Rob Parsons

Beach Cleanups, Canoe Race, Maui Marathon and GMO Taro Ban Offer Hope

Need examples of how to get moving? Look around

by Rob Parsons

September 24 , 2009

"An object at rest tends to stay at rest, and an object in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted upon by another force." –From Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion

Any way you look at it, the concept of inertia is tricky. When things are in motion, they invariably are kept in check by other forces, notably gravity and friction. In the big world around us, government red tape, corporate interests and political bickering are among the factors that inhibit forward motion.

But the greater part of inertia is what might be called giddyup, gumption or initiative. Enthusiasm and teamwork are vital, whether the objective is moving a boulder out of the road or making the switch to renewable energy sources. Sometimes it's worth checking the roadmap—the obstacle might be there for a reason, and perhaps an alternate route is preferable.

Last weekend sparkled with examples of cooperation and commitment, reminding us that "inertiative" can be found all around us. The individual and team accomplishments of those who took on Saturday's island-wide beach clean-ups, the Pailolo Channel canoe crossing or Sunday's Maui Marathon help illustrate our ability to accomplish great, difficult things. To counter the sometimes-myopic perspective that progress simply isn't happening fast enough to save us from ourselves, it's important to accentuate real-life events that offer hope.

This year's "Get the Drift and Bag It" beach cleanup was the largest in its 18-year history on Maui. At least two-dozen coastal locations benefited from volunteer efforts, coordinated by Community Work Day and other entities, including the County, Ocean Conservancy, Surfrider Foundation and South Maui Sustainability. An estimated 500 people turned out to help in Lahaina, thanks to the organizational gumption of last week's Maui Time cover boy, Matt Lane.

Haiku resident Paige Alisen checked in volunteers at Hookipa Beach Park on Maui's North Shore. Hampered by a sprained shoulder, she said she nevertheless was "jazzed" by the response when she told twenty-plus helpers that they were part of a countywide effort. "We had people from Oregon and Washington as well as Maui," said Alisen, herself a recent arrival from Northern California. "One woman arrived late, but kept picking up things on her own even after we left."

Surfrider Foundation, which coordinated that effort, has also spearheaded native Hawaiian plant restoration on the hillside above the park.

Barry Sultanoff, an M.D. working in the psychiatric field, ran Sunday's 26.2-mile trek from Kahului to Kaanapali. Though he ran four marathons in the late '70s and participated in Makena triathalons each of the past three years, he never considered running another marathon until it came to him in vivid recurring dreams. "While it was great for me personally, this is such a great community event," said Sultanoff. "There is a strong metaphor at the finish line, for setting a goal and accomplishment."

Sultanoff said he was moved by many personal stories and vignettes throughout the day. He spoke with a leader of a yellow-shirted team based in Los Angeles that collectively garnered more than a million dollars in donations for HIV-AIDS research. "It's a great reminder of what's possible," said Sultanoff.

A first-time participant in Saturday's Pailolo Challenge outrigger canoe race was similarly inspired. Linda Lopez was among many wahine who paddled the 30 miles from DT Fleming Park in West Maui to Kaunakakai Pier on Molokai.

Lopez, a licensed massage therapist, said she is new to long-distance paddling. "It is amazing to realize what we did—and that we're going to do it again next week," she said with enthusiasm. The race serves a dual purpose—as both a warm-up and a way to bring the canoes to Molokai for the following week's Na Wahine O Ke Kai 41-mile race to Oahu.

"There was a time when the Molokai Hoe [which first competed in 1952] was all men," said Lopez, "when nobody considered that women might be able to do it. Now we have our own event."

Another issue overcame political inertia last Friday at the County Council chambers in Wailuku. After months of discussion and debate, a bill to ban GMO taro in Maui County unanimously passed first reading.

With taro growers and supporters providing articulate testimony, the atmosphere was reportedly "chicken skin" at times. While University of Hawaii researchers claim they need to utilize biotech to help thwart taro diseases, farmers disputed that, saying their greatest need is abundant cold, fresh water, which too often is diverted for other uses.

Council Chair Danny Mateo offered his own comments before the roll call vote, stating that a duty to protect Hawaiians and the host culture "starts right here, right now." Should the bill pass second reading on October 2, it will go to the desk of Mayor Tavares (who has questioned how the County might enforce such a ban), to be signed into law.

One of the panelists at the recent Maui County Energy Expo was Chris Lovvern, Alternative Energy Director for Castle and Cooke on Lanai. I called to ask for clarifications on their renewable energy goals, which include 30 percent solar, 40 percent biodiesel and 40 percent wind power by 2012.

"That is an extremely aggressive and ambitious timeline," Lovvern told me. "It is dependent upon PUC approvals and agreements with MECO, and the big wind depends on the undersea cable. By 2012, I don't know if it's feasible."

He went on to say that only one-third of their 10-acre, 1.2 megawatt solar installation is currently providing power to the grid. "We're stuck at 400 kilowatts," said Lovvern. He said they're waiting for battery storage to come on line, but that their Power Purchase Agreement also caps their output at 600 kw until the remainder can be integrated into MECO's system.

Lanai's 7,000-panel solar photovoltaic array is the largest in the state, but it's disappointing to see it so underutilized several months after the gala dedication. Lanai, with a modest peak electrical demand of around 5 mw, would appear to have some advantages (wind, solar resources) despite its geographical isolation.

One wonders if a smaller scale wind project could supply local needs first, before Oahu-based interests look to import as much as 300 mw via a billion-dollar submarine cable.

As we set ambitious goals for sustainability, it would be wise to take inspiration from the models of success all around us. Lopez noted that her fellow paddlers were from different walks of life, but were united by a common goal and the fact that they needed one another not only to succeed but to survive. "Only through the unity—lokahi—and passion is it possible to do this," said Lopez. "We help and support each other, and there is so much power in that."