Monday, September 19, 2016

Musings: Talking a Blue Streak

In endorsing Hawaii as the site for the recent International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) shindig, President Obama wrote:

After successfully hosting APEC, “it is appropriate that Hawaii now turn its focus to the intersection of economic development and environmental sustainability.”

So what did Hawaii do? It navigated straight to the well-traveled intersection that has supported its economy for the past half-century: tourism.

In the exact same manner that has generated trillions over decades, Hawaii opened its arms to some 8,000 IUCN delegates and attendees who flew to Oahu Hawaii from points around the globe and stayed in the high-rise hotels of Waikiki.

We know that tourism has been an effective form of economic development for the Islands. Hawaii has that part down pat.

But there is no road to environmental sustainability from the tourism-economic development intersection. Tourism in Hawaii is inherently unsustainable. 

There is nothing green, save for money, in flying 8 million people annually to the most remote inhabited land mass on earth, cooling and transporting them with imported fossil fuels, feeding them imported food, selling them imported trinkets, decking them with imported lei, washing them with water pumped, via fossil fuels, from the finite sources of underground aquaducts.

Yeah, you might opt not to have your hotel towels and sheets washed daily. You might select a menu item prepared from locally-sourced greens. But at the end of the day, it's all window-dressing.

Former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who worked to land the convention for the Islands, was reported as saying:

What ultimately influenced the selection was that Hawaii is a “textbook operation” in confronting the very issues that the IUCN is focused on. They include water conservation, protecting endangered species, reducing dependency on fossil fuels and developing clean, renewable energy sources.

So why didn't Hawaii become a “textbook operation” on how states and nations must grapple with the immense challenge of transitioning from an inherently unsustainable form of economic development, which includes nearly all enterprise — without driving people into poverty?

The closest they got, apparently, was when Katherine Novelli, the U.S. under secretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, said:

“Economic activity and environmental sustainability have to go hand in hand. You can’t tell people that their alternative is to starve to death.”

Yes, that we already know. But how, exactly, do you do you achieve that? For modern humans, that's proven an elusive goal. We have yet to figure out how to build that particular intersection.

As for the IUCN itself, what about the elephant in the room? By which I mean how tourism impacts all of the issues — conserving water and endangered species, reducing fossil fuel consumption — that it seeks to address? Where was the discussion on the environmental, social, cultural and political impacts of tourism (and that includes ecotourism)?

Some 16 years, I wrote a piece about a Sierra Club lawsuit that sought to force the Hawaii Tourism Authority to conduct an environmental assessment of the visitor industry's impact before spending $117 million over three years to promote tourism.

Though the Hawaii Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit, the HTA tried to smooth things over by saying, “the Sierra Club's concerns are being addressed in state studies that look at each island's tourism 'carrying capacity' from social, cultural, environmental and economic perspectives.”

In the decade-plus, have you seen that carrying capacity identified, much less enforced?

Meanwhile, the number of tourists has grown steadily, from 7 million when the lawsuit was filed to an estimated 8.8 million for 2016.

Roads are congested; beaches, trails and parks are overwhelmed; long-term rentals have been lost to the thriving legal/illegal vacation rental business; homelessess is on the rise; substance abuse is worsening; and locals are leaving for greener pastures, replaced by starry-eyed newcomers in search of paradise.

Environmentalists have turned away from scrutinizing tourism and are now focused on agriculture: fighting ag users for water, opposing GMO seed fields, suing to stop a pasture-based dairy, celebrating the demise of Hawaii's last sugar plantation.

Their focus now is on “organic farming,” “pure food,” “true food,” “food self-sufficiency,” as if the bat guano and neem oil, the weedblock and tractors, the GMO grain that Louisa Wooten feeds her goats to produce organic [correction; it is not marketed as organic] cheese isn't brought in from somewhere else, at significant environmental cost.

No doubt many of them were at the IUCN, speaking earnestly about the need to stop this or save that, without ever looking very closely at their own belief systems, expectations, activities — aside, perhaps from clutching a refillable coffee cup.

One of the organizers of the Hawaii IUCN was Chipper Wichman, a man I deeply respect, both as a human being and for his lifelong devotion to walking the talk of conservation. As Civil Beat reported:

Wichman said that a major benefit of hosting such a prestigious conference here is that it can influence local policy decisions, from City Council members to Gov. David Ige. He hopes that the conference will also capture the attention of the average Hawaii household.

“When we look at the return on investment in terms of impact on conservation, not only for Hawaii, but for the world, it’s incredible,” Wichman said. “It’s going to be catalytic.”

Yet the event itself was superficially reported, and a Star-Advertiser poll showed that most people had no interest in the proceedings. 

