COMMENTARY: Scenes from the Summit

Generating positive energy in our most insecure energy state

Oahu, Hawaii was the setting for the first Blue Planet Summit to address energy solutions.© Ko Olina

Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono: The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness
—State Motto of Hawaii

For residents of Hawaii, who are now paying the highest average price for gasoline in the nation, discontent is spreading fast.

This is one reason why the state was the ideal venue for the First Annual Blue Planet Summit, sponsored by the Blue Planet foundation. The summit took place on Oahu from April 3-5 with the mission of initiating a change in world energy culture.

Hawaii is a remote island chain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and relies on imported oil for 90 percent of its energy needs. This spikes the rates of oil, gas, and electricity, and makes the islands vulnerable to disruptions in supply. It also makes them the canary in the coalmine when it comes to climate change. At the same time, they have a huge capacity for the use of sustainable renewable energy, as there is a constant and inexhaustible supply of wind, solar, wave and geothermal power, as well as a year round growing season for biofuel crops.

This three day summit brought together sixty speakers versed in science, engineering, business, technology, politics, and native culture, all committed to finding ways to stabilize the earth’s climate, and end fossil fuel dependence as a matter of environmental and national security.

"We are living in an era bloated with information yet starved for wisdom," said Dr. Elisabeth Lindsey of Explorer, National Geographic Society, a Hawaii native. The event included a panel on indigenous cultures with the hope of reintroducing their ancient practices of sustainability in helping shape a cleaner future.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who spoke at the event, said the system is broken.

The Blue Planet Foundation believes that energy is the most imminent crisis of our time. The speakers and panel discussions were designed to address the realities of climate change and renewable energy from multiple perspectives. One clear undertone of the event was the importance of building coalitions where people with different motivations unite to further a common goal.

Lieutenant Governor James R. Aiona, Jr. gave the first address of the event, highlighting the state’s efforts toward energy independence. In 2007, Governor Linda Lingle signed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which mandates a statewide reduction in green house gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. In January of this year, Gov. Lingle announced the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy aiming to draw 70 percent of Hawaii’s power from clean local energy by 2030. Off the coast of Maui, the first wave energy project in the U.S. is underway.

The challenges of this shift, both in Hawaii and globally, come from all directions. And resistance is strongest from those profiting from the current system. In his speech, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., long time environmental advocate and one of Time magazine’s "Heroes for the Planet," spoke about how only in a broken free market system could the worst polluters be making the highest profits. "The free market system is designed to run as efficiently as possible. The definition of efficiency is the elimination of waste, and pollution is waste," stated Kennedy, who received a standing ovation from the audience. "You show me a polluter and I"ll show you a subsidy."

"If my tailpipe and your smokestack are free, there are no incentives," commented Dr. Stephen Schneider, member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for the panel’s work raising awareness about climate change.

Throughout the weekend, Kennedy and others provided evidence against the claim of skeptics that good environmental policy and good economic policy are mutually exclusive. "When you decarbonizs your economy you bring prosperity to your county," said Kennedy, citing Iceland as an example.

In 1970, Iceland was 100 percent dependent on imported oil and coal and was the poorest country in Europe. Over the course of the last four decades the nation became almost completely energy independent and is a net energy exporter. Now, it is the 4th wealthiest nation in the world by GDP standards.

L. Hunter Lovins, president of Natural Capitalism, said there"s already proof that protecting the planet increases profits.

"We now have proof that businesses that act to protect people and the planet are the most profitable," said President of Natural Capitalism, Inc., L. Hunter Lovins, "We need solutions at the speed of business." Lovins works with government agencies and private businesses around the world promoting sustainability and the Natural Capitalism concept.

"If you build a green building you will have a 6-16 percent increase in labor productivity," said Lovins. People naturally perform better in environments with optimal lighting and sound, and with minimal toxins in the air they are breathing and materials they are using.

Another roadblock in transitioning toward green technology that the summit focused on was the publics" limited understanding of climate change. This problem is often presented as a catastrophe that is happening in the far-away future. And there are the devout climate change skeptics, too. Panelists agreed that the public needs to be trusted with the truth, which lies between these two extremes. If presented with real, not sensationalized, facts people will be more likely to respond in positive ways.

In a fast paced, mass media-dominated society, a problem such as global warming, as put by climatologist Heidi Cullen, "is the vegetables, and we have to sneak it into the dessert." Since we cannot wait until crisis happens for people to act, every possible outlet needs to be utilized in explaining that this is a problem with effects and solutions that will occur mostly in the long-term, but we need to change direction now.

One way to get the message out is through the next generation of leaders. Youth leaders in environmental climate change from around the world were invited to question the panelists in a Global TV Shoot to be aired later in the year.

"The youth can send a message about what they value," responded Dr. Schneider.

The summit culminated with a list of nine main points of consensus reached by the panel, places where efforts can be concentrated and best spent. Among them were the importance of education and movement building, implementing multiple technologies, transformational thinking, using a sense of place as a starting point for change, and, finally, fairness. Especially in Hawaii, where working citizens sleep on the beach because they cannot afford housing, local leaders stressed this change must include everyone. It must raise all boats.

Ramsey Taum, professor of Native Hawaiian Culture and Sustainability at the University of Hawaii, closed the event with a reflection on the importance of transforming words into action. "This is a discussion you have when you sit down at a table, and you should have it at every table to sit down at," Taum said.

Encouraging even the smallest actions can start making a difference as soon as tomorrow. "The prospect of changing the direction of the world is always daunting," reflected Lt. Governor Aiona, "but it can begin with smal

l simple changes in everyday use."

CONTACT: Blue Planet Foundation

SAMANTHA GRASSO is an intern at E.