Category Archives: Environment

The Trump Administration: Children in a Fantasy

The American philosopher Ken Wilber called Trump, when he was running, “the boy who would be King,” by which he meant that Trump was at the psycho-emotional level of a young child, and urged voting against him:

Not because he is a big alpha figure who would bust up the establishment. Not because he’s vulgar. Not because lacks a coherent policy vision. Those things can actually be evolutionarily potent in their proper measure. No, the real problem with Donald Trump is that in important lines of development he is arrested at the level of a five-year-old. Keep nukes out of the hands of children. Make sure to vote!

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[For more on what is meant by “development” see my article “Integral 102”]

Now that Trump has tapped Steven Bannon for his inner circle, I looked at a Breitbart article (Bannon is a Breitbart executive). The article made the “argument” that the key to women’s happiness was to “uninvent” the washing machine and the birth control pill, both of which had made them completely “miserable.” First, nothing is ever uninvented. Once technologies catch on – especially labor-saving devices – for better or worse, we seem to be stuck with them. Second, if anything needs to be “uninvented” is it really the washing machine? Not the nuclear bomb? To think that these things can be uninvented and that there’s not a population problem is to live in a fantasy world. They want women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen – no wonder they were against Clinton for President!

Trump also speaks of using nuclear weapons, imperiling us all, as if only the US has them! Or only the US and Russia. As if he doesnʻt know that there are at least 13 nuclear states. And his responses to questions about their use is consistent with that of an adolescent boy: “Then why do we have them [if not to use them]?” This shows no understanding that nuclear weapons, to the extent that they have any valid use at all, are deterrents.

Finally, as far as I have observed, Trump has not once used the word democracy in his campaign, a campaign that has shown nothing but contempt for the idea. If things go the way many are predicting, Americans will have – proudly – voted their own, hard-won rights away by handing the nuclear codes, the Bush-Obama surveillance apparatus and the power of commander-in-chief of the US military to a child.

 

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The Best Films about Hawaiʻi

I show my students the 1966 film Hawaii, based on James Michener’s book, partly so that we can deconstruct it. Students can see that it demeans Hawaiian culture, but then I ask them if things are any better today. Hawaiʻi and Hawaiian culture continue to be misrepresented in mainstream media. Exhibit A: Aloha the film about how everyone in Hawaiʻi is white (except Bumpy). I reviewed The Descendents and Princess Kaʻiulani when they were released. There isnʻt exactly a deep reservoir of films to choose from for this list, but as Puhipau and Joan Lander are being honored this week in the ʻOiwi Film Festival, here are some gems of the Hawaiian silver screen:

A Mau a Mau: While some may dispute John Kaʻimikaua’s oral histories, it’s hard to deny the quality of the filmmaking. Nalani Minton’s film captures the Hawaiian sense of connection with the most subtle aspects of the natural world: the wind, the sea, the sea spray.

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Hoʻokūʻikahi: To Unify as One – This telling of the events of Puʻukoholā heiau, both historically and today (beginning with the 1991 ceremony of rekindling the ties between Kaʻu and Kohala after 200 years of bitterness) is one of the films that shows Hawaiian culture as living and vibrant – not museum culture. John Keola Lake says in the film: “we don’t want to use [Puʻukoholā] as a memorial, let’s use it as a living place.”

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Puʻukoholā heiau (photo: wikimedia commons)

O Hawaiʻi: Of Hawaiʻi from Settlement to Unification – an invaluable curriculum resource for teaching traditional Hawaiian society, Iʻm not sure whether the film was ever released on DVD. Tom Coffman’s film shows the renewal of the field of Hawaiian history itself  (with the help of archaeology and linguistics), from something static, relegated to “the mists of time” to a vibrant, dynamic era, full of change.

Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation – What is there to say about what is almost certainly the most watched film on Hawaiian history, it is also the only film Iʻm aware of that has a footnoted script!

Stolen Waters – While Puhipau and Joan Lander were clearly on the side of Windward farmers (as the title implies), they do a fine job of showing the arguments of the Leeward (Big 5) interests and their pawns. Another version, Kalo Paʻa o Waiahole, can be use alternately to emphasize the hearings or the more esoteric meaning of wai for Hawaiians.

Noho Hewa: The Wrongful Occupation of Hawaiʻi – Keala Kelly attempted something very difficult with her film; to have a story without a narrator. The characters, interviewees and events themselves tell the story, and few films are more brutally powerful. While not as aesthetic as the first two films in this list, Noho Hewa is nevertheless a must see (leave the kids at home).

