By Rob Parsons
Published in Maui Time Weekly
January 11, 2007
Never mind that it was nailed to a tree. The sign, near a surf camp on a remote Indonesian island said it all: "Take a care the nature." Nothing is lost in translation, and nothing could be a more profound dictum. Or a New Year's resolution.
"We live in a time in which every living system is in decline, and the rate of decline is accelerating as our economy grows," futurist Paul Hawken said six years ago. "The commercial processes that bring us the kind of lives we supposedly desire are destroying the earth and the life we cherish. Given current corporate practices, not one wildlife reserve, wilderness, or indigenous culture will survive the global market economy."
Hawken, heir to the Smith and Hawken gardening catalog business, has helped break new ground and cultivate ideas in his books Natural Capitalism, and The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability.
While his work has garnered much respect, it has received relatively little attention, at least compared to the enormity of our environmental challenges and the urgency needed to correct our course.
Last week, in my final few days as Maui's Environmental Coordinator, a talk-radio show host asked me to name the top three environmental issues. I began to list several big local issues: invasive species; storm runoff; Superferry; gill nets; cane-burning; over-development; coastal erosion and open space loss; cruise ships; sustainability. But I realize now that these are merely some of the issues, and not the core needs. I submit that the top three environmental needs for Maui County are these:
EDUCATION AND AWARENESS
Cora Puliatch, who served as a Maui Community College intern to the County environmental office, once said, "The key issue is that people don't know what the key issues are." If they did, of course, they could certainly find a way to pitch in and help. Community awareness of issues that directly affect us is paramount. Grassroots environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Pump, Don't Dump, are helpful in educating our community about vital issues. But our schools and our government should do more.
Last year, the State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) asked the Legislature to approve $1 million-out of the state's $5 billion dollar budget-to support environmental education centers statewide. The legislature failed to approve the funds.
On Maui, a proposal to adapt the beach house near Baldwin Beach Park into a Maui County Environmental Resource Center became a political football. County Council members failed to see the golden opportunity of a public environmental center, and suggested instead that it be demolished. This, after they approved the $4.58 million settlement of lawsuits that require the county use the site for public purposes.
To date, the new Mayoral administration has not appointed anyone to take my place as Maui County Environmental Coordinator. This is no time to be lackadaisical about environmental efforts. In fact, planning should start now on building a new Division of Sustainability and the Environment within the new Department of Environmental Management. The County's role in coordinating efforts to educate, preserve, protect and restore our precious eco-systems should involve many employees, not just one. Mayor Alan Arakawa deserves praise for his vision to highlight these efforts. Our new mayor needs our encouragement to keep us on track without missing a beat.
Despite the oft-uttered truism "The environment is the economy," it seems crumbs are all that's left to fund programs protecting our natural resources. But there is some good news: DLNR Chair Peter Young recently announced that the proposed state budget for the next fiscal year would include $103 million for resource protection. It seems that Young and his boss, Governor Linda Lingle, have heeded criticism, including a harsh audit, calling for increased funding to shape up the shortcomings of the DLNR in managing our natural areas, parks, small boat harbors and more.
For the past four years, I have been privileged to meet monthly with Maui DLNR division managers. A common theme was quickly apparent: these were passionate, skilled professionals swimming upstream against a cumbersome bureaucracy, with insufficient staff, resources or funding. We can ask our elected state representatives to support the proposed increase in DLNR funding and staff. We also need to lobby the Maui County Council and mayor to up the ante for county environmental efforts.
Dozens of Maui eco-organizations could benefit from grant and funding support. For instance, Maui Invasive Species Committee and various watershed partnerships gave a presentation to a council sub-committee last October, and have asked for significant funding increases.
LOVE AND COMPASSION
Amma, the much-revered Indian "hugging saint," says, "The protection and preservation of nature is only possible through love and compassion." In addition to her charitable humanitarian efforts such as building homes, hospitals, orphanages, and more than $20 million in tsunami relief, she also sponsors Green Friends, which has planted hundreds of thousands of trees (see www.amma.org).
Awareness and money are not enough. The necessary ingredient for success in the environmental arena is heart. If the stunning, unspeakable beauty of our island home inspires you on a daily basis as it does me, then take note: it's up to us all to "take a care the nature." Planting a tree is a wonderful place to start. Learning about local eco-efforts is another way, and can be easily done at www.mauicounty.gov/mayor/environmental/partnership.htm. Dozens of organizations and agencies are listed and hot-linked, so you are just one click away from learning more about many of Maui's current environmental initiatives.
"All things are possible once enough human beings realize that everything is at stake," Norman Cousins said. We live on an island. Here on Maui, as everywhere, everything is at stake. This New Year will be a good year, even a great year for Maui, but only if we make it that way.