I recently offered a presentation at the 2013 Big Island Water Resources Meeting titled "Agroforestry Solutions to Erosion and Pollution from Agriculture" In preparing for the meeting, I jotted down a quick assessment of some of land based problems we have. The list could go on. To check out the slide show that focuses on solutions, click here.
Here is a brief summary of the major threats to Hawai'i's ecosystems and solutions to problems.
Deforestation: The loss of tree cover on the Hawaiian Islands has led to reduced rainfall and increased erosion. Feral animals are eating and trampling everything in their way. Hawai'i seems to be in a drought that has lasted for years and is only getting worse. The islands were nearly completely covered with trees when Captain Cook made his appearance.
Reforestation is an obvious answer. We need to recognize that the conditions have changed, so throwing lots of native plants and Roundup at the situation is a bit too simplistic to really address the problem.
Invasive plants such as grasses often take advantage of the situation. They reduce the ability of native plants to regenerate via shade, soil creation (covering the native seeds), out competition, and a change of the soil biology towards a bacterial dominance in the soil. Most woody plants thrive in a fungally dominated soil.
Development--cess pools and failed septic systems are polluting the creeks, rivers, and ocean. The increased nutrient levels can pollute the aquatic life exposed to it. A small banana forest just below cess pools and septic systems would trap many of the nutrients that are pollutants when they accumulate in the environment. Vermicompost systems effectively process human waste so that there are no pathogens.
Roadsides are sprayed to keep the weeds down--the herbicide runoff goes directly in to the waterways. Well chosen ground covers can inhibit rambunctious roadside weeds. Also, a fungal compost tea application will inhibit many of those weeds.
Agricultural pollution from nutrient runoff and herbicides is wide spread. Nutrient trap crops can use up the nutrients and agroforestry systems can eliminate the need for herbicides.
Military: Training exercises such as bombing on the Big Island pollute the land. Some believe that depleted uranium is being used here. Here is a solution--stop bombing Hawaii. End the war on the earth and the war on indigenous people and their sacred places...end the war before the chickens come home to roost.
Development: Runoff from roof tops and impermeable surfaces like driveways leads to increased water peak flows which means more water all at once. Rain gardens, swales and other bioengineering solutions can significantly reduce the runoff.
Roads: ditto. Swales, "collection ponds", and "living log jam fences" can help to reduce the erosion caused by heavy rains.
Feral animals: Pigs cause an incredible amount of erosion. As access for hunters is increasingly reduced, erosion will increase. Let them hunt. But really hunters, what happens if humans are not here to keep animal populations in check? Wild grazing animals without predators are the last stage before a place becomes desert--I know the hunting dogs that never made it back have been packing up, so they would probably fill the role of wolves in a healthy ecosystem.
Military: Using a mountainside is a great way to cause erosion and injure the native people's connection to the land. Just look at Kaho'olawe. Admittedly, the island was very degraded by grazing when the military took it under Marshall law. The island would look very different if a campaign for effective reforestation was committed to instead of bombing. One of the concerns expressed about having a US Military presence in such a pivotal location is that there are likely nuclear weapons pointed at us. The claim of protecting us may be outweighed by using these islands as a launching point of expanding empire. It seems there are many more people angry at America since before 9/11 when one considers the invasions, assassinations, drone strikes, civilian deaths, and US financial support for totalitarian regimes such as Egypt. While the troops may join to support democracy, the reality is quite different.
The Hawaiian archipelago is the species extinction capitol of the world during the 6th Great Extinction. It is caused by "development", agriculture, ranching, roads, feral animals, and invasive species that pop up in the wake of destruction. As species disappear, the web of life that holds the islands' biosphere together disintegrates. As more species vanish, others will too since they have interdependent relationships. Humans are the most dependent species...a continued lack of consideration of the others will increasingly threaten the ability of people to live here. A species assessment of a property before any chainsaw or heavy machine work is done can really make a difference here.
Agriculture: Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) have found a haven in the Hawaiian Islands. Pollen drift of GMO papayas has made it so that one cannot be sure that there crops are not GMO. The island of Molokai was bought up by Monsanto so it could grow its tainted seeds to sell elsewhere. The makers of "Rainbow" papaya have not taken any responsibility for the wide spread contamination of papayas on the Big Island. Nor have they answered Dr. Hector Valenuela in regards to a recently found hidden-viral gene segment that was introduced into Rainbow Papaya without the knowledge of UH researchers and regulators. Dr. Gonsalves was recently on OLELO denying any hidden gene segments. If the promoters of GMO's can't provide the data, they shouldn't have the right to tinker with creation. We can say no. A'ole GMO. Really. Lets create a GMO free zone--check out www.GMOFreeHawaiiIsland.org
As a student of history, I must comment that environmental catastrophes tend to occur where the native population has been destabilized, subjugated and/or killed off--it is doubtful that the destruction listed above or the abuses Hawaiians have suffered would have happened if the American invasion and occupation had not occurred. Hawaiians have been removed from their land by force, their land sold, and language made illegal to speak (luckily it is still a living language). The cultural trauma is immense to any people who have gone through such events, especially when one considers the destruction of sacred sites--a classic dominating move by empire to coerce people to abandon their gods (and connection with the land).
