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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 27, 2006

Taking a peek into Hawai'i's future

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Some 500 "time travelers" were given different, incredible, even preposterous glimpses of the future on Hawai'i in the year 2050 yesterday as part of the kickoff conference of Hawai'i 2050 at the Dole Cannery.

Hawai'i 2050 is a state-backed community idea to develop a long-term sustainability plan to guide decisionmakers through the years to come.

One aim of the conference was to heighten awareness of the importance of a Hawai'i that has the ability to sustain itself something some participants stressed the state is unable to do now.

Another goal was to begin a discussion about how to make the choices and trade-offs that will maintain a desirable future for the state.

There were speakers, special presentations and other activities intended to cause those at the conference to consider Hawai'i's future from various, challenging perspectives.

Sen. Russell Kokubun, D-2nd (S. Hilo, Puna, Ka'u), chairman of the Hawai'i 2050 Sustainability Task Force, said the people at the conference, who came from all walks of life, are concerned about the future of Hawai'i.

"For me the biggest concern is that being in the middle of the Pacific, we are vulnerable to all our imports," he said. "If they ever get cut off, our food, energy, everything is affected."

The most dramatic way of getting the point across was the Experimental Glimpse into Hawai'i's Future an innovative activity in which participants took a trip into the Hawai'i of 2050.

"What we've done is have four different alternative futures," explained James Dator, a University of Hawai'i political science professor and director of the Hawai'i Research Center for Future Studies.

"We have two groups of improv actors one called Loose Screws and the other called Mood Swings who are doing the acting for us."

Groups of 125 people visited each future, which were held in four different ballrooms, and then discussed how the similarities and differences of those futures compare to Hawai'i now.

Artifacts from the different futures included such items as candy bars from the planet Mars and cigarettes that improve your health.

There was a method to the madness.

"The purpose of it, all this, is to get you out of the present," said Dator. "The rooms are a way of forcing people to consider that these fantastic futures are actually no more incredible than the present is right now."

"The present is pretty far-fetched from the point of 50 to 100 years ago," said Dator.

We can also learn from the past, he said.

In 1778, before Capt. Cook arrived, there were arguably a million people in Hawai'i, said Dator roughly the population of the state today.

"But this was an overextended ecological system that was working hard to survive. And when Capt. Cook showed up, the system collapsed. It couldn't do its job. And we are at that same point. We are well past sustainability here in Hawai'i.

"If anything happens to oil or tourism or anything else, we're up the creek," he said.

State Rep. Lyla Berg, D-18th (Kahala, 'Aina Haina, Kuli'ou'ou), said the conference kickoff was the beginning of a process of motivating residents to get involved in community activities.

"We are gathering people here as a first step for going into the communities to talk to people about what sustainability means to them and what the future of Hawai'i looks like to each community," she said.

The intention is to involve as many people as possible in the process, she said. The longer range plan is to take what is learned from the differing communities and use it for as guidance for leaders in government, business and education in making policy decisions.

"The Hawaiians call it alaka'i it means to guide and facilitate. That's a good word," she said.

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.