This coronavirus pandemic and subsequent closing of our economy has brought many things into a different focus. Tourism is the first of these. As our No. 1 business, it is hard to see how we would function as a state without 30,000 tourists per day landing in our islands.
However, not only were our initial coronavirus cases almost all tourist and travel-related, but the heavy cost in other ways is now clear. This enormous industry has eroded our culture, overcrowded our islands, contributed to growing beyond our infrastructure and generated the loss of valuable agricultural lands to development. It has increased traffic congestion and general stress. Our skies roar with jets and tour helicopters at all hours.
With tourism temporarily on hold and despite other problems — there IS a peacefulness. The skies and land and ocean are normalizing and healing.
Obviously, restructuring our state’s economy would not be easy, but in the long run it could lead to a much healthier and sustainable way of life.
In addition to other questions, this pandemic brings up concerns about our food security in Hawaii.
If agriculture were to be re-emphasized as a significant part of our economy we could improve this food security, save more rich agricultural lands and support a cleaner environment. If farms could be accorded certain benefits, perhaps the consumer cost of local food could become quite attractive.
New and important businesses such as production of medical test kits and other essential medical supplies could be introduced. This could enhance Hawaii’s safety during future problems and create a needed resource here and potentially globally.
Hawaii is blessed with great sources of natural energy. To focus more heavily on such non-fossil fuels as solar, wind, geothermal and ocean waves could strongly enhance fuel independence and renewability, and eventually reduce related energy costs.
We are a crossroads of East and West; could more tech be brought here? Perhaps incentives could be found for those industries, such as low-cost lease of unused military lands.
To proceed as we have, with an ever-burgeoning tourist industry has been and will continue to be extremely destructive to our state and our daily lives. To use this outbreak to structure a new economy could truly save us and our beautiful land.
While Ecuador has very different laws than we have, it strictly limits tourism to the Galapagos in all forms — ships, flights and tours — in order to protect those precious but fragile islands. Despite these restrictions, its industry is quite profitable. Although this is not fully possible here, the logic and philosophy of such protection is compelling.
We have a clear choice. We could, when this pandemic subsides, revert to just what we’ve had — or we could begin a visionary process of resetting this situation. We could design a more sustainable, healthy and environmentally sound economy in Hawaii, for ourselves and for generations to come. Now is the time to begin this process.