With two weeks left in office, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie has the future of the planet in mind.
He hosted an intimate event Monday evening at Washington Place for experts in climate change to speak before a small crowd of influential policymakers, lawyers and business leaders.
But before they delivered their passionate presentations detailing the impending troubles, the governor carved out a moment to make a pitch for William Aila to remain head of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Abercrombie urged everyone in attendance to ask Gov.-elect David Ige to retain Aila in the next administration so he can follow through with critical plans concerning climate preparedness and watershed protection.
Ige, who takes office Dec. 1, has yet to name any cabinet members save for Mike McCartney, the Hawaii Tourism Authority president who will become his chief of staff, and Ford Fuchigami, who will step down as head of Honolulu’s Department of Enterprise Services to lead the state Department of Transportation.
Abercrombie heaped praise on Aila for the job he’s done the past four years.
Aila said Tuesday that he’s applied for the job through Ige’s transition team and was honored to have Abercrombie’s support.
The outgoing governor blamed special interest groups for stalling efforts to combat climate change, saying they seem to be waiting for Harry Potter to wave his wand and create a perfect solution.
“You’re going to have to stop having a left-wing, environmental Tea Party here,” he said.
It’s easy to hate companies like Hawaiian Electric, Abercrombie said, noting the utility is often faulted for the state’s reliance on fossil fuels and for moving too slowly toward renewable energy.
“You can remain an eternal victim and a cynic,” he said. “Investments don’t appear out of the ether.”
“You’re going to have to stop having a left-wing, environmental Tea Party here.” — Gov. Neil Abercrombie
The governor called on the Legislature, which convenes its next session Jan. 21, to sufficiently fund initiatives he’s been pushing to make Hawaii more resilient to the grim effects of climate change that scientists overwhelmingly agree are ahead. Studies predict more disease in the coming years, longer droughts and huge hits to the tourism industry that the state economy is dependent upon.
Abercrombie noted “The Rain Follows The Forrest,” an underfunded DLNR plan to replenish Hawaii’s fresh water sources by protecting watersheds threatened by invasive plants and animals.
The 10-year plan calls for spending of $11 million annually to double the amount of priority watershed land that’s currently protected. Only 10 percent of this type of land — mostly forests — is protected now.
Abercrombie said a lot could be accomplished with a relatively small investment. Out of the state’s $12 billion budget, “$11 million a year is nothing,” he said.
The governor used the Hawaii Tourism Authority as a contrasting example. He highlighted how the agency receives more than $70 million in funding a year despite state audits calling into question whether the money is being well spent.
State lawmakers in the audience included Rep. Chris Lee, who will chair the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee next session, and newly elected Rep. Matt LoPresti.
The event, dubbed the Hawaii Climate Summit, featured presentations from University of Hawaii scientist Camilo Mora, UH West Oahu political philosopher Louis Herman and Stuart Scott, deputy director general of the International Ecological Safety Collaborative Organization.
They showed slides of impending doom — like a shift to Russia and China controlling the world food supply as the U.S. and South American countries become too arid — and spoke of the dire need to act now if humans want to avoid bringing life on Earth to the brink of collapse.
“You’ve got to get past the political rhetoric.” — Gov. Neil Abercrombie
“We’re part of a global awakening,” Herman said, referring to people starting to realize the importance of balancing short-term self-interest with the greater long-term good.
Visibly agitated, Abercrombie took the mic more than once during the ensuing Q&A session.
“You’ve got to get past the political rhetoric,” he said, agreeing with the featured speakers that Hawaii is positioned to be a role model for the world.
Abercrombie said he learned Monday afternoon from Jacqueline Kozak Thiel, state sustainability coordinator, that President Obama was reading Hawaii’s “Navigating Change” plan on the plane en route to China last week where he met with leaders and later announced a deal between the two nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The governor, who serves on Obama’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and is advised by Thiel, underscored how the state’s recommendations to the federal government on ways to respond to climate change were on the president’s mind in the days leading up to that historic accord.
Scott highlighted the need for people to resolve to act, continuing to educate themselves and others on climate change.
He also said the current neoclassical economic system needs to go. He said it’s based on flawed logic from America’s founding fathers that land left wholly to nature is wasted (John Locke) and that selfishness plus “the invisible hand” of the marketplace equal a better society (Adam Smith).
Scott called this “naive, wishful thinking” that should be replaced by an ecological economy similar to the ahupuaa, or land division, system that sustained Native Hawaiians for centuries.
He said Hawaii needs to make food security in the islands a critical focus, along with divesting from fossil fuels.
Mora said there’s a huge opportunity for Hawaii to be carbon neutral.
“There is no other place in the world that can achieve this,” he said, explaining how the state’s isolation makes it perfect to test and tweak climate change plans.