Q&A with Naomi Klein

February 26th, 2015


Photo credit: Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times/Redux.

Canadian author and award-winning journalist Naomi Klein will speak this evening about her latest book, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate,” at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Klein, a Dai Ho Chun Distinguished Chair, speaks from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the campus center ballroom. The event is free and open to the public.

When published in September 2014,  "This Changes Everything" debuted at No. 5 on the New York Times bestseller list.

In the book, Klein argues that climate change is a wake-up call delivered in the language of fires, floods and droughts, requiring heavy-duty interventions — much more than just people changing their light bulbs.

Klein also points out that our economic system and planetary system are at war.

“Or more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life,” she writes. “What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources: what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”

At the same time, she documents some inspiring movements and examples of change that give us hope. An accompanying feature documentary by husband Avi Lewis is expected this fall.

Klein, 44, is also a contributing editor for Harper’s, a reporter for Rolling Stone and a syndicated columnist for The Nation and The Guardian. Her earlier books include “No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies” and “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” She sits on the board of directors of 350.org, a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis.

No tickets are required for the event, which is first come, first serve. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Visit manoa.hawaii.edu for more information.

The Green Leaf sat down on Tuesday, Feb. 24, for a conversation with Klein about Keystone, climate change in Hawaii and motherhood.

Nina Wu: What's your reaction to the news that President Obama vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline bill?

Naomi Klein: Big day. It's a true victory for the climate movement, and, you know, victories are few and far between, so you have to pause and savor them. It's not a full victory because now we need to actually get it rejected.  But I think it's really significant this is the first time he's used the presidential veto, and he used it for a pipeline project that when it was first introduced, was considered such a shoo-in that TransCanada went ahead and bought the pipe. This was not supposed to be a fight, and we turned it into a fight...I was arrested.

NW: You were amongst the protestors in D.C.? So the protests against Keystone were not futile?

NK: It was the only time I was ever arrested for civil disobedience. I was arrested during the first wave of arrests outside the White House... I think when it comes to an issue this big, that's the thing we're up against more than anything else, is the people's feeling that they can't make a difference. And I think that's another reason why the Keystone fight has been important. Climate change is so big, it's so global, that people don't know where to start. So I think, for awhile, it was, okay, I'll just start really small, like change my light bulbs. And I will bring my own cup. And it's like, okay this isn't working.

The thing about the Keystone campaign is that it was a way to start small in the scheme of things, but a lot bigger than just changing your light bulb. I mean, taking on a multi-billion-dollar infrastructure project that is linked to the largest climate crime scene on the planet, which is the Alberta tar sands, and now people are seeing that it can have a real impact. But the impact, honestly, is much, much bigger than the fact that Obama vetoed it or even that it looks like we're going to win this fight. The impact is that it inspired so many other campaigns based on the same principle.

A friend of mine on the 350.org board of directors, KC Golden wrote this piece called the Keystone principle. And the principle is, "When you're in a hole, stop digging."...If we're going to be spending money on new infrastructure projects, it should be the infrastructure of the future, not the past.


NW:  You admitted in the book that at first, you were in denial about climate change for quite some time. I think a lot of people are still in that state of denial or "ecological amnesia," as you call it, including here in Hawaii. You said it was this conversation with [Bolivia's ambassador to the World Trade Organization Angelica Navarro Llanos] that got you started. What was it about that conversation that brought you out of denial?

NK: It was hearing a vision articulated by someone which showed a response to climate change which was inspiring as opposed to just — often the way we talk about climate change is all the things we will have to give up. She was talking about how, if we look at this crisis honestly, it can be a catalyst for long-delayed justice and it can be the framework in which we build a much fairer and more exciting world. The reason why we have this sort of amnesia where we're in the state of  knowing, not knowing about climate change, is just that we don't see a way out...

A lot of what we hear about climate change is scary and apocalyptic...For me, it was hearing that vision from someone that made me decide to stop looking away. And I'm hoping that the book can serve that purpose for other people...I think we are at a point now where there are some exciting things we can look to, like what's happening in Germany, for instance...

NW: They seem to be at the forefront of alternative energy. (More than 25 percent of Germany's energy comes from renewables)

NK: And it happened fast. When you have this really powerful combination of strong social movements, which they had in Germany (strong anti-nuclear, strong environmental movement), and leadership willing to listen, things can start moving at lightning speed. They've gotten to 25 percent renewable energy within, basically, a decade. But more than that, it's created 400,000 jobs.

They've developed a model where a lot of the ownership of the new, renewable energy is happening at the community level, through coops, through municipalities. They're keeping resources in their community, using it to pay for social services. What I hear from people in Germany is it's a pro-democracy movement...They're empowered and it's happening at a time when people feel very disempowered in Europe...


NW: Maybe Germany could be an inspiration for what could happen in Hawaii. There's a culture of complacency here. Why should people in Hawaii stop living in denial or be concerned about climate change?

NK: Hawaii is really on the front lines of climate change. I think people have a lot of first-hand experience with how their natural environment is already changing, they're seeing coastal erosion, they understand that whole parts of their city important to the economy could be under water at the rate we're going.

NW. Waikiki. The major resorts...

NK. It's kind of amazing, you just see this architecture of denial, in a sense. To be honest with you, everywhere I've gone, I've been told, in this place, people don't care. Everyone thinks they're particularly complacent. I think part of it is there are a lot of people who are newcomers to Hawaii and don't have the knowledge of the land, know what's new and not new.

