In search of a better way to think about a sustainable Hawai`i, green economist Ken Stokes covers island markets and watersheds, plus systems thinking, sustainability knowledge, community initiatives, sustainable design, ecosystem management, climate change policy, and ecological footprints.

wot he said: Ehrenfeld pushes sustainability as flourishing

Kauai tree tunnelHe had me at the lede: "No grist for the mill". Turns out, John. R. Ehrenfeld, too, is having a hard time finding inspiration in the sustainability conversation, thus far.

Yes, at first (say, 5 years ago), there was a rush of insight and innovation setting out in new directions.

Today, as Ehrenfeld opines, "So little has changed. Business still doesn’t get it. I have yet to see anything that remotely suggests that firms, large and small, are doing anything other than reducing unsustainability."

Yup, whole lot of that goin' around! Z z z z zzz...

Published by Ken on May 19th, 2013 tagged Island Ecosystems | 1 Comment » |

weak end reading: sustainability thinking on energy

John ThackaraJohn Thackara posted an annotated reading list for those interested in new thinking about energy (via doors of perception).

Thackara spent the last couple of weeks immersed in a pile of texts on what actuaries, physicists, and mathematicians have to say about the relationship between the economy and energy.

Turns out he's prepping for a talk he's giving in Philly at the end of the month at a seminar about architecture and energy.

Says Thackara, "If you suspect, but cannot prove, that modern life simply does not add up, you'll love these works."

Here's the list:

Published by Ken on January 9th, 2012 tagged Island Ecosystems | Comments Off |

season’s exhortations! on Ben’s last Board meeting

kWh sold

I don’t often attend public meetings of our island’s various Boards and Commissions...on the theory that our sitting reps know what they’re doing and don’t want to hear from me, anyway.

Today was an exception as I presented an exhortation to the KIUC Board, meeting for the last time with Ben Sullivan at the table. (He’s resigning to become the County’s Energy Coordinator.)

I couldn’t help myself. ”Raise the bar,” said I; "push harder, ask tougher questions, engage even more!”

Here’s the full statement:

Published by Ken on December 20th, 2011 tagged Island Ecosystems | 1 Comment » |

island energy comparison: rates and demand trends

kWh sold

Don't count on Kauai's electricity demand jumping back up to meet KIUC's official load forecast, shown here in grey.

Like so many other economic indicators these days, energy use is moving sideways or down.

My TGI letter last week refers to the data on island households energy demand going down, which is here.

Also, the data on island electric rates is here.

Bottom line: other islands are converging on our already high rates and on our already low and declining household energy use.

At least the latter is good news, and is perhaps the most important trend in Hawaii energy.

Published by Ken on November 9th, 2011 tagged Island Ecosystems | 1 Comment » |

here comes “Sun”: Hadley on farmworker housing

George Hadley

Kauai's guru of organic growing, George "Sun" Hadley, is leading by example at his "One Song" Moloa`a farm and by training a new generation of growers at his bio-intensive seminars. (See Sun in this video by Darrel Jarmusch, and read Anne O'Malley's feature.)

Now, he wants to see Kaua`i modify its zoning and building codes to make it easier for local farms to introduce more "green" elements, such as composting toilets and renewable energy in their operations.

"Too much of what we need to do to achieve sustainability is still illegal," says Hadley.

Published by Ken on May 25th, 2011 tagged Island Ecosystems | 1 Comment » |

Kauai’s power keeps getting greener

yale students on Kauai

Great news from Kauai's local electric co-op, KIUC, with the the release of its latest carbon emissions data: we're still trending down!

This chart shows that KIUC's emissions are falling from over 1.5 pounds of CO2 equivalents per kilowatt-hour in 2003 to just over 1.4 pounds last year.

These figures are based on emissions data provided by Brad Rockwell, manager of KIUC's generating facilities, with whom I spent a fascinating morning last week.

Remarkably, total electricity sold last year was (416 GWh) about the same as in 2003 (414 GWh), and down significantly from the 2007 peak (448 GWh), so we get the benefit of slack demand plus cleaner generation.

Published by Ken on May 8th, 2011 tagged Energy | Comments Off |

Yale students help Kauai measure sustainability

yale students on Kauai

What a treat! I got to spend much of this past week interacting with 4 students from the Yale School of Forestry while they were on Kaua`i collecting data for a "Material Flow" analysis as part of their coursework in Industrial Ecology.

Sadly, their experience of our island's tsunami evacuation plans was less of a treat. Along with many other Kaua`i visitors, they were simply pushed out of their resort late Thursday night as the expected waves approached...and given no guidance where to go for shelter.

Published by Ken on March 12th, 2011 tagged Island Ecosystems | Comments Off |

sprawl or in-fill? on Kauai town growth since 2000

town growth on Kauai

Surprise! Kauai's northshore was not the fastest growing part of the island, as development boomed during the last decade.

The 2010 Census data are just out, and Kapa`a is the clear winner in the home-building race, with Puhi close behind.

Of course, Puhi's boundaries were extended to include Grove Farm's new housing development.

Yet, the new housing in Kapa`a is all infill, and its share of island housing grew from 16% to 17% over this decade.

