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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 29, 2010

APEC meetings give Honolulu chance to shine

By Mufi Hannemann

I was very excited to read James Spencer's commentary ("City's idea for APEC promotion intriguing," April 9). I have long held that our 21st Century Ahupua'a concept was the seed of a reinvigorated local identity, one that fuses long-held cultural beliefs with modern technologies, best practices and green solutions. We need a common vision under which Hawai'i's diverse ethnic communities can embrace and unify, one that will position our city as a viable contributor to the Pacific Asian Basin economy.

What better venue to promote Honolulu's shared vision than the upcoming APEC meetings? I want to assure Spencer that "we get it."

The concept was always meant to go far beyond "plain old sustainability and localism," as described by Spencer. We agree that these things are important, too, and the city's efforts in this regard are well documented in our ongoing city sustainability plan (available online). But, aside from the pragmatic application of nuts-and-bolts sustainable practices, we were constantly pointing to a bigger, more all-encompassing proposition one that could present Honolulu and the state of Hawai'i with the prospect of a paradigm shift for our future development.

Hawai'i has occasionally suffered from various forms of exploitation and poorly thought-out development. Like most places on the planet, the human population infringed on the environment to suit its immediate needs. The goals and planning were typically short-sighted and designed to extract quick financial remuneration. Most of the planet's environmental problems from climate issues, to pollution, to loss of habitat, to extinction of species, to resource depletion are a direct result of this way of thinking.

This world view was totally alien to our host Polynesian culture, which lived in a delicate balance with the natural environment and shaped their existence around the needs of the environment, not the other way around. This was not, as Spencer correctly states, the result of "indigenous affinity toward sustainability." It was a spiritual connection that resulted in good decision-making.

All cultures in the Pacific Asian Basin community can trace back to a period in their histories when their indigenous cultures struck a similar balance with nature. If we could recapture the essence of that philosophical perspective we might harness it to power a new Pacific Asian Basin economy. By targeting a knowledge "industry cluster" based on alternative energy, sustainable architecture and design, habitat management, ocean sciences, sustainability and culturally sensitive tourism, Honolulu could become the focal point of an international movement, one that could have long-range economic benefits as well as environmental advantages.

This would lead to a better way to break out of our current rut and to escape both our overreliance on tourism and our even more detrimental dependency on imported oil.