As Hawaii emerges from this shutdown with over a third of its workforce unemployed, $5.4 billion in CARES Act dollars and more federal help en route, we have a golden moment to reflect on our fragile circumstance, what brought us here, and where we are heading.
If scientific consensus warns of imminent environmental disaster and youths demand climate action and infrastructure change, is this not the perfect time to shift our thinking? Imagine that in a year, our elected leaders have agreed to major restructuring. If the federal government has already printed up to $6 trillion for the COVID-19 crisis, will it fund a Green New Deal? Prudent thinking concludes that now is our best shot.
Right now, Hawaii has a unique opportunity to shift forcefully toward self-sufficiency, reshape our economic base, and improve all citizens’ quality of life, while prioritizing the health of land and water. Old thinking would return 30,000 visitors per day immediately, the overuse of our infrastructure and shorelines being a second thought. Old thinking would want to ensure we stockpile commodities and preserved food, the finances and land local farmers need to feed us being a low priority. Old thinking would want 2019 levels of consumerism with its waste problems and carbon footprint an afterthought. Old thinking would still lease the best agricultural lands to GMO seed operations, which provide no food for Hawaii but pollute our waterways with pesticides. We’re lucky food shipments didn’t shut down and many dock workers didn’t become ill.
Lawmakers statewide and nationally have proposed carbon neutrality, with target dates from 2035 to 2050. Hawaii can realize that goal sooner than other states. Our state government has proposed 2045. But with fresh federal cash at hand and more coming, we could do even better. The Green New Deal addresses carbon neutrality and new living-wage jobs within a sustainable and Earth-minded infrastructure. We only need political will and money to make it happen. For a moment, we have the latter; we in the environmental and social justice communities urge the former. Elected officials and appointed policy makers must rise to this unprecedented occasion.
New thinking will prioritize the health of our ocean, shorelines, forests, mountains and fresh water. We must form policy, allocate funding and create jobs that follow Hawaiian cultural guidance toward comprehensive stewardship. New thinking will rebuild tourism to neutralize its heavy footprint on our environment, island culture and infrastructure. This reprioritizing must bring all parties to the table, hone fiscal policy, and educate our visitors and visitor industry. New thinking will create more opportunities to keep our graduates here at home, creating a high-functioning and sustainable example to Oceania and the world.
New thinking holds consumer goods importers responsible for the proper disposal of their products. It supports small business owners, who keep capital in Hawaii with more pilina (connection) to place. New thinking will acknowledge the benefits of renewable energy and expand it. New thinking begets creative thinking. Once we start, our diverse tapestry of cultures will become inspired, more engaged, and more unified.
When we re-examine this economic restart in a decade, how will it look? Ideally, not how the aftermath of the 2008 crisis looks. Most of that money fueled massive federal construction which only benefited Hawaii briefly with income for a select few. Lawmakers and leaders: please seize this moment by embracing an ancient principle: make important decisions looking seven generations ahead. There was never a more opportune time to advance the health and well-being of Hawaii’s aquatic resources, wahi pana (sacred places), our communities and our economic base.
Robert Brower, a small-business owner on Kauai, is a Surfrider Foundation Kauai Executive Committee member. This was co-signed by 14 others: Lauren Blickley, Surfrider Foundation Hawaii regional manager; Megan Lamson and Hannah Bernard, Hawaii Wildlife Fund; Brodie Lockard, 350Hawaii.org; Colin Yost, Sierra Club Hawaii; Koohan Paik-Mander, Malama Hamakua; Dyson Chee, Project O.C.E.A.N.; Ruta Jordans, Zero Waste Kauai; Laurel Quarton, Community Coalition of Kauai; Pam Burrell, Apollo Kauai; Cory Hardin, Sierra Club Hawaii Island; Sandra Herndon, Kauai Women’s Caucus; Anne Thursten, 1,000 Friends; Kat Brickner, Surfrider Foundation Kauai Chapter; Laurel Brier, 350.org Kauai.