On the other hand, Hawaii also has such a vibrant, indigenous rights community and so many indigenous people who have kept alive a worldview that has a deep understanding of human responsibility to not just take from nature, but to take care for future generations. That we're not talking about something we're apart from, we're talking about our community...There are people here, still, who are very connected to the land...

You have unique challenges. I think one of the challenges is always, whenever there's a small population, there's a feeling of does it really matter what we do? There's also an opportunity to be a model, to have the possibility of building a genuinely regenerative economy. If Germany can do it with very little sunlight, you have such extraordinary potential to be a renewable-based system...


NW: You write that the annual United Nations climate summit has started to seem less like a forum for serious negotiation than "a very costly, high-carbon group therapy session." Do you think there's still any potential for the UN climate summits to accomplish anything, or would a divestment movement be more effective? Should we give up hope with summits?

NK: I don't think we should give up hope, but I think what we're seeing with the Keystone decision is that when you have strong social movements with very clear demands, you can affect policy. I think it's going to take a very strong, global climate movement making demands on political leaders to get the kind of commitment level that we want. I think in Copenhagen in 2009 which was the last critical juncture for UN climate negotiations — the next one's in Paris in December — there was this posture of begging political leaders to please lead. I think where we are, five years later, people understand that the leadership's coming from below.

It's not just Keystone. New York State banned fracking because of this huge movement. France has banned fracking. So there are a lot of victories you can point to. We are at a pretty exciting time ahead of the Paris negotiations. I don't think there's going to be a breakthrough deal, but I think the movement is going to sharpen its demands ahead of Paris. There are two key factors – the movement is growing, we saw 400,000 people on the streets of NYC in September, four times the size of the largest climate march previously.

NW: People are emerging out of apathy and denial.

NK: It's also a different kind of climate movement. It's not just slick, green NGOs - it's this quilt of all of these local communities that are fighting extraction or refineries in their backyard, and know that investments in renewable energy and public transit are a key to creating jobs and opportunities for their communities. So it's not abstract...it's not like we just care about parts per million or carbon in the atmosphere. It's really connected to health and education and jobs.

NW: Things tangible to people's everyday lives.

NK: That's how climate has lost. If you have to choose between jobs and climate, you're going to choose jobs. So we need solutions that don't force those choices on people...Two key factors, the fact this movement is gaining strength, has tasted success, and, the fact that oil prices are in the toilet right now — that's actually a real opportunity to demand a transformation of energy sources.


NW: You see it as an opportunity?

NK: I do. Right now, I was just reading a piece in The Guardian yesterday. Oil and gas companies are losing so much money that they're now demanding all kinds of new subsidies and tax breaks. If governments are going to do that, they may as well invest in the energy systems that will prevent climate change as opposed to the ones that will lock us in. So I think there's a huge opportunity on several fronts to take advantage of the price drop. For starters, it gives us a little bit of breathing room. For instance, the Alberta tar sands only started to boom when oil hit $100 a barrel because it's so expensive to do this mining process... You burn three times more carbon in order to get the carbon out. It's very expensive to do that. So it only makes economic sense if the price oil is high.

Just yesterday, Shell announced it was suspending a massive, new expansion project in the tar sands. This is the second big project they've put on ice. The French company, Total, has canceled a project in the tar sands...This is not happening because of activism, this is happening because of the market. It's a window - what goes down will go up, but I think there is an opportunity now, when you're up against an industry that is basically in a profit frenzy, which is what the oil and gas industry has been in, it's really hard to fight a machine like that. Those levels of profit are really addictive. Exxon earned $46 billion in profits in a single year, and this happened twice within the past decade. It's not by coincidence...It's a big opportunity for the divestment movement.

In general, banking on a volatile commodity is a very risky thing to do...This is a moment when we can win some big victories. The tar sands is contracting on its own. This is a moment to say, what are we doing? I see the Keystone veto as part of that. In addition, it's possible to talk about a good carbon tax in a moment when the price of oil is down...When people are paying astronomical amounts at the pump, it's hard for government to introduce a tax on gas because people are already suffering. When the prices are dipping and they're thinking about buying another SUV, that's a good time to introduce a carbon tax...None of this can happen on its own. You have to fight for it, but the chances of winning are much improved...


NW: On a personal level, has climate change made you decide to do some of these small things, like bring your own jar for water everywhere you speak?

NK: The truth is, I've  been pretty focused on consumption for a long time. First book I wrote was "No Logo" and how the culture of endless shopping had colonized my generation. I've been thinking for much of my adult life about why we feel we need to shop as much as we do...Even though I wasn't thinking about it through a climate lens...I think about a lot of it through my son, who's 2...I really wanted to buy as little as I could.

As a new parent, it's particularly clear how much we are displacing our anxieties through shopping. When you're having your first kid, you're so anxious, and this whole culture steps in and says, buy this, buy that...and you're supposed to spend your whole pregnancy shopping. I cut my flying to a tenth of what it was. I, by no means, would hold myself up as an example.

I do think it's almost important to say I'm far from perfect. I think we have this idea if you use fossil fuels, then you don't have a right to have an opinion or criticize them because then you're a hypocrite and you got caught. I think that's a recipe for having a really small movement. We all use fossil fuels, we live in a culture that was built on fossil fuels. We're in it. So if in order to be part of a movement to get off fossil fuels, you have to already be off fossil fuels, then you'll have a movement of 10 people.

ON MOTHERHOOD ("This Changes Everything" is dedicated to Klein's son, Toma, 2)

NW: Speaking of, in the last chapter (Chapter 13: The Right to Regenerate), you share your personal struggle in getting pregnant before your son was born. What made you decide to include that chapter, and how does it tie in with the battle against climate change?

