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Fueling green economy will reward in long run

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Several readers commented on last week’s column. Many noted that although free-market forces can cause us to forget the environment and think "what’s in it for me, now," all other systems pose greater problems. Agreed. Take communism. Accelerated growth in China began only when Deng Xiaoping introduced market reforms in the 1980s. Gorbachev’s attempt to introduce Perestroika, a restructuring of the Soviet political and economic system, was so welcome it ignited a dramatic dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990.

Still, shortly after winning his first term as prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh commented that the Chinese are lucky because they can execute plans to benefit the public in the long run. By contrast, in India, the world’s largest democracy, to get elected, politicians have to "make people happy now."

Winston Churchill once remarked that democracy is not a perfect system, but eventually it comes to the right answer.

Few are prepared to risk freedom and democracy for the promise of wise and skillful totalitarianism, and for good reason. Case in point: Last month, Yu Qingtai, China’s chief climate negotiator, said, "We cannot blindly accept that protecting the climate is humanity’s common interest; national interests should come first. … The country has to develop. … If that increases emissions, I say ‘So what?’"

So, the free market it is. And today it’s like a ship working against rough seas, its crew seeking to plot a new course.

How can we take what we have learned and fashion a vibrant, healthy recovery, one that preserves and rehabilitates our environment? How do we build a sustainable, green economy and create jobs?

The Green Economy offers huge potential for employment. Stemming from new technologies, greater collaboration and a regional focus, jobs will unfold in science, engineering, law, education, politics and health care. These jobs will require higher education in the physical and life sciences and information technology. Tomorrow’s labor force will also require sound primary education that instills core values of malama aina (caring for the earth), involvement in the community, respect for the wisdom of our ancestors and a sense of responsibility for future generations.

The green economy is about much more than limits on emissions from burning coal. Think renewable energy: solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, micro hydro, modern biomass and biofuels. Think green buildings and clean transportation. Waste and water management are also essential. What about all those pharmaceuticals being flushed into our water supply?

Hawaii is already fueling a green economy. Solar is shining. Domestic, commercial and military installations are taking off. To manage capital costs, both federal and state governments offer tax credits. DEP/RevoluSun, Sunetric and 21st Century Technologies are examples of industry leaders.

The food industry is rapidly changing. Not long ago, eating organic meant you were on the fringe. Now it is mainstream. Farmers markets have taken off throughout the state. Supermarkets have begun to emulate health food stores, and restaurants are increasingly on board. The menu at Town says, "Local first, organic whenever possible, and with Aloha always." Most important, the culinary programs in Hawaii are poaching our emerging chefs in these values.

As the green economy rises, the way of doing business is also shifting. "Conversations on Aloha in Business" is a groundswell of local leaders who hold monthly meetings at Argosy to foster connected, transparent, socially responsible practices. Under discussion is a separate legal category with which new businesses holding these values may incorporate. Formal legal distinction given to for-profit companies committed to the public good is one skillful way to ensure conscious business activity and a means to steady the ship.

In preparation for the Worldwide Voyage, the Polynesian Voyaging Society hoisted Hokule’a out of the ocean for dry dock last week. Traditional, noninstrument navigation will be used for most of the journey. GPS navigation shows our location at a single point in time, much like the limited focus of industrial age free markets.

In contrast, the ancient art of way-finding uses the sun and stars, ocean currents, wind and birds to tell us where we are by knowing where we have been. Only then do we know our heading. The way-finder is transformed during the voyage and comes to know that the expansive dark ocean and night sky are our home. Core values of the Green Economy consider "what’s in it for all of us now" and for our children’s children. We should listen to the wisdom of the ancient way-finders as we set our course for a healthy planet, people and economy.

Ira Zunin, M.D., MPH, MBA, is medical director of Manakai o Malama Integrative Healthcare Group and Rehabilitation Center and CEO of Global Advisory Services Inc. Please submit your questions to


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