HAWAII AND SUSTAINABILITY: FIRST IMPRESSIONS

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. 

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Eric Knutzen gave us a great tour of the Aquaponics facility at Kauai Community College.

 

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Mitch Thomashow

Thomashow devotes his life and work to promoting ecological awareness, sustainable living, creative learning, improvisational thinking, social networking, and organizational excellence. Currently he is engaged in teaching, writing, and executive consulting, cultivating opportunities and exchanges that transform how people engage with sustainability and ecological learning. In August, 2011 Thomashow became Director of the Second Nature Presidential Fellows Program. This new program is designed to assist the executive leadership of colleges and universities in promoting a comprehensive sustainability agenda on their campuses. Fellows provide executive consulting on climate action planning, long-range financial planning, organizational leadership, curricular implementation, and community investment. From 2006-2011, Thomashow was the president of Unity College in Maine. With his management team, he integrated concepts of ecology, sustainability, natural history, wellness, participatory governance, and community service into all aspects of college and community life. This included construction of The Unity House, the first LEED Platinum President’s Residence in North America, and the TeraHaus, a passive house student residence, as well as comprehensive campus energy planning, an integrated approach to growing food on campus, and a new academic master plan. Previously from 1976-2006, Thomashow was the Chair of the Environmental Studies program at Antioch University New England. He founded an interdisciplinary environmental studies doctoral program and worked collaboratively to grow and nourish a suite of engaging Masters programs, geared to working adults. Thomashow is the founder of Whole Terrain, an environmental literary publication, originating at Antioch University New England, and “Hawk and Handsaw,” a journal of creative sustainability, published at Unity College. He serves on the boards of Orion Magazine and The Coalition on Environmental and Jewish Life (COEJL). Thomashow is a founding organizer of the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors (CEDD), a national organization that supports interdisciplinary environmental studies in higher education. He provides ongoing consultation to the Sustainable Endowments Institute and their new Billion Dollar Green Challenge program. His two books have significantly influenced environmental studies education. Ecological Identity: Becoming a Reflective Environmentalist (The MIT Press, 1995) offers an approach to teaching environmental education based on reflective practice—a guide to teachers, educators and concerned citizens that incorporates issues of citizenship, ecological identity, and civic responsibility within the framework of environmental studies. Bringing the Biosphere Home, (The MIT Press, 2001) is a guide for learning how to perceive global environmental change. It shows readers that through a blend of local natural history observations, global change science, the use of imagination and memory, and philosophical contemplation, you can learn how to broaden your spatial and temporal view so that it encompasses the entire biosphere. His essay (2010), “The Gaian Generation: A New Approach to Environmental Learning” provides provocative new concepts for teaching about global environmental change. Another essay (2012) “Where You At 2.0” reasserts the relevance of bioregionalism for digital age learners. A recent essay (2013),“Sustainability as Turnaround” is a case study of his work as president at Unity College. with mandolin.png His new book, The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus (The MIT Press) provides a framework for advancing sustainable living and teaching in a variety of campus environments. It will be available in January, 2014. Thomashow is currently working on two writing, networking, and teaching projects. Improvisational Excellence suggests that improvisation emulates the patterns and processes of the biosphere. It’s a series of essays linking play, music, and observing nature to the paths of everyday living. It is the philosophical basis for Thomashow’s workshops on global environmental change, music and nature, and ecological perception. Wilson’s Library is a series of prose poems depicting extraordinary moments during the history of life on earth. Thomashow lives in the hill country of southwest New Hampshire in the shadow of Mount Monadnock. He loves to explore the fields, forests, wetlands, hills, and lakes of Northern New England where you can often find him on his bicycle. His recreational interests include basketball, baseball, board games, jazz piano, electronic keyboards, musical composition and recording, guitars, hiking, and lake swimming.