I was outside at about 4 a.m. — it was Koko's idea, not Paele's or mine — and once the sleep left my eyes I was entranced by the stars, so long hidden by clouds. I could only discern Triangle, pointing southwest, before the curtain was drawn and the overcast returned and now, four hours later on this new moon morning, raindrops are glistening on the ironwood needles.
You probably didn't realize this, but it's officially “Hawaii Pollinator Week,” as in the guv has recognized the value of honey bees, and the fact that they're declining, which, as the proclamation proclaims, “is a threat to the agricultural economy across the state.”
Not to mention all the backyard fruit that we take for granted here in the Islands, and the overall fabric of life. So he's gonna give some money — small kine, cuz the Lege has more important stuff to fund, ya know — to the UH for bee hive research, which is grand. But what if we dig just a little bit deeper, into some of the causes of this decline, with all arrows pointing toward chemicals, including those used by the seed companies that presently, and unfortunately, pretty much comprise the agricultural economy of this state?
Lately, I've become increasingly annoyed whenever I see the word “sustainability,” and not just because it's used ad ad nauseam. It's more because it is a word that has been used so carelessly, and wrongly, that is has been rendered meaningless, when it has a perfectly good definition: Capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment.
Two recent examples of sustainability shibai: the 769-unit Kapaa Highlands II project proposed near Kapaa middle school is being billed as a “sustainable community,” even though it takes land out of agriculture. The developer apparently gave it this designation because a solar facility has already been built on one part of the land, the homes will have energy-efficient light fixtures, and bikeways and walkways will lead to a newly-built county swimming pool and a commercial center. Sorry, but there's a bit more to sustainability than that.
Then there's the county's energy sustainability plan, which is supposed to chart the course for Kauai to achieve total energy sustainability by 2030. Some of the “tips” Ben Sullivan recently shared to help us get there — buy an electric car, install solar water heaters, upgrade appliances — are based on the inherently unsustainable actions of purchasing stuff elsewhere and shipping it here. While some of the other pointers — wash clothes in cold water and hang them on the line, take the bus — would result in some valid energy savings, they aren't going to get us to that goal.
I'm a big fan of conservation, and we all can do our part, the plan totally ignores the giant unsustainable elephant in the room: tourism.
Even as the county is urging us to carpool and minimize unnecessary trips, we have some 25,000 visitors daily on this island piloting rental cars — many of them gas guzzlers — and driving around to see the sights. As the county pushes us to use microwaves to heat small portions of food, the air conditioning is billowing out of shops and resorts that cater to tourists.
Consider this: the Hyatt, which is one of the “greenest” hotels on the island, with a number of energy saving measures in place, is still burning some $300,000 worth of electricity each and every month — or the equivalent of about 2,700 households like mine. And that doesn't include the liquid propane that heats all of its hot water.
Yet this sort of information — and the county's desire to keep expanding unsustainable tourism — is missing from the discussion on energy awareness. So long as it is, we are never going to achieve sustainability, much less within 18 years, no matter how many towels we hang on the line.