NK: This theme came through in my research, at the heart of this crisis is the extractive worldview — not just the extractive industry with oil, gas and coal, but this whole relationship with the land — that thinks we can take and take and never deal with the consequences of our actions. So I was really struggling with, what is the antithesis of an extractivist worldview? And landed on this idea that it's a regenerative-based world view, the idea of protecting cycles of fertility. The fact I was going through, in my own life, this often painful process of trying to conceive a child and losing several pregnancies while doing this made it really real to me. I felt it in my body. I always make this distinction as a writer between intellectual knowledge and body knowledge. That's why I think I think it's important to not only research from your computer but actually go places, and feel it in your body...

NW: To actually live it.

NK: That's why I included it. Also because I feel like coming back to where we started, climate change — this issue is so big. It feels abstract, it feels far away. I wanted to share with readers some of the things that made it personal to me, made it small to me. The other thing is we often talk about climate change in technocratic language and the truth is, this is a really emotional subject. We're triggering deep, existential fears — we're talking about our home, our source of all safety becoming dangerous to us. I feel like we need a language that acknowledges emotion...

So I just wanted to experiment with different ways of talking about this... For me, when I read people writing about this in more personal ways, it makes me think, OK, what is my personal entry point? I think it helps us talk about this thing that we're all trying not to talk about.

Sea Lions Zeno and Shackle

February 20th, 2015

SAUSALITO, CALIF. — It took less than a minute.

Schoolchildren, teachers and other members of the public had lined up in a V-shape along the shores of Rodeo Beach in Marin, Calif., to witness the release of two rescued sea lions by staff at The Marine Mammal Center.

Once released from their kennels, California sea lions Zeno and Shackle, did not linger or hesitate. They shuffled quickly along the sand, making a beeline for the ocean. As they entered the water together, a smattering of applause came from the audience.

Then we watched in delight, as their two heads bobbed in the waves. It was a beautiful sight.

Zeno and Shackle head out to their ocean home after being rescued and released by The Marine Mammal Center at Rodea Beach in Marin, Calif.

Zeno and Shackle head out to their ocean home after being rescued and released by The Marine Mammal Center at Rodeo Beach in Marin, Calif. The two seals were rescued from the Santa Cruz and Monterey area.

Beautiful, because these wild mammals are returning to their natural habitat, where they should be. Beautiful, because they were being given a second chance — humans may have created the problems that hindered them, but humans can also be part of the solution.

What the audience may not have known is how much work it took to get the wild sea lions into the kennel, weighed on a scale, then carefully loaded onto a pickup truck and carted across the sand for the release. Staff and volunteers at the center all played a vital role.

The release was also a small, uplifting celebration in the midst of a sea lion crisis. For the third year in a row, sea lion pups are stranding along the California coastline in record numbers. While the center usually houses about 10 sea lion pups, it was taking care of nearly 100.  TIME Magazine on Feb. 18 explored whether the strandings could be caused by rising ocean temperatures impacting the diet of sea lions (squid, anchovies, mackerel).

"We call sea lions sentinels of the sea," said MMC communications curator Sarah van Scagen. "What's going on with them can tell us a lot about the oceans as a whole."

Zeno, a female California sea lion, was rescued from Santa Cruz in January. She was behaving abnormally for a sea lion, and rescuers who  picked her up confirmed she was suffering from domoic acid toxicity. Domoic acid, produced by algae, accumulates in shellfish, sardines and anchovies, which in turn, are consumed  by sea lions. The biotoxin affects the brain, causing lethargy and disorientation. It can also affect people, so the center gives the health department a heads up when it discovers a case like Zeno's.

For Shackle, a male California sea lion picked up from Monterey, the problem was simpler – he had been entangled with a fishing net around his neck that left a scar. But luckily, once the net was removed, he quickly regained weight and was ready to be released.

Releasing two sea lions together is ideal, according to van Schagen, because they can keep one another company. Sea lions are, by nature, social animals.

That seemed apparent — the pair seemed as if they were immediately bonded as they headed into the waves.

TMMC, founded in 1975, is the non-profit that recently celebrated the grand opening of Ke Kai Ola (The Healing Sea), the first monk seal hospital at NELHA in Kona, in September. With more than $3.2 million raised in funds, TMMC was able to build four pens with pools – two for juvenile and adult seals and two for pups, along with a fish kitchen, medical lab and seawater filtration infrastructure for the pools.

Ke Kai Ola's first patients were four young, malnourished monk seals — Kulia, Ikaika, Hala‘i and Maka‘ala — from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. They were admitted in July, and released (nice and fat again) on Aug. 31. The center's current patients are Meleana and Pua, also from the NWHI, who were admitted as malnourished pups in September. Hopefully, they'll be released soon, too.

Sea lions Zeno and Shackle, are released and ready to head back to their ocean home.

Sea lions Zeno and Shackle, are released and ready to head back to their ocean home.

"Earth A New Wild"

February 16th, 2015

Boobie bird at Palmyra Atoll, to be featured in the "Oceans" segment of PBS Hawaii's "Earth A New Wild" airing Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 10 p.m. Photo courtesy of Dave Allen.

Boobie bird at Palmyra Atoll, to be featured in the "Oceans" segment of PBS Hawaii's "Earth A New Wild" airing Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 10 p.m. Photo courtesy of Dave Allen.

From baby pandas in China to humpback whales in Alaska and reef sharks at Palmyra Atoll, Dr. M. Sanjayan, a leading conservation scientist, explores humankind's relationship to the planet's wildest places.

