Resource-Rich Hawaii Depends On Fossil Fuel Despite its vast sources of renewable energy, Hawaii is 92 percent dependent upon fossil fuel. That's more than any other state in the country, and environmentalists are trying to raise awareness of the impact.
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Resource-Rich Hawaii Depends On Fossil Fuel

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Resource-Rich Hawaii Depends On Fossil Fuel

Resource-Rich Hawaii Depends On Fossil Fuel

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This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Cohen.

Today we continue our series, Climate Connections - a look at how the climate is changing people and how people are changing the climate.

BRAND: As part of this yearlong series, we'll be traveling the world. Here's how my producer and I sounded when we got this assignment.

(Soundbite of "The Brady Bunch")

Unidentified Woman #1: Where are we going?

Unidentified Man #1: Hawaii.

Unidentified Group: Hawaii!

BRAND: Okay. So that was actually the Brady Bunch, but pop culture has helped fix Hawaii in our minds as the quintessential island paradise.

(Soundbite of song, "Blue Hawaii")

Mr. ELVIS PRESLEY (Singer): (Singing) And blue Hawaii...

BRAND: The land of luaus and grass skirts.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: A land where everything grows.

Unidentified Woman #2: Mountain apple, pineapples.

Unidentified Man #2: Taro, coconut.

BRAND: And most of all, the beach.

(Soundbite of waves)

BRAND: I'm standing on the north shore of Oahu. These are enormous waves, 15, 20-foot waves crashing with so much fury. So much energy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: I am clearly not an islander. These waves are just magnificent.

(Soundbite of waves)

BRAND: Magnificent, yeah. But they could also be a great source of energy.

State Senator CYNTHIA THIELEN (Republican, Hawaii): We're blessed with more renewable energy than any state in the nation.

BRAND: That's Republican State Senator Cynthia Thielen. She's also talking wind, solar, geothermal. But just listen to how she finishes her thought.

State Senator THIELEN: We're blessed with more renewable energy than any state in the nation, and we are 92 percent dependent on fossil fuel, more than any state in the nation.

BRAND: More than any other state in the nation? This is a place so rich in natural resources, it should be green in more ways than one. But not only does Hawaii not produce its own clean energy, the people here aren't really convinced there's a global climate problem looming that could affect them.

Mr. JEFF MIKULINA (Director, Sierra Club, Hawaii Chapter): I spend every day at the state capitol here, and getting traction on an issue like global climate change, I mean it just didn't happen until very recently. And even now, it's a struggle.

BRAND: Jeff Mikulina of the Sierra Club is the state's only environmental lobbyist.

Mr. MIKULINA: At a hearing last week, I was asked how much does nature contribute to global climate change? I mean is this really a human-caused problem? And I'm just thinking to myself, I can't believe this is the level we're at in 2007, I mean given all this attention.

BRAND: He can kind of see why. Just look around. We're talking on his deck, facing mountains covered in emerald green. Orchids peek out of rocks along the side of the road.

Mr. MIKULINA: I mean this isn't New Jersey, where, you know, the impacts are tangible and daily. So I think folks are a little bit spoiled here, and they - it's difficulty to make the one-to-one connection between what I do on a daily basis and what actually happens.

BRAND: So no belching smoke stacks, but traffic is now a problem. Driving in Honolulu can sometimes feel like you're on the Garden State Parkway. Jeff Mikulina likes to carry around a Ziploc baggie filled with carbon. It's coal, actually. Like those barbecue briquettes.

Mr. MIKULINA: This is roughly one hour contribution of global warming pollution to the atmosphere of an average Hawaii resident.

BRAND: Well, let me feel that. That's pretty heavy. Since I'm a tourist coming from Los Angeles, and I want to spend a week in Waikiki, what is my carbon footprint?

Mr. MIKULINA: You know, we'll have to do a little math, but it's probably significant, probably a few tons.

BRAND: A few tons?

Mr. MIKULINA: Yeah. Definitely.

BRAND: For a week?


BRAND: Of course it's hard to imagine Hawaii's economy thriving without tourism. It is Hawaii's number one industry.

Unidentified Man #3: Aloha!

