A tale of two islands
I visited two different islands over the past several weeks and both sparked some thought about sustainable living. Islands are interesting because they represent our planet in microcosm. They’re almost like big biospheres.
The island on the left is San Juan Island, a member of the San Juan Island chain here in Washington State. The island on the right is the famous Oahu, home of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor. I was on San Juan Island over the New Year’s holiday and was in Hawaii for just a few days in December.
Islands that were populated before the arrival of western society were great examples of sustainable communities. They grew enough food for their populations (and obtained seafood). They needed to keep waste materials under control. Because they were isolated, viruses were rare if not unheard of.
While we drove through some open territory on Oahu, it became oddly apparently how little (if any) energy production actually takes place on the island. And, of course, I began to daydream about the possibilities. Could they ban all gas-powered automobiles and switch to all-electric? The island is almost small enough that you could get away with it. If you supplied free electricity for everyone, would that be enough to make it happen? The state of Hawaii uses oil to generate 78% of its electricty, according to the Star-Bulletin (Note: data from 2001). In fact, it looks like Oahu generates none of its energy from renewable sources (there is some methane generation occuring, but in true MLW fashion, we’ll consider the burning of anything a non-sustainable solution). This is crazy. First of all, to be so reliant on oil tankers rolling into the home of some of the most sensitive ecological area in the world, not to mention the most beautiful beaches is just nuts. And don’t forget about those tourist dollars you’re risking. What’s more, there’s plenty of wind rolling across the islands. Oh yeah, and that thing so many of us go there to see — the sun.
Meanwhile, while I was on Oahu, I picked up an issue of Honululu Weekly, a free alternative paper. The cover story was about a controversy over Biofuel production. A company is interested in growing albizia trees to use for biofuel. The tree is apparently a non-native invasive species that grows quite well in Hawaii. Anyway, lots of politics of land use, water rights, etc. The unfortunate thing is that while biofuel might be an important part of the mix for Hawaii, wind and solar seem to be completely ignored. Instead of planting albizia, they should be planting windmills.
The other island, San Juan, was quite similar. I didn’t see any obvious evidence of renewable energy activities on the island. Their utility reports 84% of their power comes from hydro-electric, which tells me that they get power from the mainland. Basically a pretty standard grid buy. That’s pretty unfortunate because, like Hawaii, they have massive amounts of wind and wave possibilities available. Although, unlike Hawaii, they don’t have such a massive influx of tourist dollars to spend. There’s such an opportunity here to take destinies into one’s own hand, but it seems the cheap easy solution wins out every time. Perhaps the magic of high prices will get us there or perhaps bold leadership, but either way, let’s hope it’s soon.
UPDATE: Coincidentally, it looks like Hawaii is making a big investment in Solar Power. Greenbang says a BusinessWeek article points to the big investment, although I couldn’t find the link. But looks like good news!