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Interview with Marti Townsend, Executive Director of the Hawaiʻi Sierra Club

Marti Townsend is a graduate of Moanalua High School, Boston University, where she studied political philosophy, and the William S. Richardson School of Law at UH Mānoa. She began her career at Kahea: the Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, later became Executive Director of The Outdoor Circle and was named Executive Director of the Hawaiʻi Chapter of the Sierra Club in 2015. I sat with her and Ikaika Hussey over pizza in Kalihi, which is something I do very often, but I wanted to get an interview with her before she became a celebrity – featured on the front page of Midweek – but they beat me to it!

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Now watch as I exert my very limited influence on policy makers (or at least shapers of policy) – I’d been wanting to ask Marti for a while now about the prospects of raising the HI5 redemption amount to 10 cents:

Umi Perkins [UP]: So what about raising the [HI5] redemption to 10 cents [up from 5 cents]?

Marti Townsend [MT]: Sure that’s a great idea. [But] the beverage industry is very powerful in Hawaiʻi. It was a significant battle to get the bottle bill passed, and they are constantly making efforts to dismantle it. There is actually a bill in the legislature to repeal the bottle bill, which is ridiculous. There hasn’t been a recycling program as successful as HI5.

Itʻs just ludicrous to think how much trash would be going into the landfill without it. But as successful as the HI5 program has been there is definitely room for improvement. You canʻt get a HI5 redemption for wine and spirits, which makes no sense. You also canʻt get it for laundry bottles or milk jugs. [It ends up going to] H Power which is not really recycling…

UP: Iʻm just thinking about houseless [“homeless”], for example. Right now [those who may use HI5 redemption as a source of income or revenue] have to get 20 cans to get a dollar. If it was 10 cents, they could carry 30 cans and get three dollars and get a meal, like at McDonalds. [Right now they’d have to carry 60 cans].

MT: I don’t know to what extent people have talked about things like the HI5 as a way to help support the disadvantaged in our community. We really don’t do enough for people who are down and out on their luck.

Ikaika Hussey [IH]: That’s a great idea – you solve two problems…

MT: There are great efficiencies we could get by combining programs. Doing different kinds of recycling. [Like] if we treated everything like the HI5 program.

UP: I always thought the bottle bill and H Power go together because you pull plastic out of the trash supply, [then] if it’s mainly paper…

MT: H Power is horrible. You should do a whole blog thing on Covanta. So Covanta is this company that makes money off of incinerators. It doesn’t matter if they produce electricity – they get paid. And if Honolulu can’t provide [enough trash] then they charge [the city anyway]. It goes against our recycling goals, because H Power wants to have more trash, not less.

UP: Oh, right.

MT: Unless you expand what can be in the [HI 5] program… Why can we not recycle 2 liter bottles? Itʻs the same quality of plastic.

UP: So what are the main agenda items for Sierra Club?

MT: Well, pass the good bills, defeat the bad bills.

UP: What are some of the good bills?

MT: Today we had a very successful hearing on divesting Hawaiʻi’s retirement system from fossil fuels. We’re hoping that we can show that it’s in retirees’ interest, to divest from fossil fuels instead of waiting until they become stranded assets, as a result of all the regulations on emissions.

UP: The [oil] industry is hurting so bad right now… I heard there are more jobs in solar now than in fossil fuels…

MT: Yeah, three times more jobs in solar than in fossil fuel-based energy jobs. It’s so exciting. But you know what’s sad is that it’s forseeable that Hawaiʻi will see a downsizing from HECO’s slow moving to approve new solar projects, the tariff to approve new solar programs. The solar industry was booming, and they kind of have a backlog, so theyʻre relying on that, now post [after] the PUCs decision on net metering and things like that…

UP: So there was a headline that said HECO will triple solar, when it was already scheduled to go up by seven times, so they were actually slowing the growth?

MT: They’re slowing the growth, right. That backlog will start to run out and I think you’ll start seeing solar companies closing because they won’t have enough contracts to keep their staff.

IH: it’s a race to the bottom.

MT: The problem is HECO shouldn’t be increasing the amount of coal they burn from the AES power plant which is in a predominantly brown community, and decreasing the amount of solar out there – it’s just backward

UP: So those companies that might close is separate from those that would already close just due to competition?

