By Nina Wu
Looking back, 2013 turned out to be a decent year for some eco-positive changes, though I tend to see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty.
1. Frostpaw the polar bear — President Barack Obama and family (including their two dogs) are still vacationing on Oahu, but haven't done much out of the routine. Frostpaw, from the Center for Biological Diversity, has made news headlines following the president around during his vacation. He is here to urge the president to reject the Keystone XL pipeline and take action on climate change. The 1,700-mile pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas, will affect many endangered species along its path, says the center, and could create potentially catastrophic pipeline spills. Outside of Mid-Pacific Country Club last week, the president did see Frostpaw, if for a brief moment, and yelled, "Hey, polar bear!" Learn more about the center's efforts at nokeystone.org.
2. Solar consternation — Solar PV installations (ranked second in the nation in grid-connected PV cumulative installed capacity per capita) faced a new hurdle this year — the implementation of new rules in September (as well as a tightening of tax credit rules for multiple systems). HECO began asking customers to check their Locational Value Maps to determine which circuits they were on before installing a PV system to see if they are required to do an interconnection requirements study. The new requirements have slowed installations this year and lead to an outcry by Hawaii residents, who overwhelmingly support solar. Still, residents who installed solar PV qualified for 65 percent in federal and state tax credits this year.
3. Butts of the beach — Honolulu's new law, which prohibits smoking at all city beaches, parks and bus stops, goes into effect Jan. 1. No smoking signs have already been posted. The law is already in effect for a handful of beaches in Waikiki , at Kapiolani Park and Sandy Beach. As beach cleanup crews can attest, smokers have left thousands of cigarette butts in the sand — which harm the environment by leaving plastic filters and toxic materials on the shoreline, which in turn can wash into the ocean, harming marine life and ultimately, humans.
4. Plastic bag ban — Hawaii island's plastic bag ban also goes into effect on Jan. 17 at all grocery stores, restaurants and other retailers. Consumers in the past year have been paying fees for plastic bags at checkout lines due to an ordinance adopted in 2011. On Jan. 17, customers will be able to use reusable or paper bags. Kauai and Maui counties already have plastic bag bans in place, as well. Oahu passed a plastic bag ban last year, but it is not due to go into effect until 2015.
5. Monk seal hospital — The Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito, Calif. has completed the first phase of its $3.2 million hospital and rehab facility for Hawaiian monk seals in Kona. The hospital provides a place where stranded or troubled monk seals can go, rather than be shuttled from island to island or to California, which was the case for KP2 (who has now found a home at the Waikiki Aquarium, and goes by the name of Ho‘ailona).