"Earth A New Wild," produced by National Geographic Studios in association with Passion Planet, premieres "Oceans" on PBS Hawaii (KHET) at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 18. A preview of the film was screened at ProtoHub Honolulu by The Nature Conservancy and PBS Hawaii last Thursday. The team visits 29 different countries, capturing spectacular natural history footage — what distinguishes this series from other nature films is that this time, humans are in the picture.

Episodes One (Home), Two (Plains) and Three (Forests) have already aired, starting Feb. 4, but are available online and scheduled for encores for the rest of February.

The "Oceans" segment (preview here) has many messages relevant to Hawaii — overfishing, coastal pollution, climate change and sea level rise, not to mention the growing "rise of slime."

It opens with scenes from Palmyra atoll, a national marine monument located 1,000 miles south of Hawaii which gives us an idea what an untouched ecosystem still looks like. It's a place where the top predators, sharks, are still thriving abudantly over a healthy coral reef. It was once considered a part of the Territory of Hawaii, then became an unincorporated U.S. territory and was occupied by the U.S. military during World War II. Today it is owned and managed as a nature preserve by The Nature Conservancy.

Sanjayan looks at potential causes as well as solutions to this rise of slime in the ocean, including a revival of oysters, which play a vital role in cleaning up the waters around Manhattan.

It's clear that Sanjayan, who has spent 25 years in conservation, has a passion for nature and animals — he travels to the edge of the Earth, plunges into the ocean, parachutes in the air, hangs out with Dr. Jane Goodall and chimpanzees, and cuddles with baby pandas. Watch the live birth of a lemon shark.

Dr. Jane Goodall reveals her plan for ways for village dwellers to coexist with the wild chimpanzees through the planting of "wildlife corridors" — corridors of trees at the edge of farmers' lands so that the chimpanzees have a way to travel and inter-breed with one another.

At every frontier, he discovers how much humans and wildlife need each other to survive. The question nowadays is how do we coexist?

Says Sanjayan: "Now, my mission is to tell you an untold story, where we humans are not separate from nature. We are part of it."

Dr. Sanjayan with a panda in the bamboo forests of China. Photo courtesy of Ami Vitale.

Dr. Sanjayan with a panda in the bamboo forests of China. Photo courtesy of Ami Vitale.


Q&A, Anissa Gunther, Kailua Sailboards

February 6th, 2015


Q&A with Anissa Gunther, manager, Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks

Founded in 1982, Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks offers kayak, stand-up paddle and snorkel gear rentals while also offering adventure tours out to the Mokuluas.

But the watersports company also believes in stewardship of the natural environment and education. Last year, the company transformed the Malama Lounge, where visitors go to watch a safety video, into the Kailua Bay Education Center, offering interactive displays about plastic pollution's impact on the ocean, as well as information on Hawaii's endangered birds and Hawaiian monk seals.

They learn that eight out of the top 10 items found during last year's International Coastal Cleanup Day were plastics related to eating and drinking. While stand-up paddling and kayaking with pet pooches has become an increasingly common sight in Kailua, dogs are not allowed at Flat Island or the Mokuluas, all protected wildlife bird sanctuaries.

Two years ago, the business voluntarily stopped offering customers plastic checkout bags at its surf shop, offering paper or reusable bags instead. Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks is also certified by the Hawaii Ecotourism Association.

Gunther, 39, a kayaker, volleyball player and mother, also organizes habitat restoration trips to the Mokuluas in partnership with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. A small group of volunteers helps restore the islets by removing invasive species from January through March. Kailua Sailboards provides kayaks and  equipment to get out there, plus lunch, and helps coordinate the volunteers. The partnership is in its fourth year. If interested, email anissa@kailuasailboards.com.

Q: How did you become interested in conservation?

A: I grew up on the East Coast of the U.S. mainland and became passionate about the ocean due to many summers spent at North Carolina beaches. When I was 15 years old, I talked my parents into taking me to the 1990 Earth Day celebration (I believe it was the 20 year anniversary) held on the steps of the Capitol in Washington D.C. The message to protect our planet really struck me and led me to earn a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Marine Sciences from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. I was unsure of what field to pursue, so I took off on a world trip to think about it. I discovered a new passion in travel and adventure eco tourism, which eventually landed me in Hawaii to manage this amazing water sports shop.

Q: Of all that you do in educating others about Hawaii's natural habitat, what has been the most rewarding?

A:  It's too hard to choose which effort is most rewarding. Witnessing a healthy seabird habitat that was once riddled with invasive plants is a great reward. Hauling hundreds of pounds of plastic off of the beach is rewarding and so is winning the Ultimate Sand Sifter Challenge. Knowing that the KSK team puts its heart and soul into protecting Hawaii's natural resources is truly gratifying.

Q: What are the most unusual items your renters have carried back from a trek out to the ocean? (Renters are encouraged to pick up trash during their adventures. These are all put on display for educational purposes).

A: Renters and tour customers bring back all types of marine debris — shoes, tires, wrappers, bottles and fishing industry debris. Some of the most unusual items are free weights, bullet shells, part of a laundry basket and a power boat seat.

Q: Next you plan to add a coral reef and Hawaiian honu exhibit. What else is on your wish list?

A: Volunteers. Experts who can contribute advice, time and effort towards helping us to create effective and impactful exhibits.

Plastic pollution collected from Kailua Beach Park on display.

Plastic pollution collected from Kailua Beach Park on display.

Turning a new leaf

January 30th, 2015


Dear Green Leaf readers:

First of all, a big mahalo and shout-out to those of you who have been reading the column and blog, which turns four years old in February. I thank you for following along. I'm always open to your comments and suggestions – and I welcome more interaction with you, whether you agree or disagree with me.