IH: So there’s a lot of them and they don’t have any differentiating offerings…

MT: Except for price…

IH: They’re just installers. Their technology is all the same. Their revenues are being squeezed because of the tie-in to the grid.

UP: That’s why Next Era wants to keep everyone on the grid?

MT: They want to keep everyone on big energy projects, whether it’s LNG [liquid natural gas] or big solar arrays, they want to keep control of energy production from beginning to end.

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On Consciousness

This is number 5 in my “On” series. Others include On Capitalism, On Privilege, On Freedom and On Constitutionalism. Forthcoming: On Fear and On Democracy.

The philosopher Daniel Dennett tells a funny story: he says when he’s at a party and someone asks him what he does, and he says he’s a professor, their eyes glaze over. When he’s at a party of professors and one asks him what his field is and he says “philosophy,” their eyes glaze over. And when he’s at a party of philosophers, and one asks him what he studies and he says “consciousness,” their eyes glaze over. So the philosophy of consciousness is not something that inspires excitement in even the most scholarly among us, but I argue here that it is precisely where we’ve gone astray and is the solution to most of the problems we – the modern world – face.

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Daniel Dennett

I’ve written at some length about the idea of development, that is, that we change and grow over time. This is an idea about which most modern societies have some ambiguity; we both know and do not know that it is going on. We all know that children develop – that phases of development are natural and normal, and it is normal for your two year old to be self-centered in a way that would make an adult appear like a psychopath. But then we have the idea that development somehow stops at some magical age – between 18 and 21 – after which we are “all equal.” And yet we also know that this is not true, which is why you have to be 35 to be president of the United States, and no undergrads are tapped to be university presidents. What I’m saying is not new agery, but standard developmental psychology: development continues on throughout adulthood and most never come anywhere near the “end” point.

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Graham Hancock

But what I want to address here is not so much the level of consciousness, but the state of consciousness prevalent in the modern West (and increasingly, the East). I was prompted to this by a “banned” TED talk by Graham Hancock, who makes a strong case that there is something like a conspiracy against certain states of consciousness. Now Hancock holds that these preferable states are accessible through certain psychotropic plants – he is not the first I’ve heard say that it is highly likely that the substances used in the ancient mystery schools (of which Plato was probably a member) were psychotropic. I don’t condone the use of these substances, in fact I’m fairly neutral on them, but Hancock also argues persuasively that the societally approved drugs – particularly ones like caffeine and ritalin – promote a state that, while good for problem-solving, is not conducive to examining the moral questions we face. This may be why the “best and the brightest” of our societies have brought us the nuclear bomb, GMOs and a generally more dangerous world. They know “what” to do but not “why” it should be done – it shouldn’t.* This “rational” state that we are encouraged to remain in makes us good cogs in the gigantic machines we are all part of, thoughtlessly commuting to jobs that generally make the world worse.

It is my view that these preferred states are accessible without any substances; through introspection and perhaps meditation, though they probably do require the elimination of the “approved” substances and daily stresses. Hancock is quite compelling in his argument that the prevalent state of consciousness has created most of the problems we see around us and that they cannot be solved from that same state of consciousness, but require another.

  • For those who would accuse me of being anti-science: I’m not recommending going back to what was before science, but going beyond it – putting science into a larger framework which factors in moral considerations.

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Response to Gerald Smith’s “Host Culture in Hawaiʻi is just a Myth”

Gerald Smith was right and wrong in his Civil Beat article “Host Culture in Hawaiʻi is just a Myth.” Hawaiians may not be the “host” culture, and it’s true as he says, that neither Hawaiians nor other non-indigenous groups are here by choice, nor by invitation. In fact, Kamehameha II gave the first group of foreigners to ask permission, the Congregationalist missionaries in 1820, a probationary period of one year. The deadline for reviewing their stay was neglected and within a generation they were entrenched in government and the economy. I often wonder if the term “host culture” is merely a convenient one for the tourism industry, as it creates the impression – a questionable one – that tourist are welcome guests. Smith is wrong, however, on several counts. His claim that “Many Native Hawaiians would like us all to leave and restore the kingdom that was taken away by the United States,” is unsupported by any evidence. Just as the Hawaiian Kingdom never ejected even its most troublesome residents, the Hawaiian movement has not called for non-Hawaiians “all to leave.”

