By Jay Fidell
Islands, and island states, are fragile. It’s not that they have the depth to keep on going no matter what. By definition they’re isolated and vulnerable and have to work harder. If tourism wasn’t there to catch us after plantation agriculture, what would we have done? If real estate development wasn’t there to enhance the tourism, what would we have done?
But somewhere along the line, it got static. There’s nothing to take over if and when we don’t have tourism and real estate development, the land based economy. There was a hope in the early 2000’s that we would have a tech or “innovation” industry, but in our wisdom we dumped on that and now there is only a smattering of it. We forgot or got bored and in any event we moved on. Witness the tumbleweed on Ilalo Street.
As tech went quiet, energy sprung up in 2008. It was the new tech, the tech that tech should have been. There was excitement about the Clean Energy Initiative and its glamorous goals, and about words like wind, solar, geothermal, biofuel, wave energy, OTEC, algae and others too that stirred the imagination. All were laden with promise. It was a new time.
Now three years later, we’ll still studying everything but wind and solar. Geothermal is awaiting political leverage, biofuel is fragmented, and wave energy, OTEC and algae are still being studied. Solar is married to the tax credits, and in some if not many places wind is the object of downright derision.
So in many ways we seemed to have moved on from energy too. The talk is still prominent and promising, but rhetoric doesn’t build railroads. It seems only a matter of time that we will realize the talk is more aspiration than action and we’ll give it up and move on to something else instead. At this point, I wish I could think of what that might be.
Maybe we’ll go back to tourism and real estate for the Chinese visitors we’d like to expect, but frankly right now that seems like a long shot. Remember the Chinese are having some economic problems of their own and those problems are linked to a global recession. Optimism is not indicated. They’re not going to catch Hawaii on the down stroke and bail us out.
So here on the cusp of a new year, you have to wonder what 2012 will bring. In failing to meet our own expectations on energy, we seem to have lost control of our economy and thus our destiny. What we need to do is regain that control. It’s not only making a plan, it’s getting people, everyone, on board and executing the plan. Political will, perhaps? As a state, we’re not so good at that, certainly not in recent years.
Going into 2012, we need to make some resolutions for solutions. I keep thinking of kindness and generosity for the new year, but it isn’t that. That simply doesn’t do the trick. I think also of public investment in the community, but it won’t be that either. We simply won’t put our money there – we’ll wait for someone else outside to do it, to take the risk and reap the reward.
So how about a modest resolution, the resolution simply of enhanced community awareness. It doesn’t sound hard. If we are aware of the sea changes around us, we are more likely to think of how to deal with them, and if we know the risks and possibilities, we are more likely to take action about them and do things for the public good.
That means reading the whole story, not just the headlines or the six o'clock news. It means engaging in community dialog, not just being a fly on the wall. It means critical thinking about the issues, separating the wheat from the chaff, not just buying an obvious bill of goods. It means participating, writing, speaking, arguing in the tumult of a classical democracy, not just going through life in linear intervals of work and recreation. Consensus is not the language of innovation. Awareness is, however, the pathway to progress.
Decent citizens must be more than observers. If we fail to meet that obligation, we’ll lose our momentum and slide down the slope. We already are. It’s time for every man Jack to get close, familiar and even intimate with the issues of our state and time, to develop strong and well-formed opinions about those issues, and to express them, even if that means a good and face-to-face argument.
I mentioned the silent majority in my article today about Lanai’s future. Frankly, I have no great expectation that the silent majority in Lanai will speak up, break out or do anything at all. They’ll just watch the activists speak for them, in their name, place and stead, like watching a ball game from the sidelines and leaving it to the other team to play. That way, your team loses and you can disappear.
In a state rife with protest groups, joining up with the silent majority is the riskiest thing of all. We have plenty of careful bystanders who consistently abdicate their rights and any speaking part in the program. Going along isn’t good enough. If we keep on doing the wallflower, we become the victims of our own reticence. We’ve got to be on the dance floor, taking part, or soon enough the dance will simply come to an end, like it or not, leaving us in the lurch.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it and, whatever your island, make this your overarching resolution for 2012. Molokai has gone south and left town. Lanai can’t afford to become another Molokai, although there’s a fair chance it will, and we the other islands certainly can’t afford to become another larger Lanai. The future of our society in Hawaii depends on our awareness and intelligent participation in public issues. If we don’t speak for ourselves, who will? And will they know what they’re talking about?
What better time than 2012 for Hawaii to become a state.