If you have any ideas for this column, I invite you to email me nwu@staradvertiser.com. You can also find me on Twitter as @ecotraveler and Facebook.

The first blog post, dated Feb. 25, 2011, was about "the plastic dilemma." Well, guess what?  We still have that plastic dilemma, only a much larger one (an estimated 270,000 tons of plastic in the ocean, to be more specific). It's funny, because the exact same dilemmas we had then are the same that we have now — without plastic bags, how do we line our wastebaskets or pick up dog poop? Back then, only Maui and Kauai had the plastic checkout bag bans in place. Then Hawaii island. Come July, Oahu's plastic bag checkout ban will go into effect, as well.

Wow, we've come a long way.

In four years, the number of homes with solar photovoltaic systems on their rooftop went from less than 1 percent to 11 percent. We have the largest number of homes with solar PV per capita than any other state in the U.S. This makes sense, given that our electricity rates are triple the average in the nation, combined with the federal and state tax credits available and lower cost of systems. But we've got a long road ahead towards reaching our Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.

The blog has covered everything from plastic debris to recycling, climate change, invasive species, Hawaiian monk seals ( of course!), composting, bicycle-friendly initiatives, solar power (and the struggle to have solar power in Hawaii). All of these are still relevant, but have made it to the forefront because they affect all of us.

What else would you like to see? Have any suggestions?

On a personal level, since starting this blog, we took the big step of having a solar PV system installed on our home in 2012 (see post: "Time to go solar"). I'm grateful we were able to, considering how difficult that path has been for families that have been trying to in the last year. Since starting The Green Leaf, I also became a mom to an adorable, little boy, now age 4. In case you haven't noticed, I have a thing for Hawaiian monk seals, our official state mammal and a critically endangered species.



So let's just start with this: I am not perfect, nor am I "greener than thou." I'm just someone who cares about the paradise we live in, and someone who believes in trying to make the Earth a better place, ideal as that may seem. Through The Green Leaf, I hope to educate, inform and inspire.

Where did I get that idealism? In all honesty, I think it came from my time as an undergraduate at the University of California at Davis, one of the greenest college campuses in the U.S. I rode my bike everywhere on that campus, alongside professors and recycling was part of the lifestyle. Later, I rode my bike around the urban jungle surrounding the University of California at Berkeley while going to journalism school (and still have that bike, which was good for hills).   I did not grow up in a hippie, granola family, though we were always frugal and conscious about waste. I moved to Hawaii because of a love for hula, which is also about connecting with and having a deep respect for nature.

Let's just get the following "non-green confessions" out of the way:

>> I used disposable diapers. Yes, for three years. But I also came back to work full-time at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser after three months of maternity leave, and my son was at daycare. I don't know of many daycares in Hawaii that would accept reusable diapers. So yes, guilty! But we're done with that, now. We've been fully potty-trained for a year now.

>> I forget to bring my own fork — a lot. I do have one of those bamboo forks (and actually, you can just take one from your kitchen drawer at home around with you). When I forget, I save my plastic forks and reuse them. One of my New Year's resolutions is not to forget as often.

>> I drive an SUV. Yes. a Honda CRV. Bought it when my son was born after driving a compact Toyota Corolla for more than 15 years. Pretty much all my life, I drove small, compact cars. I was on the verge of buying a pre-used Toyota Prius, but went to plan B when the seller decided she didn't want to sell after all. My family (my mother, most of all) insisted that I would need a bigger car to tote around a baby, with the carseat, stroller, and everything else that comes with a child. I fell for it. I have to admit, it has at times come in handy (for the in-laws, baby, dog and all) and it is supposed to be one of the more fuel-efficient SUVs. But lately, I've also been feeling the bulk of it, and I'm on the market for a hybrid or electric vehicle.

Solar PV + EV

January 15th, 2015

Wes Wada of Honolulu just installed a solar photovoltaic system on his home, which will help power the two electric vehiciles he and his wife drive around town. Courtesy Wes Wada.

Wes Wada of Honolulu just installed a solar photovoltaic system on his home, which will help power the two electric vehicles he and his wife drive around town. Courtesy Wes Wada.

Wes Wada of Honolulu is not your typical tree-hugger or environmentalist, but alternative energy has become part of his daily lifestyle.

Wada adopted alternative energy times three. He just hired Eco Solar to install a solar photovoltaic system (32 panels in all) on his rooftop in Honolulu last year to help power his home and his two electric vehicles. He's had the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV for three years, already.

So he's living the "Solar PV + EV" equation.


Solar PV + EV means living on sunshine as your main generator of electricity, but of course, there are many factors to consider before making this investment. (Read "Living the EV/PV Dream" by GreenTech Media).

For Wada, it's worked out well, as part of the Hawaii lifestyle.

"That's really the way to go, in my opinion," said Wada. "The key thing, No. 1, is you need to know what the daily commute is going to be."

On an island like Oahu, chances are your distance is going to be pretty short compared to what it might be on the U.S. mainland. The investment in the electric vehicles which he and his wife use have worked out, when rebates were factored in. If he were to do it all over again, Wada says he would lease the Nissan Leaf  instead of purchasing it. That way, he says, you don't have to worry about the battery two years later.

Consider us lucky, too, given that we have sunshine, lots of it, through most of the year.

For Wada, once named an "Energy Hero" by Hawaii Energycost savings and convenience were the main motivation for going green.