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Kūkaniloko march opposing Stryker brigade, 2006. Thatʻs me looking in the wrong direction as usual. Photo by Michael Puleloa

What is problematic is Smith’s assertion that everyone in Hawaiʻi is equal in the eyes of the law. Putting aside the quite valid claims of independence advocates for the moment, the State of Hawaiʻi recognized Hawaiians as the Indigenous people of Hawaiʻi in 2011. Over one hundred pieces of Federal legislation, beginning with the 1921 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act do the same. To simply brush aside these forms of recognition that Hawaiians are unique in the eyes of the law, is troublingly close to what has been called “white indigeneity.” What can be said of narratives of white indigeneity is that they are widespread. Such claims are seen in New Zealand, Australia, the US and elsewhere. What cannot be said is that they are taken seriously. I happened to observe the phenomenon in the New Zealand parliament: one conservative member cited the respected historian Michael King to support his contention that pakeha (Caucasians) were Indigenous. To this another member asked if the “honorable member” was familiar with the UN definition of Indigenous.

Smith establishes his kamaʻāina credentials by stating that he observed the attack on Pearl Harbor. If this is the case, he certainly did not take Hawaiian history in school, even if he went to school here, as it wasnʻt required until the 1970s. So one is left to wonder where his understanding of Hawaiian history comes from. Likely its from Gavan Daws’s Shoal of Time, still the most read general history of Hawaiʻi. The book’s chapter on Statehood is entitled “Now we are all Haoles.”

Smith’s contention that “the people who live here voted to become a state, so some will never accept their fate.” was roundly and very publically critiqued on its 50th anniversary in 2009, with very little in the way of counter- arguments.  The link in his article that ostensibly supports this “fact” takes the reader to history.com – as Hawaiian history is not well-known in Hawaiʻi, citing an external source does not inspire confidence in the reader. This was taken into consideration by the UN; in 1996 the Star bulletin headline read “UN may find statehood illegal.” It was even tacitly recognized by the local majority. There are fireworks in Waikiki every Friday, but none on the 50th anniversary of statehood. Apparently Friday is a more important event.

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The State of Hawaiʻi – Part 3: The State of Development

This is part three of a series of articles I’ve been drafting for my students in Hawai’i Politics and other courses. Part one deals with rail and other issues and part two with race and the Democratic machine. This third installment looks at the psychology of development.

Plans for a military research center at the University of Hawaiʻi underscore the reality highlighted by the approval of the Koa Ridge and Hoʻopili zoning changes: that Hawaiʻi is really a state of development. The driving force in Hawaiʻi is the consensus between developers and unions epitomized by Pacific Resource Partnership, the SuperPAC that crushed any effective opposition to establishment candidates in 2012. That the military lab will be named for the late Senator Daniel Inouye shows the status with which he presided over this consensus and his position as the “King of Hawaiʻi,” as the Wall Street Journal called him.

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Carleton Ching

With the nomination of Carleton Ching for head of the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), which manages the “ceded lands” (the Kingdom Crown and Government lands), this “state of development” is coming into focus. Ching spent years trying to weaken environmental protections as a part-time lobbyist for Castle and Cooke. All the outrage against Ching’s nomination (even the Star-Advertiser came out against it) is gratifying, but may overlook the fact that it’s business as usual. Ching may actually only stand out because of the contrast with his predecessor Bill Aila. He is nevertheless an extremely pro-development choice. According to Ehu Kekahu Cardwell:

As President of the Land Use Research Foundation, a pro-development lobby group, Carleton Ching advocated

– To weaken protections for public access to beaches.

– To weaken protections for traditional and customary practices.

– To remove permit requirements that protect shorelines from development.

– Against laws to address climate change.

– For the Public Lands Development Corporation (PLDC)

Carleton Ching Confirmation Hearings

WHEN – Wednesday, March 11th 10AM

WHERE – Hawai`i Capitol – Room 229

Canʻt Attend? – Submit Your Opposition Testimony Today!

Submit Your Opposition Online Testimony Here –http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx

Or By Email Here – WTLTestimony@capitol.hawaii.gov

All written testimony should indicate whether you will be testifying in person

Between Koa Ridge, Hoʻopili, the plans to sell pineapple lands in Wahiawa and Envision Laie, we are heading toward having no open space on Oʻahu along any of the major highways. Add Ching to the mix and even the mauka protected forest areas arenʻt safe. One can imagine that wealthy people would like mountain retreats along the lines of Tantalus or Palehua in the Waianae mountains (see the cover of Israel’s Kamakawiwoʻole’s Facing Future – thatʻs Jon DeMelloʻs Palehua house at 3000 feet, six miles above Makakilo).