Lured by a massive marketing campaign, seven million of us come every year, dwarfing the state's one million residents.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Man #4: There's nothing more fun than camping on the beach and living off of nature.

BRAND: But guess what? That pineapple in your Mai Tai? There's a good chance it came from Costa Rica. Hawaii imports 90 percent of its food, despite the fact that it grow almost all of it. Hawaii has decided to focus instead on tourism.

Professor HAUNANI KAY-TRASK (University of Hawaii System) We need tourists like animals need disease. Tourism is a complete parasitic industry. Totally parasitic.

BRAND: Haunani Kay-Trask is a native Hawaiian who runs the Hawaii Studies Department at the University of Hawaii. She is furious that Hawaii has given up its independence and now must rely on outsiders, tourists, and on the mainland. And you can see why she's so angry. After all, she says, Hawaii was stolen.

In the late 19th century, rich and powerful Europeans and Americans took over. For centuries, Hawaii had been a sovereign nation, a monarchy. Political scientist Kathy Ferguson says Hawaii grew its own food and traded with other countries.

Ms. KATHY FERGUSON (Political Scientist): The plantation owners, the bankers, the newspaper editors and so forth basically wrestled power away from the Hawaiian monarchy, orchestrated the overthrow in 1893 with the backup of the U.S. Marines, who were in the harbor, and overthrew a legitimately recognized, internationally recognized government to become the new rulers.

BRAND: They built up the big pineapple and sugarcane plantations at the expense of smaller, more diverse farms, a classic neocolonial move.

Ms. FERGUSON: They've stopped producing food that local people would eat and started producing crops for export. I mean, how much sugar and pineapple can people eat after all? So since the food wasn't being grown here in large enough amounts, it was imported.

BRAND: And Hawaii would become ever more dependent on the mainland. It became a state in 1959 mainly to serve as a military outpost in the Pacific. By 1962, it was the launching pad for a series of nuclear tests.

(Soundbite of documentary)

Unidentified Man: Off Christmas Island, a series of weapon development airdrop tests was made followed by later drops in the Johnston Island danger area - all dropped aircraft staged from Hawaii.

BRAND: Since then, the military has taken over huge swaths of land; and now it is the number two industry in Hawaii right after tourism. Military expert Kathy Ferguson says both sapped the locals of autonomy and mean tight control by the mainland.

Ms. FERGUSON: The, you know, tourism economy is a very dependent economy and so is the military economy. If it becomes in the military's interest to not be here, well, they won't be here. And while that might be a good thing in many ways, it doesn't give local people any control.

BRAND: What would give them more control? Haunani Trask, that angry activist, says return the land to native Hawaiians and kick out all the tourists.

Ms. TRASK: Ten flights a day, United Airlines, take them and get out.

BRAND: Cynthia Thielen has a more politic approach. She's the politician. She says put the state's muscle behind alternative energy.

State Representative CYNTHIA THIELEN (Republican, Hawaii): I'm going to stay here and make Hawaii the renewable energy capital. That's what I want to see, and then be able to export this technology and knowledge.

BRAND: And the Sierra Club's Jeff Mikulina says force the state to account for all the marketing money it spends and conduct an environmental impact study of all this tourism.

Mr. MIKULINA: What are - what is the limit? Is it seven million tourists? Is it 10 million tourists? At what point in time do we, you know, kill the goose that's laying the golden eggs?

BRAND: Hawaii resident Mari Sanford(ph) is trying her own approach - a return to the days before Hawaii became a tourist magnate, well before the Brady Bunch ever stepped foot on the islands. Mari lives off the land. There's no running water, no electricity. She and her family sleep in a tent.

Ms. MARI SANFORD: Why in these times would somebody chose to go live in a tent with no electricity and no running water and no TV and no modern conveniences and, you know, an outdoor bathroom? You know, I mean, these things are pretty much unheard of for modern day Americans. Why on Earth would we do that?

BRAND: Why indeed? We'll find out tomorrow when we visit Mari Sanford, her husband, and their roosters - one of whom, by the way, is named Elvis.

(Soundbite of rooster)

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Our story was produced by Debra Clark(ph) and edited by Martha Little(ph). To check out more of NPR's series on climate change, go to

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