Artwork by Kalany Omengkar
When Captain Cook arrived in Hawaiʻi in 1778, scholars have estimated the Native Hawaiian population to be as high as 800,000 to 1,000,000, to as low as 400,000 to 500,000. In any event, what is clear, living in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 5,000 miles away from the nearest land mass, Native Hawaiians were 100% sustainable. Native Hawaiians existed in a vibrant and nurturing economy within its available resources, and in harmony with the ʻāina (environment).
Today (2021), Hawai‘i’s population is estimated at 1.4 million, about 1.5 to 3.5 times the population size of 1778, depending on the population estimates used. However, even with today’s modern science and technology, proportionately, we are not nearly as sustainable as Native Hawaiians were 243-years ago. Who practiced Mālama ʻĀina, a great love and care for the environment.
While Hawaiʻi is situated in the middle of an ocean of abundance and has some of the richest and most fertile lands in the world, Hawaiʻi imports over 90% of its foods (sea foods, meats and produce).
What makes Hawaiʻi one of the most beautiful places to visit and live in the world is its isolation from the rest of the world (the most isolated land mass on the planet). But, isolation comes at a price. Everything not produced here must be imported, by air or sea, which increases the cost substantially. Subsequently. Subsequently, Hawaiʻi has the highest cost of living in the Nation. In addition, Hawaiʻi food dependence on imports makes Hawaiʻi more vulnerable should there be any flight or shipping disruptions. This is especially troublesome given the fact that most supermarkets only have three days worth of groceries in stock at any given time.
Clearly, we cannot be 100% sustainable as the ancient Hawaiians lived. We cannot make our own vehicles, metal, semiconductors, television, cell phones, and other items considered necessary today, but we can do much better with the resources we do have available.
Government must establish a comprehensive, balanced, economic, community lead, culturally focused (Mālama ʻĀina) environmental sustainability plan. Government’s pono leadership is key and critical.
Mind and heart shift; people must understand and appreciate the relationship between land, people, and economics, and the importance of sustainability. People, each and everyone of us, must take sustainability our kuleana (responsibility & accountability).
Mālama ʻĀina is not simply an education or philosophy, but a learned, understood, internalized, and implemented way of life that starts in the home and is supplemented in the classroom.
Implement hands-on learning via school and community gardens, with a focus on education for keiki, while making opportunities for kūpuna involvement.
Government must support home and community gardens, as well as farmers markets to help with the distribution of excess products, along with other programs to assist in foo distribution to Hawai‘i’s hungry.
Improve diversity within the economy.
Address the impacts of development and new resident population growth with a plan supported by local communities to keep Hawaiian families in Hawai’i and small businesses flourishing.
Government must implement “Buy Local” and “Buy Made in Hawaiʻi” initiatives and programs.
We need to use more local foods in our homes, restaurants, schools, and institutions.
Government must take advantage of our resources with a focus on sustainability and not development and special interest.
Reduce food dependence on imports.
Reduce and ultimately stop dependence on fossil fuels (currently estimated at $3 billion) and look at alternatives such as solar, wind, and geothermal.
Government must act to make farm, ranch, and dairy operations economically viable to stay or get back into business.
Government focus on sustainability must include adequate water for farmers and ranchers and not simply development.
All decisions made with the best interest of the people in mind for current and future generations.
What can be done must be done to be more sustainable, reduce dependency on imports, make Hawaiʻi less vulnerable, reduce cost of living and increase the quality of life for the people of Hawai‘i.