Could we be the next greatest generation? Bill Nye asked this question to graduates of Rutgers University in 2015, urging them to take action on climate change.

I pondered this idea while at the Zócalo Public Square “What Can Hawaii Teach the World About Climate Change” meeting a few weeks ago, when University of Hawaii Manoa geologist Chip Fletcher suggested that our world needed action at the level of armies of men and women deployed all over the world to combat climate change.

The World War II level of engagement to fight climate change seemed like an apt metaphor. As Dr. Fletcher spoke, I imagined uniformed troops fanning out over China and India, releasing carbon sequestering algae into water like bombs, distributing clean fuel cookstoves like the GIs tossed chocolate bars to liberated villagers, and marching and unfolding and positioning field upon field of solar panels.

At home during the war, ordinary citizens helped out on the home front with small, smart, compounding actions such as victory gardens and scrap drives. Posters you have seen encouraged: We Can Do It! These ideas were borne out of a true scarcity of resources.

Today, we only seem awash in plenty, but we need to behave like our self-created truth: our resources are precious and scarce.

What Can Hawaii Teach The World

What if our whole island’s mindset and culture shifted to a mindset of scarcity, much like our grandparents during World War II? I can think of no better place than our isolated island chain where we see and feel shortages, such as during a hurricane threat when our shelves empty out and gas stations dry up.

Imagine us mending clothes instead of throwing them away, heading to Goodwill for extra silverware or plastic plates to take to the beach or sports practice potlucks, and growing our own food, as many already do. In my profession of medicine, we are always asking patients to change their habits to improve their health: walk more drive less, cut out sugar, take this pill.

Some of the things we ask of patients are hard and painful, but nevertheless they prick their fingers, inject themselves with insulin, and take toxic chemotherapy.

These become habits. I’m certain, like my patients, that we citizens can and will choose and engrain habits to do the hard thing, for survival and for a better world for our keiki.

Everywhere I look, I see people willing to change. But we need to do more, faster, better.

Hawaii could teach the world that We Can Do It! We’ve already banned plastic bags, drive electric cars and bikes, are committed to clean energy and have an official office with the brave words “Climate Change” in the title. We have great ideas and local funding such as the Elemental Excelerator. Everywhere I look, I see people willing to change.

But we need to do more, faster, better, and we need to do it now, akin to the World War II analogy of destructive forces poised to wipe us from the planet. What if we had a visible, concrete, progressive cultural urgency that left tourists, thinking, wow, Hawaii can do it!


What if we had a website that showcased the most eco-friendly stays, displaying which hotels used straws, which ones deployed solar, which ones refused to sell plastic bottled water? What if we could pick a tour based on the fuel its buses used?

What if tourists saw video about our state efforts on the way here, encouraging them to participate in our conservation efforts, chose farm to table, use less water? What if Hawaiian airlines used biofuel, like some United flights? What if we opened our arms to our neighbors in the who losing their health care and may possibly lose their low-lying islands to rising sea levels?

Chip Fletcher Associate Dean UH School of School of Science and Earth Science and Technology during the Hawaii Energy Policy Forum at the Capitol auditorium.

Chip Fletcher, associate dean of the UH School of School of Science and Earth Science and Technology, during the Hawaii Energy Policy Forum at the Capitol auditorium in January.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

What if we figured out a way to help them right here in Hawaii, and what if they helped us combat climate change, or mitigated our population loss?

More importantly, I think we can teach the world and show the world by doing — actually doing, many of those individual small, smart, compounding actions. We can turn up to vote for green candidates, we can show up to community meetings with great ideas, we can push our government officials, we can use our dollars to choose local and organic produce.

We can wash our clothes in cold water, hang our laundry, unplug appliances. We can consider each purchase, car ride, and turn off the faucet with care. Our gardens can fight wars.

I think these efforts could truly translate into a visible urgent home front effort and show the world just what Hawaii can teach the world about climate change. Could we be the next greatest generation?

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