Sustainabilty vs Environmentalism: Why It’s, Sadly, Not The Same Thing

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BY KEITH ROLLMAN – When the State’s 2050 Sustainability Task Force met a couple of years ago to envision a “preferred future” for our Islands it first had to define “sustainabity.”

It adopted the view that we should use resources efficiently so as not to infringe on their use by future generations; and that sustainability required the balance of three important factors: The environment, the community and the economy. Some describe this three-legged model as; Planet, People and Profit. Because, if solutions don’t take into account all three of these, they will not be stable or “sustainable.”


Make’s perfect sense, but environmentalists seem to be stuck in one category and feel that it should dominate all decisions. It would appear that they do not care if their recommendations negatively impact jobs (the economy) or significantly reduce the quality of life for society (community).

A recent example is the negative reaction of two long-time environmental advocates to HECO’s proposed use of palm oil, a renewable, “green” fuel, to offset our dependency on fossil fuel as our primary power supply.

Henry Curtis from Life of the Land doesn’t like palm oil and claims that it is responsible for deforestation and loss of natural habitats. So, he fights it, although he and everyone else support the concept of ending our dependency on fossil fuels. Which everyone agrees is much worse.

HECO responds that its supplier, Sime Darby, is a certified sustainable supplier who advocates responsible stewardship of the environment.

Curtis implies they are just “gaming the system” and wants to talk about the dwindling habitat of the Sumatran Tiger. Never mind the poachers who are really killing off this species, it’s the corporations like Sime Darby who are the bad guys, whether or not Sumatran Tigers ever roamed their palm plantations.

Another surprising negative came from Jeff Mikulina, ex-director of the Sierra Club and who is now with the Blue Planet Foundation. Blue Planet is all about ending our dependency on oil and decries the global warming these fuels have brought on.

However, when it comes to actually doing something, Mikulina sounds more like the old Sierra Club obstructionist. Mikulina says that HECO using palm oil, or any biofuel, will divert it from where it would be most efficient… transportation fuels.

This is grossly illogical.

If there is a growing demand in Hawaii for biodiesel, from any big consumer, it can only encourage the growth of a local biofuel industry.

This would include other large users like shipping, airlines, the local governments and the military. There’s a lot of machines that can run on biodiesel that are currently running on dirty, fossil fuels. We’re not talking about installing revolutionary new technologies or huge capital investments, just a sensible fuel swap.

What a concept, replace imported foreign oil with cleaner burning, renewable biodiesel, and encourage the growth of a local fuel-crop production and bio-fuel refining capacity that will eventually offset all imports.

The result could be a more sustainable, self sufficient island that produces its own environmentally friendly fuel, creates local jobs and powers our modern society.

But, to get there we need to look ahead, look at the big picture and not listen to the myopic, albeit well-intentioned, critics.





  1. I’m afraid your ‘more informed article” is still short-sighted. The ideal solution for Hawaii would be utilizing a non-food, feed stock like algae. It doesn’t compete for fresh water resources or valuable food-producing agricultural land; nor does it infringe on native habitat. In order to get there we have to take incremental steps like the importation of palm oil until our local production capacity can replace it. By taking the incremental steps, while not perfect, we set the process of change to renewable, locally produced fuels into motion. By fighting everything we accomplish nothing.

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