Shortly afterward, this comment was left in an article about the IUCN:

They said the event would bring at least $50 million in tax revenues to the state as well as allow Hawaii to showcase its commitment to environmental sustainability and renewable energy to a global audience.” So 13 million nets us 50 mill, for a profit of 37 million. I’ll take that deal every time.

And so does everybody else. Which is why we keep passing through the same intersection, blinders on, without ever looking very seriously for any side streets, any other way out, while talking a blue streak about going green.


Anonymous said...

Tourism is the cleanest industry.
There is environmental impact from every business.
Ag, Mining, Forestry, Manufacturing and Tourism....
Take your pick. They all leave yuge footprints. Tourism leaves only "a few footsteps in the sand" in comparison to any other industry.
Even the non-industrial areas, the welfare centers have larger economic, environmental and social cost.
Of course maybe a giant prison that employs 30,000 people could be constructed.......but the plethora of Motel 6s needed to house the visitors would change the lifestyle a lot more than some well-behaved, wealthy, fun seeking, respectful visitors.
Love your visitor, he puts rice in your bowl. We can't all be rich retirees voting for Hooser, Mason and JoAnn. We need jobs.
There is no viable alternative to tourism...
Joan Conrow for Council. She is loved and respected.

Anonymous said...

It's much, much easier to go after Hawaii's farmers with specious accusations than it is to address the elephant in the room --- figure out our islands' carrying capacity and how to prevent further over-burdening of our natural resources and our people.

Another great commentary, Joan.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Any solutions, even just as a suggestion?

Anonymous said...

The Anti's need to propose realistic solutions to offset their destructive self-serving demands. But they don't have any....that are REASONABLE.

Anonymous said...

@ 9:38
Perhaps we can diversify our economy so we woldn't rely on tourism so much? Maybe roll back some regulations to keep businesses and local entrepreneurs here instead of fleeing to the mainland?

Anonymous said...

Outstanding 9:38am and10:09am,

For getting some thoughts about solutions rolling in hopefully? I think that is one way to "thank Joan"!

She gave us great subject matter on this pretty Monday morning,,, let's honor her by filling these comments with good(and/or eclectic) ideas about this subject.

I wrote this comment before I had formulated my great ideas. But I'll get back at ya shortly with my 2 cents!

Anonymous said...

@ 11:11
thanks man. I guess another idea I had was aquaculture to help with the farming initiatives that are going on now. And installing a catch share program for the long line fishing industry.

Anonymous said...

Wow Joan not dissing the Sierra Club! That's a shocker.

Anonymous said...

Listen up 12:44,

Bashing the Sierra club is problematic for anyone's cause!!! If Joan can straighten them --keep them honest is a good thing!

My dad has advanced degrees in everything relevant to this subject------- and was some kind of Early Sierra Club member-------I remember when he saw them as Joan see's Earthjustice ,,,, thirty forty years ago,,, and The sheer disappointment of doing the so called "right thing" only, to realize that Passive aggressive pukes we're going to take down the west of the Mississippi water supply!!!!!

That's when you are dealing with ------------------------ Joan and my dad say it best. I dought my dad knows Joan, but he seems to know people of her caliber!

Anonymous said...

Your blog is valuable. As entertainment, information, research and a glimpse of Kauai.
Your comment section is great.
I have sent you dough before and it felt good. The island has gained a great deal from your words.
I'm not a Joan shill, but for the readers out there --don't you think flipping Joan some bucks, would be bucks well spent? She deserves it.
We get more news and better interaction and social intercourse via this blog than the Garden Island.

Remember all you one subject nutjobs, out there. Joan is about a lot more than GMOS. She has held the footsies of the Council or State to many diverse issues.

Checks or Cash to -----Ms Conrow PO Box 525, Anahola, Kauai, HI 96703.

Of course I send cash, so I can remain anonymous. Well wrapped cash, with all fingerprints wiped clean. Yellow legal paper is the best cash wrapping paper.
I sound like a shill, but I ain't.

Anonymous said...

There is no such thing as sustainable economic development except barter system.

Manuahi said...

Sorry 8:46 but barter at our level of population is just as "unsustainable" as a monetary system. It's not the cash, but the things we do to create value that hurt.

Anonymous said...

Barter is alive & well - you offer us what you want to - We offer what we choose in return - shells, stones, fish, animals, vegies, fruit, nuts, beans, property, water, cash, credit, civil society, etc. You get what you want - if you don't, try again, keep trying or move on to a more amenable location. Its a big world....Keep trying...Life is enjoyable

Anonymous said...

Or restore and put fish in the Menehune Fish Pond? ( now that would be truly respecting our elders)

History and good ideas are right in our face!

