Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan
Goal 3: Environment and Natural Resources
Our natural resources are responsibly and respectfully used, replenished and preserved for future generations
Managing our natural resources so that they are able to replenish themselves isn’t the responsibility of just environmentalists, it’s everybody’s responsibility.
Hawai‘i’s environment at a glance
Hawai‘i’s environment is under significant stress. While air and drinking water quality are excellent, there are other disturbing signs. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 64% of Hawai‘i’s streams are considered “impaired” by pollutants. Our ratio of renewable energy (5%) vs. fossil fuel use (95%) is among the worst in the nation. We have not updated our capacity to manage water resources since the plantation era.
While we still host some of the most amazing and diverse ecosystems on the planet, they are in peril from the invasion of alien plant and animal species. One-third of all endangered species in the United States are in Hawai‘i. We still lack an aggressive, effective, well-funded mechanism to prevent the introduction of pests, even though proven models exist in other states and countries.
Nevertheless, Hawai‘i’s environment is still among the most beautiful and biologically rich in the world. We are blessed with natural beauty that is unmatched, bringing millions to Hawai‘i to visit and see this special place. If we are not careful, however, neglect and unfunded initiatives could threaten our fortunate situation.
As we identify goals and actions needed to move towards higher environmental quality, we must remind ourselves that the “either-or” proposition of growth vs. environment, prosperity vs. preservation, is rooted in the past. We must encourage economic growth that directly contributes to environmental progress.
Energy and global warming
As we look towards a sustainable future, we must also prepare for the realities of rising fuel costs and climate change. Our energy picture is a tale of two worlds. The U.S. Department of Energy has indicated that we are one of the best positioned states for renewable energy potential, with abundant wind, solar, geothermal and other resources. Yet, we perform among the worst in terms of using renewable energy sources. This stems from a lack of political will and capital investment, a regulatory scheme that seems to discourage renewables, and a not in my backyard attitude that seems to prevent projects from getting off the ground. The result so far is that we continue to rely almost solely on imported fossil fuels.
There is irrefutable evidence that global warming is real and occurring at an alarming rate. As the planet warms over the next fifty years, sea levels are rising, impacting our coastal areas. Hawai‘i could also be struck by stronger and more frequent storms because of these changes. Homes, hotels, businesses, harbors and waterfront properties are increasingly at risk. We must aggressively address the impact of global warming and rising sea levels for our island state. Our state has some of the best scholars and researchers in the world housed at the University of Hawai‘i. We must take advantage of their expertise and ensure that we are prepared to address the realities of climate change.
Public support is strong for environmental protection
As Hawai‘i 2050 public opinion poll demonstrated, the overwhelming majority of Hawai‘i citizens are committed to protecting Hawai‘i’s environment. The depth of that conviction varies depending on one’s perspective, but the fact is that we are a community that understands what it means to aloha ‘aina (love and respect for the land), and are willing to make sacrifices to keep what is special about our home.
There is a tendency for people to think that economic productivity and use of natural resources inevitably must lead to its degradation, but that doesn’t have to be the case. With proper planning and coordination, the goals of economic development and environmental protection can be mutually reinforced and simultaneously achieved.
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