Israel Kamakawiwoʻole at Palehua, Waianae Mts.

Israel Kamakawiwoʻole at Palehua, Waianae Mts.

Koa Ridge

How much more urban can Oʻahu get? You might think of Hong Kong or Japan, but even they have large protected forest areas. With Chingʻs nomination  thereʻs the potential to erode at that. Within the economic logic of developers, it’s a no-brainer to go on building high-yield developments until land runs out. We need to question this “logic” and show that its really a kind of psychosis.

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The New Frugality

A recent article in The Atlantic, “The Cheapest Generation,” argues that millenials no longer want cars or houses. Working and middle-class people are beginning to realize what many rich people have known for a while: it is better to pay for access than ownership, especially when it comes to things that are not necessarily assets, but may be liabilities, such as cars.

There seems to be a minimalist movement afoot. Weʻve got the tiny house movement,* which shows people that more space means more electricity, more water, and that we donʻt necessarily need most of the stuff we own.

Tiny house in Denver, CO.

Weʻve got millenials living in cities (and consequently abandoning small towns), using public transport (think Portlandia), and sharing housing and just about everything else (Uber “taxis” are just one example). I see three reasons for this; first, they canʻt afford anything else (the average millennial 18-34 years old in Hawaiʻi made $34,000 last year, barely enough for rent), second, public transport and urban revitalization have reversed white flight to the suburbs, and third, the American dream is looking more and more unbelievable, that is to say, they donʻt believe in it. The resulting “sharing economy” is one of the only viable alternatives to straightforward capitalism to emerge since the failure of the communist experiment 25 years ago.

Tiny houses are often 150 to 200 square feet, on wheels because they donʻt meet building codes, and use composting toilets.

This bodes well for the environment, as people greatly reduce their ecological footprints. If you think this is insignificant compared with population growth, think again: the average American uses 20 times the resources of the average Indian, but has about a third as much population. This means the US has six times the ecological impact of India, despite its smaller population. Footprint matters. And the sharing economy is not backward-looking like the back-to-the-land movement, in fact (and this should be obvious) it relies on technology, mobile apps and the like. There is no longer a need for bulky file cabinets, CD, book, or even art collections (mine is on pinterest).

There is much more that can be done on the transportation front. The transportation minister of Copenhagen was on public radio a few days ago, and discussed a proposed new transportation system for the city based on access to multiple modes of transport. It may be an app in which you enter your destination and it gives you five possible routes using various modes (including bikeshares), and gives you the price. Some days you may want to ride public transit; other days you may need a van. One statistic stood out for me: a car represents $20,000-$30,000 of investment (more when you include interest), and sits idle in a parking space 97% of the time. He called that investment “Lazy money.” Through carsharing, the overhead costs of the car are spread among many users, and less parking is needed because the cars are much more often moving (and there would be fewer of them).

This method of using the pocketbook to argue against ownership of cars (which cost, on average, over $5000 per year to operate), is quite effective in my view: show people clearly how they are wasting their hard-earned money, and how it might be better spent elsewhere (perhaps on that college degree that more than two-thirds of Americans still donʻt have – but thatʻs another story entirely). This makes them ask themselves (it made me ask myself) “is what I need really to own a car, or to get places?”

If I bike to work, I wonʻt have to spend three hours in the gym every week, and Iʻll save $10 a day, or over $200 per month. On really bad traffic days in West Oʻahu it can take two hours to drive 10 miles (5 miles per hour) – I can go 15 – 20 miles per hour on a bike, some can go faster than that). I ran to work for six years in three different cities (Boston, San Francisco and Honolulu), so there are no mental barriers there for me, just logistics (do I ride with my laptop? what about dropping off kids? – to name only  two obstacles), but these arenʻt insurmountable.

It is this kind of win-win situation that, if supported by infrastructure, makes for viable revolution in the way we live and impact the planet. Thrift was an American value more than a century ago, but it was subverted by the consumer economy. In Hawaiʻi, urban revitalization seems underway for better or worse. Perhaps a silver lining in the hyper-capitalism we find ourselves in is that this reliance on overconsumption will undercut itself, and allow people to reinvest their assets into things that matter: education, health and the next generation.

* Tiny houses have been proposed as a solution for houselessness in Hawaiʻi, and  are beginning to be used in other cities: see Civil Beat, “The Little Solution to the Big Housing Crisis.”

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