Older Hawaiians face extremely high rates of diabetes--what will happen to the young ones whose parents can't afford to pay $10 per pound of watery poi? There has been a rapid shift of diet to heavy consumption of partially hydrogenated soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup--and since the late 1990's; genetically modified. It has been said that displaced and occupied cultures can struggle with identity loss and theft(foreign foods, foreign occupations).
How about making this next year "The Year of Kalo"? All Hawaiians know Kalo--for are related to Kalo through Haloa. The forced removal from the land and Hawai'i's high real estate values are increasingly taking away hope for a safe, secure location for each successive generation. That takes away the ability to grow kalo. This is a loss of connection with a cultural originator. It is worthy of a million words, very sensitive words, but most important, words which lead to effectively addressing the issue.
Members of Aloha Uprising, a Hawai'i Island based sovereignty group, have been adamant about saying a free Hawai'i today includes everyone here and they invite everyone to the table. Their movement has indeed been the result of people of many cultures coming together to reclaim and restore the land in solidarity with Hawaiians. Part of the solidarity was with the Hawaiian and Pacific Islander inmates-40% of the state's prison population are native Hawaiians. The blocked access to the land, ocean, and opportunity combined with the anti-freedom drug war laws that affect Hawaiians (and many others) in an obvious adverse way has created a stark situation. How long can so many people of an indigenous culture be locked up and without international calls to end the genocide?
Part of the problem seems to be the Hawaiian culture was and very much still is a culture based on generosity and responsibility. This was the traditional glue the held many indigenous culture's sustainable economies together. The western enforced commodification of everything--"paycheck and a pricetag"-Winona LaDuke, does not line up well with traditional Hawaiian values and practices. It has effectively removed the people from the land and encouraged the success of people from cultures that have been displaced from elsewhere som in the "objectifying" western mindset and culture for a while. This situation is ripe for drug abuse, violence, and crime. Punishing people who are crying out in pain has never resolved a problem--it just perpetuates it in those with the short end of the stick. .
Many people have been working on theses issues for generations. Acknowledgement and support on Hawaiian terms is something non-Hawaiians can offer. Just writing words about this situation makes me feel the stickiness of the situation, the tension, the meaning of each word--to each person..is different. To just accept yesterday and today's injustices with no effort to make things right makes one an accomplice. There is a moral responsibility that everyone on these islands has to each other and the land. History has proven that those who fail to stand up against injustice are often the next victims. Yes, people. We all need to kukua(help out).
So, what's next? Find your responsibility.. Do what feels right in your heart. Start at the home level. Reduce your negative footprint. Support Hawaiians if asked for support. Reduce your runoff, increase your food forest. Share the abundance with neighbors. Gardens can teach others how to do the same. We can only go one step a time.
Talk to your neighbors. A good start is listening. We don't need to be full of judgment--just share what you are doing and offer gifts of plant starts or food Interpersonal interaction is how the world has worked since people have been here.
Organize. It may be scary to step up to a leadership role, but we cannot rely on elected officials to act on our behalf since there are so many corporate funding sources which lawmakers must listen to and feel obliged to represent. GMO's in Hawai'i paint a very clear picture. You and your family have been sold down the river for lots of money from the GMO and herbicide lobby. Remember that the "life sciences" corporations began as war chemical companies. We live in a time when everything is upside down and backwards. George Orwell must be rolling in his grave. Contact www.GMOFreeHawaiiIsland.org to pitch in.
It is up to all of us to do something about these problems. We are more or less coerced into contributing to the problems. While life is busy and there are always many preoccupations, these problems need a cultural solution. Saying that you support freedom and a green environment is lip service if we don't follow through with mindful actions. But we should be careful, even if we are trying to make it better that doesn't mean we are--too often the solutions are funneled into just become problems later. A good place to start is looking, listening, and shutting your mouth--just observe as a child. Even thoughts are troublesome. Most of us have a very western framework to view the world through that gets in the way of good relations with the earth and each other.
So lets all do our homework, and really assess your situation to see what can be done to restore the health of the land, water and people. The best teachers for me have been nature, my gardens, and many and many people.