Leading By Example: Hawaii’s Clean Energy Initiative

My family recently enjoyed a much-needed vacation on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. It was one of the best March Breaks we’ve ever had. The weather was perfect, and the landscape is truly paradise. I could easily see retiring to the Aloha State rather than Florida or Arizona, as so many Canadians do. (Or perhaps I could look into whether they need any more cardiologists right now!)

Although this was definitely meant to be time away from work, that didn’t mean it was going to be time away from my environmental efforts. Before we left, I sent out some press releases to the area where I was going to be staying. (As I’ve learned through this process of having become an author, you always have to look for ways to promote your book and its message.) I was very pleased that this led to an invitation to speak to students at Le Jardin Academy about global warming and the climate crisis.

I took my oldest son Matthew along for the experience because he also attends a school with an International Baccalaureate program and I thought the opportunity to see students his age in an entirely different environment would be good for him. He loved it, as did I. There were three students at the school who were doing a project on the climate crisis so after the general talk was finished, these students interviewed me for their work. It was a great experience and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

When you care about a topic like the environment as much as I do, it never leaves you. So even though this was a vacation, I was always making observations regarding environmental initiatives and how the island was making efforts to go green. My family and I definitely got to enjoy ourselves while we enjoyed whale-watching and a tour of Pearl Harbour, but my eyes were always open to environmental issues while we were there.

One of the most exciting and unexpected discoveries I had was when we went to the Polynesian Cultural Center on the northeast part of Oahu. As everyone can relate to, the closer you get to any large building such as a theme park or even shopping malls, you notice the closest parking spots to the entrance are reserved for a variety of groups. These usually include people with mobility issues, pregnancy, or even parents with young children. You should have seen my face when I walked by these prime parking spots reserved for patrons with electric vehicles, complete with the ability to charge their cars while they were enjoying all of Polynesia in a day!

My experiences at Le Jardin and the Polynesian Cultural Center led me to explore what green initiatives Hawaii had explored. I noted that the price of gasoline was rather high, but of course shipping is required to get fuel on the island because it doesn’t have any sources of oil or natural gas of its own, so that wasn’t so surprising. But what I discovered was a pleasant surprise.

At present, Hawaii relies on imported oil for about 80% of its electricity generation—more than any other state—but it’s trying to change that statistic. In 2008, the state of Hawaii in cooperation with the US Department of Energy created the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. This project is striving to achieve energy independence by working toward the goal of having 70% of its energy come from energy efficiency (30%) and renewable sources (40%) by the year 2030.

This may seem ambitious but for Hawaii it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. My family and I can attest to the amount of sunshine the state experiences so it’s not surprising that the initiative includes measures to have all new homes that are built to be equipped with solar panels. The big island already generates electricity from geothermal sources, and if you’re old enough to remember Greg Brady surfing (and wiping out because he was wearing that bad-luck tiki), you can appreciate why wave energy is being explored. Wind energy is also abundant, especially on Maui, so wind turbines are another source of renewable energy the state can look to.

I was very impressed with the attitudes of the people of Hawaii toward green energy. Granted, part of this results from economic need: it’s costly to generate electricity from fossil fuels on remote islands. But recognizing the abundance of renewable sources of energy Hawaii has to offer has led to a dramatic shift for these little islands in the Pacific. They’re working toward the goal of becoming the greenest state in the union, with a healthy rivalry now existing between Hawaii and California. With the progressive attitudes I was exposed to among the inhabitants of Hawaii, I have no doubt that they’ll accomplish their goals. I only hope the rest of us can learn from their example.