A vision without a plan is just a dream.
A plan without a vision is just drudgery. But a vision with a plan can
change the world.
Two community meetings last week invited Maui’s citizens to share
their ideas and vision for the Hawai`i 2050 Sustainability Task Force.
While some of us have a hard time planning for next week or next month,
others among us may relish the opportunity to help envision a future
that will hopefully improve on our present day existence. About 130
people took part in the process.
The exercise is not new. Strategic plans and long range plans abound
in businesses, organizations and government agencies. Even now the Maui
County General Plan Advisory Committee is preparing to revise
guidelines that may (or may not) direct our growth and development over
the next two decades.
In 2003, Focus Maui Nui asked 1,700 residents, more than one percent
of our population, to discuss their values and priorities. Five key
strategies for action evolved from that process. “Overwhelmingly,
participants in Focus Maui Nui expressed a sense of optimism that the
islands could become a model for clean, sustainable living and a place
where every child could grow to lead a successful and productive life
amongst family on the islands,” touts the Focus Maui Nui website.
But to what extent do our utopian plans and dreams actually become
tangible? As one veteran community activist said of the Hawai`i 2050
meetings, “I am concerned that we will end up with a report that spends
more time on a shelf than being implemented.”
In 2005 the state Legislature created the Hawai`i 2050
Sustainability Task Force, and supports it with $1.4 million in
funding. The stated goal is to involve as many people as possible in
the state’s long-range planning process and to provide input by the end
of this year for legislative review in the 2008 session. The final
Hawai`i 2050 plan will complement, rather than replace, existing
planning laws and processes.
Hawai`i 2050 had a unique kickoff event last August at the Dole
Cannery building in Honolulu. More than 500 people attended, with at
least 50 each from the Big Island, Kauai and Maui.
To help shake participants out of their traditional thinking and
beliefs, students from the Hawai`i Research Center for Future
Studies—under the direction of pioneer futurist, Jim Dator—acted out
four possible future scenarios.
One scenario portrayed Hawai`i under a military dictatorship, with a
full-blooded Hawaiian designated as king. Tourism and consumerism are
remembered as past extravagances, and money and credit have vanished.
Bartering of goods and labor provides the economy’s foundation.
A second alternative is something of an economic success story, with
tourism the main economic driver. Governance is made up of
representatives from the multi-national corporations that run the
tourist industry. Most food is genetically modified and nuclear plants
on all islands provide ample electricity and desalinized water to
support four million residents.
A third future scenario depicted local self-sufficiency, resulting
from the end of cheap and abundant energy, sea-level rise, global
economic collapse and pandemics. There’s no more mass tourism.
Fertility has been reduced and in-migration is strictly controlled.
Values derived largely from Hawaiian culture govern all life and social
The fourth imagined future differed greatly from the others, in that
the definition of “humans” had changed profoundly. Technological
revolutions led to artificial intelligence and cyborg modification of
brain and body. Wars, injustice, oppression and environmental
devastation are things of the past. The old spaceship launch pad at
South Point, Hawai`i is now a major distribution center, teleporting
goods across the globe and to off-Earth settlements.
While none of the four scenarios is much like the present, the seeds
for each can be found in the present. The point of the exercise was to
challenge existing assumptions and to help people clarify and dream of
the future they want to face, and want next generations to live in.
Or put another way, how can we recognize the limitations and
challenges of our present societal system, design a “preferred future”
that addresses and corrects the course we’re on, and then connect our
present to that future?
Albert Einstein once said, “I never think of the future—it comes
soon enough.” But he is better known for his quote, “We can’t solve
problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created
With that in mind, it may be useful to look at the support structure
for our long-range planning processes. The Maui Economic Development
Board guides Focus Maui Nui, which in turn organized and hosted the
Hawai`i 2050 meetings on Maui. The Maui 2050 Task Force representatives
include the Chamber of Commerce President, its past president, the
president of a real estate development firm and the Maui County
The construct appears weighted on the side of economic interests.
We’ve heard so many times that “our environment is our economy” that
it’s hard to understand why there isn’t at least one environmental
representative on the 25-member task force. After all, protecting the
natural environment ranked second on the Focus Maui Nui priority list,
right after improving education.
In any case, why don’t we have a better education system, protected
and restored natural resources, abundant alternative energy, vibrant
local agricultural opportunities and universal health care? It seems
that we always run up against roadblocks formed from the existing
economic power structure and the government bureaucracy dutifully
Our federal government spends tax dollars in obscene amounts on a
grossly obese military budget under the guise of national security, but
at the expense of addressing widespread domestic issues.
Locally, we continue to fatten the coffers of tourism, our strongest
industry. The Hawai`i Tourism Authority (HTA), which has an annual
budget nearing $60 million, now apportions a few million dollars worth
of grants to Cultural Heritage Tourism and Eco-Tourism endeavors.
But that came about only after a 2002 Supreme Court challenge by the
Hawai`i Sierra Club. The environmental group maintained that the HTA’s
wish to increase tourism two percent every year would broadly impact
local resources, and should require an Environmental Impact Statement,
triggered by the use of public funds. The court ultimately ruled that
Sierra Club did not have legal standing to challenge, but the issues
saw wide discussion and today environmental groups have a seat at the
table at HTA in the form of a Natural Resources Advisory Group.
On Maui, the County Council’s annual budget review can be marked by
missives from Kihei community activist and volunteer Buck Joiner,
lambasting the County’s awarding of nearly $4 million (and $3.4 million
from the state) to the Maui Visitors Bureau.
“You will hear sustainability preached statewide, at Focus Maui Nui,
by the mayor and council members,” says Joiner. “Maui needs a dairy, an
egg farm and a pineapple operation. Did the county provide money to
keep any in operation? No. Instead it gives $4 million to the richest,
most successful industry on Maui, the exact opposite of
The Maui County budget is complete and ready for the mayor’s
signature. For the first time ever, it has topped the half
billion-dollar mark. How much of that is allocated for education and
environmental protection, the top two Focus Maui Nui priorities?
There are many definitions of sustainability. One is that
sustainability enables islanders to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy
a better quality of life without compromising future generations, while
living within the limits of the natural environment.
Sustainable communities, environment, economies and quality of life
won’t just happen. They need our collective input and spirit to correct
the state’s heavy reliance on imported food, energy and dollars.
Perhaps Mahatma Gandhi said it best: “You must be the change you wish
to see in the world.” MTW