"Imagine never having to line up at Costco again for gas," he said. "In five to six years, the solar PV system will be paid off, then you get free electricity for the home and the cars. The convenience factor is really big."


The other perks – use of the HOV lane regardless of the number of passengers, free parking at meters and  the airport (there's a 30-day limit, according to the Hawaii Department of Transportation, but it's free of charge if you have an EV license plate), and dedicated parking stalls all add up.

The energy climate in Hawaii, today, is more uncertain, with NextEra's pending acquisition of HECO, plus the state utility's plan to raise fees for all electricity users, with extra fees for owners of solar PV.  Connecting the solar PV system to the grid is also a big uncertainty, with folks that have waited up to a year. If you've already got solar PV in place, the next natural step would be to consider an EV. At the same time, HECO is also offering a discounted time-of-use rate for owners of electric vehicles who charge up at non-peak hours.

Wada said he opted not to go with the time-of-use option, but he's definitely glad he opted for Solar PV + EV.

If you can't get approval for photovoltaic panels, Wada says there are still a lot of things you can do to cut back your electricity bill — LED light bulbs, a solar water heater, energy efficient appliances.


Most people worry about running out of electricity while on the road, but more charging stations are in the works, plus a start-up company is working on a mobile charging service for electric cars, according to Dave Rolf, executive director of the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association. That sounds like a great idea.

"I would do it again, knowing what I know now," said Wada. "If people are really concerned about surviving in Hawaii and doing more with less, I think PV + EV is kind of a no-brainer."

What about you? Have you thought about investing in an electric vehicle in Hawaii? The number of EVs in the state reached 3,166 in December 2014. Are you more comfortable with a hybrid (with 19,256 in Hawaii, they make up about 1.7 percent of total passenger vehicles)?


The Toyota Mirai, Toyota's first fuel cell vehicle, is scheduled to be launched in Hawaii in November this year. A prototype will be available at the First Hawaiian Auto Show in March.

Bikeshare heading this way

January 8th, 2015

Two bikes, "Jen" from Seattle's bikeshare program, and "Mike" from New York's Citibike bikeshare program, will visit Oahu in January to help raise awareness about a bikeshare program in the works here. Courtesy photo.

Two bikes, "Jen" from Seattle's bikeshare program, and "Mike" from New York's Citibike bikeshare program, will visit Oahu in January to help raise awareness about a bikeshare program in the works here. Courtesy photo.

Get ready for Jen and Mike.

Jen is the name of a bicycle from Seattle, and Mike is a bike from New York.  Both are part of established bikeshare programs in their respective cities. They'll be visiting Honolulu, starting Monday, to help raise awareness about the program in the works here.

Bikeshare Hawaii, a non-profit run by Lori McCarney, a former senior vice president at Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties and Ben Trevino, a founder of Interisland Terminal, is planning to roll out a program here, with the first phase set to begin in Honolulu in early 2016. The goal is to offer about 2,000 bikes at 200 stations from Waikiki to Chinatown. Similar bikesharing programs are established in numerous U.S. cities.

"The vacationing bikes will get to enjoy some of the experiences our wonderful island home offers, just like other visitors do," said McCarney, Bikeshare Hawaii CEO. "We will bring the Jen and Mike bikes to a variety of events and locales and you'll be able to follow their adventures and learn about opportunities to meet them in social media."

The bikesharing program allows customers to make short trips between a network of unattended bike docking stations. The idea is to offer customers a transportation system without the hassles of ownership, including storage, maintenance or parking. At the same time, the goal is to encourage more people to ride bikes to cut down on pollution for short trips.

A pilot program offering short-term bike rentals, called B-cycle, was launched in Kailua in 2010.

Jen and Mike are hoping to visit the Pow Wow Murals on Cooke Street; the Kuhio Beach torch lighting and hula show; the King Street Cycle Track and the Sony Open while they are in town. Follow Bikeshare Hawaii on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, with hashtags #MikeTheCitiBike and #JenTheProtoCycle to see where they are during the visit here.

Mike is part of a bikesharing program in New York sponsored by CitiBank. Courtesy photo.

Mike is part of a bikesharing program in New York sponsored by CitiBank. Courtesy photo.


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Young humpback whale disentangled

December 30th, 2014


Humpback whale with entanglement. Courtesy of J. Moore, NOAA Hawaiian Whale National Marine Sanctuary MMHSRP Permit #932-1905.

Humpback whale with entanglement. Courtesy of J. Moore, NOAA Hawaiian Whale National Marine Sanctuary. MMHSRP Permit #932-1905.

The Hawaiian islands humpback whale season is here, and with it, the first disentanglement of a juvenile off the shores of Kihei, Maui on Dec. 10, the first of the 2014-2015 season.

NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program team was able to free the young, entangled whale earlier this month using knives on a long pole and a cutting grapple. The whale had multiple wraps of heavy gauge, red monofilament longline wrapped around its tail, which caused wounds, and trailing gear.

Most of the gear was successfully removed — not an easy task at all when dealing with a 30-foot whale.

The disentanglement was the result of teamwork — Maui County Ocean Safety Life Guards made the initial report after the whale was sighted by a stand-up boarder. They monitored the 30-foot whale until the authorized response team (made up of HIHWNMS, NOAA Corps, NOAA Fisheries, Hawaii Wildlife Fund) arrived aboard the Kohola.

Whale season stretches from November to May (although the first humpback whale this year was spotted in mid-September off of west Kauai). As many as 10,000 humpback whales make the annual 3,000-mile trek from Alaska to Hawaii every winter to mate and nurse their calves.

