expand (that's what heat does), but is kept in check by the ice shelfs. Without the ice, there is nothing to keep the explosive inner heat energy of the earth in check.

There's a beautiful Hawaiian myth about this balance: the story of the rivalry between Pele and Poli'ahu, the snow goddess. In the end, they, with Lilinoe, the mist goddess, maintain a three-way balance.

Let us pray -- and work -- for such harmony to be achieved in our lifetimes.


Anonymous said...

Its interesting how the earth has a way of detoxing itself.