Choosing The Future For Hawaii

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - September 06, 2006
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What will our Hawaii be like in the year 2050? It all depends on what we do - or don’t do - today.

I was one of hundreds of islanders who attended a one-day conference called “Charting a Course for Hawaii’s Sustainable Future.”

OK. I know. Does not sound sexy. But before your eyes glaze and roll back into their sockets, give me a chance to explain why it’s so important.

Better yet, I’ll let Jim Dator explain it. He’s a professor at the University of Hawaii and heads the Hawaii Research Center for Future Studies. He has been telling us for years that we need to start looking at what our lives, our environment and our society will be like in the years to come. Dator is a political scientist and a futurist, but he does not have a crystal ball. He really doesn’t know what the future holds. Still, he says, “We can’t just continue to do it the way we’ve done it in the past.”

Why not? For the answer, look around you. Land is scarce, people are going homeless, and the price of housing is out of reach for too many families. We depend on foreign oil to run everything. We get almost all of our food from outside our state. Tourism is the “engine that runs the economy,” but can we sustain it, grow it, improve it? Should we? How do we preserve the culture and environment of a place being squeezed to death by the needs of a growing population?

So just what is a sustainable Hawaii? Dator says, “Sustainability is often defined as living so that the resources you use are available to future generations.”

But that is only the tip of the iceberg. What we are talking about is improving the quality of life for our children and ourselves and for the generations to come. What that means is up to us. And that’s the reason for the Hawaii 2050 Task Force - to help citizens of Hawaii come up with a plan. To take charge of our future.

The Legislature gave the task of coming up with that plan to the Office of the Auditor, headed by Marion Higa. Higa says the intent is to hold discussions in communities to help define people’s priorities, values and concerns. “The plan we come up with will be the result of all of this input from the communities,” Higa says. She will present it to the Legislature in 2008.

“Woven into this,” Higa says, “is the practical application. All policy decisions (from then on) will be guided by the effect on the preferred future.”

In other words, once we come up with the plan, lawmakers will shape their laws with OUR preferred future in mind. They will replace short-term thinking with long-term vision. That, anyway, is the stated goal.

Why should you care? Because the plan will affect decisions about the economy, our environment, our culture, housing, education and energy. The plan should reflect not only our wants and needs but also our values. If we are active, involved and caring citizens we will have a say- and we’ll get the future we deserve.

If we don’t participate, we’ll also get the future we deserve. And it probably won’t be pretty.

A lot of people are behind the 2050 effort. The 25-member task force; state Auditor Higa and her office; the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs, which is described as a nonprofit research and public policy Institute; and a team from the University of Hawaii.

The conference was attended by hundreds of people: politicians, state and county department heads, community leaders, educators, native Hawaiians. I even spoke with two teenagers who flew in from Maui because, they told me, “It’s our future.” These are the folks who will take the message back to their neighborhoods, their workplaces and their schools.

Which brings us to you. They simply cannot do it without you. I’m hoping you will hear about these upcoming community discussions and make the time to attend. Your voice is what we need.

As Dator says, “We need to make choices now.”

I hope you agree.

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