The 2013-2014 humpback whale season (Nov. 1, 2013 to May 15, 2014) had the highest number of confirmed large whale entanglement reports of any season since 2002, with 21 reports received, representing at least 13 different animals. It could be the result of more reporting, according to response coordinator Ed Lyman.

"Everyone is pitching in," he said. "We have a great, cohesive network with tour boat operators, fishermen, everyone's helping out and calling in."

If you see an entangled or distressed whale, please call the NOAA Fisheries Hotline at 888-256-9840 or radio the U.S. Coast Guard on channel 16. Federal regulations require maintaining 100 yards of distance in or on the water, and 1,000 feet from an aircraft.

Year 2014 in eco-retrospective

December 26th, 2014


Illustration courtesy of Surfrider.

Illustration courtesy of Surfrider.

It was a year of highs, and a year of lows for the environment. There were several milestones, and there remain many unknowns for the upcoming year of 2015. Below is a summary of the markers for the year 2014, as I saw it.

1. Plastic overload. The year 2014 was the year of plastic, as has been the case in previous years. This year, the alarm is at an all-time high. A new study published in December by the scientific journal, PLOS ONE, reported that an estimated 270,000 tons of plastic (enough to fill more than 38,500 garbage trucks) is floating in the world's ocean, and that's only the plastic that's on the surface, not the ocean floor. Not only that, but the plastic breaks down into more than 5 trillion pieces. The impacts of all this plastic in our oceans as well as the food chain (including the fish and seafood we eat) are still unknown. Read the AP story posted Dec. 13, 2014 at staradvertiser.com.

2. Plastic-bag free. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed Bill 38 in September, officially banning retailers from distributing plastic carryout bags, including biodegradable bags. But the law doesn't go into effect until July 1, 2015. With that in place, Oahu joins Maui, Kauai and the Big Island in banning plastic bags at checkout. Apparently, the reaction among our readers was to start hoarding plastic bags (49 percent of our readers, based on our Big Q poll). In September, California was the first to implement a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at grocery and convenience stores.

3. Monk seal hospital. Ke Kai Ola, the new Hawaiian monk seal hospital in Kona, held its grand opening and blessing on Sept. 2. The Marine Mammal Center's $3.2 million facility is dedicated to giving sick and injured Hawaiian monk seals a second chance. Four young, malnourished monk seals, Kulia, Ikaika, Hala‘i and Maka‘ala, were admitted on July 9 after being rescued from the northwestern Hawaiian islands.

Monk seal pup RF58 was found dead due to blunt force injuries, as a necropsy later revealed. She was one of two pups that had just survived a dog attack in July. Photo by Jamie Thompton/NOAA.

Monk seal pup RF58 was found dead due to blunt force injuries, as a necropsy later revealed. She was one of two pups that had just survived a dog attack in July. Photo by Jamie Thompton/NOAA.

4. Monk seal death. This year also marked a sad occurrence, with the suspicious death of a monk seal pup on the north shore of Kauai in November. Monk seal pup RF58 died from apparent blunt force trauma to the head. She was only about 4 to 5 months old, the daughter of Rocky, or RH58. An initial reward offer of $5,000 doubled to $10,000. In an unprecedented move, The Garden Island newspaper also decided to offer a $10,000 reward.

5. Expanded protection. President Barack Obama in September, through presidential proclamation, extended the protection zone around the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument by about 50 nautical miles. It was heralded as a victory by many conservation organizations in Hawaii who testified in favor of it.

6. HECO roller coaster. The Hawaii Electric Cos., the utility for the islands of Oahu, Maui and the Big Island, touched a major public nerve when its Aug. 26 plan was received by the Public Utilties Commission, proposing that the basic connection fees for customers in Honolulu be raised to a minimum of $55. On top of that, HECO attempted to drive a wedge between solar and non-solar customers, blamed its aging grid problems on solar PV customers and asked that new solar customers pay additional fees to connect. This came at a time when more than 3,500 solar PV customers were still waiting, from 9 months to a year, to get connected. Even DBEDT criticized the utility for putting its own profits above public interest while continuing to adhere to an outdated business model. Then in December HEI announced Florida-based NextEra would acquire the company for $4.3 billion, pending approval by the PUC. It's unknown how NextEra will treat individual solar PV customers. Let's just hope that battery storage systems become more affordable in coming years so that customers who want to get solar PV can do so, without worrying about the utility's grid.

7. Solar. It was not a good year for the solar industry in Hawaii. As reported in the Star-Advertiser business section, roof solar permits issued in Honolulu fell by 50 percent. Only 520 permits were issued by the city last month compared to 1,040 in November 2013 despite the availability of both state and federal tax credits (the federal tax credit is set to expire Dec. 31, 2016). Looking at the overall picture, though, the Hawaii State Energy Office noted that distributed renewable energy system installations increased significantly from 12,560 in 2012 to 18,316  in 2013. At the end of the year, the cumulative number of systems statewide totaled 40,717 with a total capacity of 253.5 Megawatt (MW). The state also ranked first in energy performance contracting in the nation with an investment of $235.74 per capita, and earned a third, consecutive Race to the Top award from the Energy Services Coalition in 2014.

8. Bronze for bikes. Honolulu earned its first bronze as a bicycle-friendly city from the League of American Bicyclists. Honolulu is the first municipality in Hawaii to achieve the bronze. Bicycle activists say Honolulu made strides in five areas, including engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation. They also laud the new King St. Cycle Track as a big step forward.

