It seemed as if rain was imminent when Koko and I set out on our walk this morning. Dark gray clouds massed in the northeast and clung thickly to Wailaleale and Makaleha, shrouding the summits.
And indeed, some rain did fall, but it was that fine, light, teasing rain that didn’t even dampen my clothes, much less quench the thirsty soil.
Ran into farmer Jerry, smiling as usual on his way to work, and I mentioned that I’d glanced at my neighbor’s newspaper before heading out. The headlines were all about conserving water and the perils of Hawaii’s extreme dependence on imported oil.
“How many more wake-up calls are people going to need?” I asked him.
“A lot,” Jerry answered, as he noted that he’d heard on the news this morning that gas is expected to hit $5 a gallon before the Fourth of July, and diesel has already topped that locally.
Then he added jokingly: “Science will save us.”
“Or government,” I chimed in, and we both laughed, recognizing the fallacy of counting on any such rescues.
For starters, there’s currently no source of alternative energy that can quickly and cheaply replace oil in time to forestall the tremendous social and economic ramifications associated with rapidly escalating oil prices.
And as Jerry noted: “We’re never going to have any more water than what’s on the Earth already.”
We started talking about all the businesses and services that rely heavily on gasoline, ranging from the postal service to the trucks that transport our food and the pumps that power our water wells. The higher prices they’re paying for fuel are going to be passed on to us consumers sooner, rather than later, which means gas pumps aren’t the only place we’re gonna feel the pinch.
According to the Garden Island’s reprint of an Associated Press report of a talk given by Maurice Kaya, who recently retired as the state's energy manager and now works as a strategic energy and management consultant:
“The [energy] crisis is here and it’s going to be a long one. We are well beyond the time to act, and business owners need to be pro-active in demanding clean energy at predictable costs from suppliers."
Kaya also noted that Hawaii now gets 99 percent of its fossil fuels from foreign sources, whereas in the past, Alaskan oil was dominant.
“The status quo carries way too much risk for you and me,” he said.
Kaya went on to address how rising fuel prices will affect Hawaii’s tourism industry:
“The darkest cloud is the immediate impact on discretionary travel,” he said. “You see that happening already — not as many people are flying.”
Like rising fuel costs, the effects of declining tourism will ripple through the state’s entire economy, affecting even those who aren’t directly employed by the visitor industry. So we have the price of everything going up, just as the economy is going down.
Meanwhile, in addition to urging Kauai residents to conserve water, especially in east Kilauea, The Garden Island reported that drought conditions are affecting farmers throughout the state. It included this comment from Faith Shiramizu, the water department’s spokeswoman:
Most of the rain gauges on Kaua‘i along with the rest of the state recorded below normal rain totals for the past couple of years.
So here we are, in a situation where fuel prices keep rising, tourism is declining and agriculture is getting squeezed by a number of factors, including a drought that is impacting even Kauai, home to Waialeale, one of the wettest spots on the planet.
Yet still we see people pretending like everything is hunky dory. They rail against government mandates for solar hot water heaters. They make fun of the “peak oil” theory, ignoring the reality that it doesn’t matter whether the cause is due to greedy oil companies or scarce resources, the effect — rising fuel prices — is the same. They undermine attempts to preserve agricultural land. They mock efforts to achieve sustainability or reduce our near total dependence on outside sources of food and fuel.
Why? Are they oblivious? In denial? Ignorant? Oppositional? Obstructionist? Foolish? Maybe they believe that somebody or something is going to save us before things get too uncomfortable.
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say: “Hawaii is too important militarily. Do you really think the government would let us starve?”
Maybe not. But before you start getting complacent, just remember the government “response” to Katrina. Besides, if crises are breaking out all over, how high a priority will Kauai be in the overall scheme of things? And trust me, you do not want to be dining on MREs — the “meals ready to eat” that were the government’s solution to feeding people after Iniki.
I’m not writing this to freak people out or make them shut down. I’m not into fear. I am, however, into realism. And it seems to me that we could go a long way toward addressing some of these looming problems if we simply stopped wasting so much gas, water, food and energy.
As the Garden Island article noted:
Though the county Water Department is asking residents to conserve water this summer, Shiramizu said water conservation should be a way of life.
“Our hope is that everyone will choose to be good stewards of water, which is a very precious resource,” she said. “Water is a resource that none of us can survive without. Although we hope that consumers use water wisely on a daily basis, the dry conditions that we’ve experienced over the last couple of years makes water conservation even more important.”
Yup, that’s pretty basic stuff. Yet daily I see water being wasted. And the same is true of all the other basic commodities that have become so cheap and plentiful that we take them for granted to the point of serious waste. In fact, people have even reached the point where they believe it's their right to be wasteful.
That kind of mentality has got to change, along with our consume madly because the cup is full to overflowing way of life in America.
As Kaya noted:
The most powerful solutions are always local.
And when you come right down to it, ain’t nothing more local than the way we live our daily lives.