Rob Parsons

You Say You Want a Resolution...

New Years ideas to help change the world

by Rob Parsons

January 03, 2008

It's believed that the tradition of setting New Year's resolutions dates back to the Babylonian culture, around 2000 B.C. It seems that people around the world have been breaking them ever since.

Whether the goals are to exercise more, quit smoking, lose weight or get out of debt, they have one thing in common: they are short-lived. Armed with the knowledge that most resolutions last no longer than three weeks, I have a new strategy of approaching 2008.

You see, while setting my own resolutions might improve my health, happiness or finances, there's still the big picture to consider. The world we live on is big, complicated and in need of much more than a few band-aids here and there.

So for 2008 I'm resolving to think big, and invite others to do the same. To that end, I'm offering resolutions to others-primarily our decision-makers-to help nudge them in a better direction for the year ahead:

To President George W. Bush: Demilitarize. More than 50 percent of our federal budget goes to defense spending, and that's just obscene. Domestic problems abound-education, health care, crime, environmental degradation and urban sprawl-but we're too busy financing more war games to notice.

As a lame duck, you can presumably do as you please in your last year of office. So resolve to take a big bite out of our defense budget, starting with the atrocious rock video commercials for the National Guard that play on our movie screens. We're sorry you were dropped on your head as a child, but we'd really like our country back now.

To Governor Linda Lingle: Resolve to use the Hawai`i Superferry for all your Neighbor Island travels in 2008. Trust me, you're going to love it.

Never mind that flying is cheaper, won't take more than half your day and doesn't require taking Dramamine. There's the 4 a.m. wake-up call, the posh Hahalua Lounge ($20 upgrade), those Molokai sea cliffs and running the slalom course through all the whales they've been spotting.

Besides, the welcoming reception of Maui and Kauai citizens exercising their constitutionally protected rights to uphold our laws from abuse by leaders who choose to ignore them should be truly inspirational. Come to think of it, why don't you invite Representative Joe Souki and Senate President Calvin Say on your next voyage!

To Hawai`i Superferry CEO John Garibaldi: You've been working awfully hard over the past few years for that fat $220,000 salary (though not hard enough to actually prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, or even hold public meetings on Neighbor Islands until the legislature required you to do so). So why don't you resolve to spend more time with your grandkids in 2008? You know, quality time, like reading them stories.

Perhaps you could start with the classic tale of Pinocchio, the little puppet boy whose nose grew longer every time he stretched the truth. Remember it was the Blue Fairy who appeared to help little Pinocchio avoid bad or risky behavior, eventually rewarding him for making better choices by turning him into a flesh-and-blood human boy.

Tired of fairy tales, John? Well, so are the people of Hawai`i, to whom you've fibbed often about the real impacts and purpose of your big, fast, $85 million military prototype ferry. Just promise that when your economic model for the ferry proves inadequate and runs aground that you won't take the easy way out and blame "those environmentalists" for the demise of Hawai`i Superferry. Come clean, confess that it was all about military contracts in the first place, and send the Alakai somewhere where it's actually wanted or needed. And, if you wish upon a star, you may even get lucky and avoid running into Monstro, the whale.

To the Maui Visitor's Bureau: Resolve to wean yourself from the $3.8 million you get from the County of Maui's annual budget. Downsize, already. We really don't need to market Maui.

If we take care of our environment, social ills and infrastructure, word of mouth will take care of the rest. But if we continue to overbuild beachfront time-shares and multi-million dollar condos, squander water resources, fail to protect our reefs and shut down the viable transient vacation rental sector of our economy, no amount of MVB promotion will convince people to come back for a second visit.

Remember that our tourist economy is inherently unsustainable. If visitors stop coming in ever-increasing numbers, the ripple effect through our economy spreads far and wide. MVB should resolve to shift their focus to improving and protecting the experience of the visitors who do come to Maui, not endlessly casting out bait to hook more of them. The County Council could help them out by reallocating their annual stipend to something more essential to Maui's long-term health and self-sufficiency.