9.  Invasive species. From downed albizia trees on the Big Island to little fire ants and coconut rhinoceros beetles, the year 2014 was a year to monitor potentially destructive invasive species. The state department of agriculture does the best that it can on a meager budget. The albizia trees got plenty of attention during tropical storm Iselle, when they fell like a row of matchsticks and downed power lines. The little fire ants made their way to Mililani Mauka. The latest coconut rhino beetle, previously discovered around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam,  was found in a trap at Kakaako Waterfront Park. Add to the list, a coconut crab in Salt Lake, and an emu on the Big Island.

10. Electric Vehicles. The number of people driving electric vehicles in Hawaii continues to grow. As of October 2014, DBEDT estimated the number of passenger electric vehicles in the state was 3,026, up 54.5 percent, from 1,068 from the same month a year ago. More charging stations are also popping up around the isles. Volta just announced two free charging stations outside of Whole Foods Market in Kahului, Maui.

Green gift guide

December 8th, 2014

Foundwood cutting boards are handmade locally from reclaimed woods by Jen Homcy in the backyard of her Haleiwa home. Star-Advertiser photo.

Foundwood cutting boards are handmade locally from reclaimed woods by Jen Homcy in the backyard of her Haleiwa home. Star-Advertiser photo.

It's that time of year again. Time for gift-giving, which results in the busiest shopping season of the year. It's also a time of high consumption and too-much-stuff-we-don't-really-need-itis. The volume of household waste in the United States generally increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

Instead of participating in the Black Friday frenzy (thank goodness, it's over), think of how you can 1) reduce packaging 2) reduce shipping by buying local or 3) give a gift that supports the earth or the concept of reusing and recycling. The Center for a New American Dream also offers tips on how to simplify the holidays. Or check out these 12 tips from the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation.

Below is a list of eco-friendly, Hawaii gift ideas for your loved ones this holiday season.


When searching for a one-of-a-kind item, look no farther than an heirloom cutting or serving board from Foundwood, a small woodworking shop created by Haleiwa resident Jen Homcy. Each of the beautiful boards is unique in shape and grain, personally shaped by Homcy, who carries on the legacy of her late father through the business. All are made exclusively from salvaged woods in Hawaii, including mango, monkeypod, koa and milo. What struck me about them is their organic, natural forms, which follow the flow of the grain, highlighting the raw beauty of the wood. These boards are smooth and very solid (you can tell by the weight when you hold them). Choose from a small, heart-shaped board made from monkeypod or an oblong rectangle made from beautiful, dark milo wood. Prices range from about $46 to $95. Find Homcy’s boards at the Kailua Town Farmers Market (she’s there on the first and third Sundays, 8:30 a.m. to noon), Nohea Gallery at Ward Warehouse and Owens & Co. in Chinatown. You can also find her at www.etsy.com/shop/FOUNDWOODworking.


Gifts of candies, cookies and food are always nice, but how about a CSA? A Community Supported Agriculture subscription that will deliver locally grown produce on a monthly basis. There are several to choose from in Hawaii, now — from Honolulu Farms to MA‘O Farms, Just Add Water, Oahu Fresh and Waihuena Farm on the North Shore, all offer CSAs.


Craft fairs abound during this time of year in Hawaii and are a great place to support local artisans and artists. More specifically, The Green House's holiday gift extragavanza from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 13 this year offers plenty of handmade goods that are also green, including natural cleaning products, decoupaged bottles, herbal vinegars, bath salts from herbs harvested from the garden and hard-to-find plants. Visit www.thegreenhousehawaii.com to find directions. Call 524-8427 for more information.


The Sierra Club's Adopt a Wild Animal program gives you the opportunity to help some of America's most vulnerable wildlife while offering a cuddly gift to a family member. Choose from a plush Polar Bear, Harbor Seal, Sea Turtle, Black Bear, Grey Wolf,  Mountain Lion or more. New this year are a Sea Otter and Manatee. For $39, you get a plush animal, sticker, plus booklet that offers information about the animal, an adoption certificate, fun animal facts, map of American wildlife and letter of recognition. For $79, you also get an 1892-style Sierra Club knapsack. For $129, you get a plush puppet and the rest. Shipping is free. Visit sierraclub.org to learn more.


but offers you the satisfaction of knowing you are helping America's vulnerable wildlife long after the gift has been opened, according to the Sierra Club.


The Marine Mammal Center, which  just opened the new monk seal hospital in Kona, also offers an amazingly diverse selection of gifts for him, for her and for kids online. You can adopt a seal or purchase books, cards, DVDs, jewelry, handcrafted soaps and organic T-shirts to support their work. The center is based in Sausalito, Calif., north of San Francisco.


The Nature Conservancy in Hawaii, unfortunately, no longer offers logo items online, but it does offer you the opportunity to give a "gift of nature" this holiday season. You can adopt an acre on someone's behalf, make a tribute gift, give the gift of membership (specifically for Hawaii) ranging from a minimum of $25 to $500 or more, with a special e-card sent to the recipient. Visit www.nature.org.


Wrap your gift in a reusable shopping bag or tote which itself is a gift — and can be used throughout the year. It may come in handy when Honolulu's new law banning single-use takeout plastic bags goes into effect in July 2015. Some brands with beautiful designs include envirosax, ecolicious (based in Hawaii) and chicobags.

This canvas tote from Ecolicious Hawaii comes with an eco-friendly saying. The mission of Ecolicious is to reduce the use of plastic bags in Hawaii. Photo from ecolicious.com.

This canvas tote from Ecolicious Hawaii comes with an eco-friendly saying. The mission of Ecolicious is to reduce the use of plastic bags in Hawaii. Photo from ecolicious.com.