So yea back at yea man with the Aquaculture!!!!!! 12:20 p.m. Love it---

I still haven't pieced my good ideas in a understandable way----other than a huge fishpond that we are letting ------- thanks to the youngsters trying to beat the Mangroves back..... No easy way to do that job,,, and really an impossible mission without real tools- the hard work was done a thousand years ago, so this should be easy?

It's lame that we have to suggest the obvious .

Anonymous said...

Homer Simpson could genetically modify tomatoes and tobacco and called it tomacco. If homey can do it we can do it. It was brilliant, people got hooked on the "bacco" part so they kept eating the tomatoe part so they were ridiculously healthy.

Anonymous said...


This is Louisa Wooton.

We DO NOT and NEVER HAVE sold our goat cheese as organic. NEVER. The only third-party labels our cheese and goat milk products carry are Animal Welfare Approved and Kaua'i Made. Our dairy is audited (usually by livestock veterinarians) annually by AWA which is under the umbrella of the highly regarded Animal Welfare Institute.

You are absolutely correct, however, that we do import dairy grain for our micro-dairy (35 animals) milking herd and, due to its high cost, feed it at a minimum. I wish we did not have to do so. We tried organic feed, but could not get a formulation that was satisfactory for Hawai'i. If we could afford to buy/lease more property, we could increase our pastures and grow our own feed. It would be amazing if some of the abandoned ADC lands could be used to grow livestock feed. We know it can be grown here. Just need someone to do it.

All of the produce that we grow and sell from our farm is Certified Organic and has been since the USDA began the National Organic Program in 2002. Most of the fertilizer we use is made from composted goat manure and vegetable/fruit waste and cardboard, paper, etc.
We rely on cover-cropping, Essential Microbials (EM), and many other sustainable methods on our farm. For our phosphorous (if we need it), we buy bone/meat meal from an Oahu manufacturer that is locally (in Hawai'i, at least) produced from fish and meat industry waste. Our reliance on imported inputs is less and less every year.

As many folks know, our farm has become the perennial top point winner in the Kaua'i County Fair fruit and vegetable show. All of our entries this year were grown without a single drop of pesticide. NADA.

I am offering you an invitation to visit our farm. I truly hope you will accept. I might even be able to arrange a mini-tour for you to other OG farms. There are some amazing, successful operations: large organic ginger/olena operations, fruit and vegetables galore, noni, etc.

Please do not post incorrect assumptions about my family and our farming operations. Why repeat innuendo? You are being invited to observe what we and other organic farmers are doing so you can expand your knowledge about this vibrant sector of agriculture in Hawai'i.

"If you can't change your mind, then you're not using it."

Me ke aloha.

Joan Conrow said...

Thanks for your comment, Louisa. I've corrected the post to reflect that your cheese isn't marketed as organic.

I appreciate the offer of touring your farm and hopefully some other organic operations. I'll take you up on that. I actually do support all agriculture, including organic. Much of my attention has been focused on ending the demonization of viable conventional ag, such as the seed companies, but I'm happy to highlight other successful farming endeavors.

And thanks, also, for your comment about, "It would be amazing if some of the abandoned ADC lands could be used to grow livestock feed. We know it can be grown here. Just need someone to do it."

Yes, much more could be done in the way of agriculture on Kauai and elsewhere in Hawaii. The key is getting someone to do it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Louisa, your farm is a real family farm and the food you produce tastes great. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Joan, thank you very much for keeping the light shining on the hypocrisy of people with very little knowledge of basic science, in pontificating on complex subjects such as sustainability, conservation and genetic modification, only resulting in contradiction and hypocrisy.

It is of the grandest irony that Dustin Barca, no less, after working down on the farm, even a little, has had the sweat off his brow clear some of the Kool-Aid, tangerine, rose-colored vison from his eyes. Amazing what a little hands-on, reality check work does to one's perception. Nothing like the wrath of a convert!

The only organisms which are sustainable are those which produce, not consume, food/energy, such as plants and cyanobacteria, through the amazing process of photosynthesis. All other organisms are consumers, and are not sustainable because their energy comes from consuming/utilizing these sources, and processing them through the opposite chemical reaction of photosynthesis,which is respiration.

Through our self-proclaimed intelligence and ingenuity, we, humans, have elevated ourselves to the top of the food chain, and are wreaking havoc on our environment and the world, in no ways which are sustainable, only destructive, for what we call progress.

Conservation is a term and that we, particularly the first world countries, are not capable of, and hypocritical in discussing realistically, and are incapable of doing it, until we acknowledge and rid our inherent conflict of interest of needing, not wanting anymore, excessive conveniences and comfort.

For the likes of the Hooser's, Lukins, Surfrider, GreenPeace, ad nauseum, please just spare us the hypocrisy.