Moving Away From Oil Dependence

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - January 23, 2008

When House Speaker Calvin Say and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa convened the second session of the 24th state Legislature last Wednesday, as ever that meant a day of oratory, entertainment, office parties and comity.

It is also the only day in the legislative session when anyone pays attention to oratory. And what was said last week was interesting - very interesting indeed.

Hanabusa spoke about the Sustainability 2050 Task Force and the skepticism among some about anything ever coming of its report. In doing so, she cited - eloquently - the divisions in the community made evidenced in the furor over the Superferry.

“It was about people feeling irrelevant, ignored and helpless,” says Hanabusa. “It was about communities dividing, positions hardening and people losing hope.

“Worst of all, it was about fear. The fear that one’s future was no longer within one’s control. The fear that tomorrow belongs to them - and not to us. The fear that the ferry somehow symbolized our future, good or bad, and whether we like it or not. The fear of what is the future? What is the Hawaii that we will have in 20 to 40 years?

“This manifested itself in what we legislators had to deal with in the special session. The question of Honolulu-centrism. Us vs. them. Neighbor Islands vs. Oahu. Locals vs. new arrivals. And then what was not said but clearly there: growth vs. the status quo; development vs. agriculture; urban egotism vs. rural reverse-elitism.”

A pretty good diagnosis of the Superferry fiasco, that. But then Hanabusa descended into an oratorical void, talking about how all Hawaii came together behind the University of Hawaii football team and demonstrated “what we are together, and what we can accomplish when we share a goal.”

Nonsense. Such coming together is transitory and meaningless. It too often results in taxpayers burdening themselves for decades in order to build stadiums for ridiculously profitable professional sports franchises owned by wealthy, wealthy men.

No, meaningful sustainability legislation will require much tougher legislative slogging than building community support for an abundant soap supply in UH locker rooms. Why? Because it’s far more important.

But maybe I’m too pessimistic. Listen, for example, to Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings - of the Bush-Cheney Republicans, they of the “oil, oil, uber alles” national energy policy” - warning his listeners of the effects of global warming: a “massive ocean dead zone, atop Mauna Loa soaring carbon-dioxide levels, coral reefs heading for doom, and 114 of 394 primate species on the edge of extinction.”

Hemmings called 2050 too late a date for sustainability. He called for a “steady state economy with selected growth and measured consumption.” He went, in short, where few conservative Republicans have ventured.

So, too, did Democrat Say. He argued that “Hawaii’s unique environment presents us with an unparalleled opportunity to lead our nation in the development of renewable energies.” He spoke of ethanol from sugarcane, solar energy, wind, hydropower and wave energy.

And there was urgency in Say’s usually measured words. “The increase in their price (imported fossil fuels) shows up in the gas we buy, the electricity we use and the food we eat.

“Hawaii is not far away from a day when the cost of jet fuel will start to play havoc with our tourist-based economy. Some say it has already started to do that.

“Why are we moving so slowly? Most of the energy we need can be created here at home. Are the threats to the status quo and the increasing appetites of real estate developers standing in our way?”

Why indeed? Perhaps, just perhaps, this is the year the pace will quicken.

House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan: “Our sunshine, trade winds and ocean attract millions of visitors every year. These same attributes can provide for our energy needs and propel us to the forefront of energy independence in 10 years. Driven by the rising cost of oil, the opportunities for renewable energy have never been greater.”

A shared goal? I’m sure powerful players will oppose it, for the profits of which it will deprive them. But alternative energy development is a far more serious cause to rally behind than a football team.

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