To the Maui County Council: Resolve to take a long view of their choices, and stop making lousy deals with landowners and developers. Case in point, Wailea 670.

After enduring countless hours of public testimony and discussions of conditions of zoning, six council members couldn't say no to a billion-dollar boondoggle foisted upon us by off-island investment firms. A seventh golf course in South Maui (private, at that)? Bulldozing cultural sites and native plant habitat? Uncertain, sparse water resources to irrigate arid Wailea? "Affordable" rental housing in a light-industrial area? That's really the best we could do?

Maui desperately needs council members who are willing to lead our community in bold directions, not just more of the "build, build, build" mentality that will leave us looking like Honolulu-junior. Here's a gallant new idea: consider our food-production (or lack of it) as part of our infrastructure. For every rezoning or subdivision, require that an equal acreage be set aside for bona-fide farming to feed those who will live there.

We ought to be setting goals for increasing local food supply just as we are setting benchmarks for greenhouse gas emission reduction and percentage of renewable fuels. Without those goals, its unlikely that we will do much to offset the huge imbalance in what we import and produce locally.

To Mayor Charmaine Tavares: Resolve to listen more. Of course, that would mean that you'd have to be willing to schedule meetings with constituents, not shut them outside the ivory tower. Please remind your staff that they are public servants, first and foremost, and that requires actually returning calls and e-mails, even to those who may hold differing points of view from your own.

Resolve to begin the listening process by embracing a new position in the complete shutdown of the vacation rental sector of the economy. When we determinedly hold a need to be right about something, we lose perspective and the ability to listen to alternative viewpoints. The vacation rental issue is not black and white; it encompasses all the nuances and colors of a rainbow.

I saw that you did a good job of listening throughout two days of the recent Energy Expo. Now let's act quickly to support local renewable and sustainable choices for our energy future-not the green-washing "solution" proposed by Hawaiian Electric to open a palm oil pipeline to Southeast Asia. With abundant wind, waves, solar resources and pushes for energy efficiency and conservation, we can do much better.

To Landis Maez of BlueEarth Biofuels: Resolve to talk to the community in 2008. Two Kiwanis meetings in 11 months isn't a lot of public outreach. Note that avoiding public scrutiny at all costs is one of the reasons Hawai`i Superferry failed to gain public acceptance or trust, except by those who had political connections, were invested or were buffaloed by the persistent public relations spin.

Community input helps define a project's success or failure. Maui's citizens are not easily fooled, and aren't buying that a biodiesel mega-refinery for imported palm oil is any sort of solution to our energy security or local self-sufficiency. And we can't ignore rainforest destruction, endangered species habitat loss or displacing indigenous people, even when it happens thousands of miles away. It's definitely time to talk to the community-and to listen.

To Hawaiian Electric: Ditto. This cockamamie "sustainable palm oil" idea is getting harder and harder to swallow. First, you sully the name of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an otherwise respectable conservation organization, by involving them in efforts to set criteria for procuring palm oil. You would have us believe that it's all about global warming and less emissions from biofuels, disregarding that 20 percent of worldwide carbon emissions come from rainforest destruction, especially the slash and burn methods prevalent in Indonesia and Malaysia.

As members of the Bali Climate Change conference told the United States delegation three weeks ago, "If you're not going to lead, at least get out of our way." HECO could do that by welcoming local energy production in a big way, in effect returning the "power to the people."

To everyone else: Resolve to use your voice and your vote this year. Both matter. Hope springs eternal every two years that we may finally elect a majority of council members and state representatives who can help turn the tide of plantation politics back to a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people," as Abraham Lincoln described it in his Gettysburg address. But that requires an active citizenry, an involved community, and willingness to step outside of usual comfort zones.

I resolve to do my best to be a part of that process.