I just returned from an exceptional visit to Hawaii. I spent a week meeting chancellors, faculty, sustainability coordinators, students, and all manner of people who care about the future of our planet! I addressed the Pacific Island Post-Seconday Commission. Talk about being on the front lines of climate change—sea level rise is tangible and threatening on those islands. I gave the plenary address at the Hawaii Sustainability Summit. I met dozens and dozens of interesting people. I came away with the distinct impression that the University of Hawaii system and all of its stakeholders will make a major contribution to how we think about and implement sustainability initiatives. To understand the seeds of this potential, I'd like to share a few ecological and cultural impressions.
This was my first trip to Hawaii. After recovering from the relative shock of Honolulu (it's very congested and the automobile rules), I began to appreciate Oahu as a fascinating crossroads for globalization. There are layers and layers of multicultural depth and richness, splayed over a post-colonial tradition, and now at the geographic nexus of Asia and the Americas. This cosmopolitan richness is enhanced by the complicated and intriguing ecological circumstances. Although the islands differ based on their unique geological sequence in time and space, they all share a common biogeographical challenge. The initial successional sequence (tracing the migrations of species to new lands) is superimposed by various waves of human settlement, including the first Polynesian people and species, and then the colonial histories. Invasive and indigenous species mingle in a dynamic matrix of habitats and climates. The ecological and cultural complexities are a stunning microcosm for many other places around the planet.
Amazingly, over 80% of Hawaii's food and energy is imported. Yet the islands could easily become relatively self-sufficient through local organic agriculture, wind and solar power, and other sustainability initiatives. Similar to many college and universities, The University of Hawaii (Manoa) has major infrastructure challenges. With imaginative and determined leadership, it could easily develop sustainability programs that address these questions not just for the university, but for all Hawaiians. Blended with the inspiring revival of traditional Hawaiian knowledge, all kinds of partnerships are possible. Despite all of the daunting political challenges they entail, and all of the difficulties that serge with multiple stakeholders, there are scores of interesting initiatives scattered throughout the campuses in the University of Hawaii system.
I was particularly taken by some of the efforts I observed at some of the community colleges, specifically Kapi'olani and Kauai. I had the good fortune to visit those campuses, but through conversations with people at the other campuses, I realized that sustainability seeds are scattered throughout the system.
In just a week you can only pick up fragments of activities, and it's impossible to make too many judgments. But I left Hawaii with the distinct impression that it's island geography, it's ecological and cultural richness, and it's beautiful and deep notions of Aloha and Mahalo, are an inspirational blend for future sustainability excellence.
Eric Knutzen gave us a great tour of the Aquaponics facility at Kauai Community College.