While I was languishing in the Southern Hemisphere, Honolulu hosted but was not invited to a worldwide energy summit. And so, with many international eyes on our islands, we launched the first visual aspect of the Blue Line Project, marking the high water line should a projected sea level rise occur. Being able to see a threat is the first step in galvanizing people to work to prevent and prepare for climate change, but Hawai`i has much to do, and many natural opportunities to become energy independent, if only we would act.

Check out the below NY Times article focused on Hawai`i and green energy, which gently wags its finger at us for inaction, and then if you missed it, check out what Break Through co-author Michael Shellenberger has to say about solar energy in the Islands and how it really could be a viable option.

Languid Hawaii Looks to Be an Energy Leader
Published February 8, 2008
The New York Times

To the long list of natural blessings to resent Hawaii for, you can add a dizzying abundance of clean, renewable energy sources. The state announced in late January that it had formed a partnership with the federal Energy Department to plunge into green technologies and to outpace the nation in moving beyond fossil fuels. Two highly plausible reactions to the news were: 1) of course, and 2) what took it so long?

It’s almost embarrassing how green things could be in blue Hawaii. There’s all that sunshine and those trade winds, plus a volcano that has been lazily erupting for the last 25 years. Many barrels of biofuel await tapping in vast acres of sugar cane. Funkier ideas like harnessing tides and waves and growing oily algae play to Hawaii’s strengths. Energy-wise, Hawaii is like that “Star Trek” planet that Captain Kirk was trapped on, with all the raw minerals he needed to save himself from an angry alien lizard if he could only … figure out … how to put them … together.

The other thing Hawaii has a lot of is talk. The state gets more than 90 percent of its energy from imported fossil fuels and has some of the country’s worst highway congestion. It is the worst oil addict in the nation, but has wasted decades complaining about it and doing next to nothing.

It’s easy to be skeptical about the new plan, which pledges to get 70 percent of Hawaii’s energy from renewable sources by 2030, but offers vague means to achieve that goal, and no money.

While there has been no shortage of task forces and clean-energy start-ups over the years, not much has taken root. Hawaii does have lots of hot-water solar panels, but far, far fewer than it should. There used to be lots of talk of windmills, but the few that did go up were dismantled long ago or now loom as rusting hulks. There is some geothermal power on the Big Island, but it has not been particularly well received, especially among those who believe that drilling into the volcano violates the Goddess Pele. More exotic forms of energy, like generator buoys tugged by waves, still seem distant. Off the Big Island, an attempt at ocean thermal energy conversion — using warm surface water and cold deep-sea water to run turbines — fizzled as a power plant, though its byproduct, mineral-rich bottled water, is being sold in Japan as a health drink.

Enacting big change can be torturous in the islands. That’s clear from the years of debate over a light-rail line that is supposed to finally free Honolulu from its rush-hour agonies. Some energy-smart practices that mainland cities take for granted, like curbside recycling, are largely unknown in the islands. The director of the Sierra Club in Hawaii, Jeffrey Mikulina, has a name for smart ideas — like a proposed law to require solar water heaters in new homes — that wither in Hawaii’s risk-averse climate: “inertiatives.”

Still, Ted Liu, director of the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, says there are lots of reason to believe that the energy future has arrived. The age of the $100 oil barrel is making wind and solar technologies more competitive. With a little push from government, Mr. Liu said, the state could easily leap over political shortsightedness into a greener age.

If anything jolts Hawaii into action, it might simply be a late-stirring sense of doom.

As countries were meeting in Honolulu last month to discuss global warming, environmental demonstrators were going around the city marking a line in blue chalk on the ground. It represented the inundation zone from a 1-meter rise in sea level. Frighteningly, Waikiki and much of downtown Honolulu were on the wrong side of the line.

But before anyone gets too gloomy, we should remember that the islands are blessed, and have a long history of green innovation. Hawaiians have been propelled farther and for longer by wave and wind than any other people on the planet. They were sailing the trackless Pacific in the first century, after all. And while coastal people everywhere knew about waves and wooden boards, only the Hawaiians came up with surfing.