Keep it local

SUBHEAD: Move toward sustainability by relocalizing Kauai.

By Andrea Brower on 25 January 2009 in The Garden Island

As the fortunate inhabitants of beautiful Kaua‘i, the Garden Isle, we enjoy so much: clean air, warm oceans, abundant greenery, fresh rain-fed water and some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Consequently, we must ask ourselves, “What is my kuleana, or responsibility, as a steward of this wonderful place and as a member of this diverse community?”

Sustainability is about ensuring that the needs of everybody in our community are met without compromising the health of our resources and environment, and with a global perspective of the impact of our actions. As an isolated island heavily dependent on overseas resources, sustainability is largely about self-sufficiency. Few of us give a second thought to how dependent we are on each ship that brings fuel and food to our shores.

The incredible irony is that the original inhabitants of Kaua‘i sustained, by some counts, as many as four times the current population, yet were completely self-reliant and maintained a harmonious balance with the ‘aina, or land.

Over the past century we have become dependent on cheap, abundant and convenient energy to fuel economic growth. It is likely that we have reached the inevitable decline of cheap oil and we have undeniably done great damage to our invaluable natural resources. Many in our community are scrambling to pay their rent and get food on the table as the cost of living rises and our major revenue generating industries decline.

Economic diversification through strengthening and developing the industries that are most important to our survival — agriculture and food storage, renewable energy, non-fossil fuel-based transportation, sustainable fiber and building material production and zero waste systems — will create lasting jobs and keep money on island.

Planning for a sustainable economic future is about relocalization — plugging dollar leakages to distant corporate headquarters with import-replacing local businesses that keep money, skills, commitment and support systems on island.

Re-localization is not necessarily about producing everything we consume. It is about establishing a buffer for us to deal with the impacts of energy and climate uncertainty on transportation and land use, food and agriculture, jobs, the economy, and public and social services. Greater control over our resources and greater ability to provide for ourselves equates to greater control over our quality of life and determination of what we want for our island.

The “relocalization” of Kaua‘i is an opportunity to unite around the common goal of a sustainable Kaua‘i where the ‘aina is healthy, people enjoy a high quality of life, the sense of community is strong and culture is respected and perpetuated.

Relocalization begins with knowing our community and where the goods we consume are coming from. What is the basis of our economy? Where is our food and electricity coming from? What was Kaua‘i like 100 years ago? Where are we headed? By mapping Kaua‘i’s economic, social, ecological and cultural characteristics, we will be able to identify opportunities and constraints to relocalization.

A series of articles by Malama Kaua‘i and guest writers will begin to address these critical topics. We all play an important role in relocalization, be it through our consumer choices, our involvement with government, or our grassroots actions to bring about change.

Broad community participation in relocalization is the key to transitioning. We need to set our future together — if we can define a cohesive vision that takes into account quality of life, prosperity, aloha ‘aina, and respect for culture, then we can identify the most important immediate priorities to moving towards our shared goals.

• Andrea Brower is projects supervisor at Malama Kauai.

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