In fact, there were more new homes built in Kapa`a than Princeville and Kilauea combined.

Published by Ken on March 9th, 2011 tagged Island Ecosystems | Comments Off |

where to learn industrial ecology? on Kauai, of course

Marion Chertow does Kauai

Most folks don't have a clue what this field of study is all about, and those who do might wonder how Kauai fieldwork might fit in. Just ask Dr. Marian Chertow and her industrial ecology students at Yale .

Turns out, the learning we're doing in industrial ecology is absolutely crucial to our sustainability struggles, and Kauai is as good as anywhere to build our knowledge of how these systems work. Only more so.

Why? For one thing, Kauai's size makes it a perfect laboratory for studying systems, since one can almost literally get one's arms around it.

Published by Ken on March 3rd, 2011 tagged Island Ecosystems | Comments Off |

What’s Hawaii’s traffic forecast? Watch this trend!

Hawaii vehicle miles drop

Did we miss something? Why are the indicators for vehicle miles traveled continuing to fall since 2007?

This chart shows the drop in Hawaii driving continued through 2010, despite moderating oil prices and improving mileage.

As Clark Williams-Derry notes, "without quite realizing it, we've just lived through a sea change in our appetite for car travel" (via sightline daily).

Says Williams-Derry, "what seemed like an inexorable rise in vehicle travel has turned, for the moment at least, into somewhere between a choppy plateau and a slow decline."

Perhaps its time for Hawaii's transportation planners to begin adjusting their expectations.

Published by Ken on March 2nd, 2011 tagged Island Ecosystems | Comments Off |

KIUC turning point? something worth voting for

Board elections at KIUC

A 'green' majority is possible, and new KIUC Board leadership* could help our island finally turn away from 'business-as-usual'.

So, this 2011 Board election is not just another voting moment-- it could be a turning point.

Do we 'get' how BIG this is?

With this prospect and at the urging of friends and colleagues, I feel compelled to run again** this year, so that our Co-op members have a clear choice.

Now, we must ensure that our neighbors and networks grasp this opportunity!

Published by Ken on February 27th, 2011 tagged Island Ecosystems | Comments Off |

sustainable road landscape? Hawaii seeks guidance

ken stokes running for kiuc board

I 'm down for the "economic context" as HI-DOT gathers some visionaries at a beachhouse in Lanikai next week to brainstorm a Sustainable Landscape Master Plan. Kewl! And Kudos to Chris Dacus for leading the way!

Still, my principal contribution may be to put the economics IN context. The 3 Spheres, and all that, right?

It's not just about what we can afford to do, anymore. It's as much about what we can't afford not to do.

'Twill be gr8 to mix it up with pros from the landscape architecture world, along with transport, cultural and sustainability practitioners!

Published by Ken on February 18th, 2011 tagged Island Ecosystems | Comments Off |

greener, sooner, cheaper: any questions?

ken stokes running for kiuc board

At the candidate forum last night for the KIUC Board election, I reiterated my campaign theme which holds up from three years ago...only more so. Especially that last bit!

I am distressed that our existing Board and management team seem satisfied with current efforts to keep rates fairly steady, apparently on the notion that this is the best that we can expect. Not.

We CAN expect a future of energy abundance with low electricity costs, yet the only way to get there is through a much more aggressive strategy of direct investment in renewable generation.

Published by Ken on February 18th, 2011 tagged Island Ecosystems | Comments Off |

Turn up the volume: continuing conversation about Kauai’s energy futures

conversdation about KIUC

In case ya missed it, here's a podcast of KIUC's CEO Randy Hee and me on Doug Carlson's "Energy Futures" HPR radio show.

This was from September 2009.

I pushed "ramping up" our conversion to renewables (21:45), highlighted the demand destruction by Kauai customers (26:15) and the integration of sustainability challenges in energy, transport, food, water and building (30:30).

I also noted the "smart money" now going into efficiency (36:50), and the food-vs-fuel land issue on Kauai (45:30).

Good fun!

We've been missing Randy around KIUC these past months, yet the issues and challenges remain the same.

Published by Ken on February 6th, 2011 tagged Community Initiatives, Energy, Island Vulnerabilities | Comments Off |

Where are we in Kauai’s sustainable energy conversation?

conversdation about KIUC

My recent SusHI retrospective had links to a series of posts I’ve written over the months that relate to Kauai’s energy choices.

Then I set out to cover in greater depth a series of KIUC-specific issues. These are linked below.

Hopefully, one outcome of this year’s race for the KIUC Board will be broader awareness of crucial strategic decisions Kauaians face regarding our urgent need to switch away from fossil fuels as an energy source.

And, hopefully, more KIUC members are more engaged and committed to participate in the tough decisions we must now make. We all have so much to learn. The conversation continues. Read on…

Published by Ken on February 5th, 2011 tagged Island Ecosystems | Comments Off |

dogs on the bridge: on climate and ethics

don brown video on ethics of climate change

Here's a remarkable find: Don Brown talking about the moral and ethical dimensions of climate change (via climate change action). Ya gotta see this video!

Why? Because it dives right into one of the most profound aspects of climate change...that most of us have not begun thinking about.

What does it mean to assert that climate change is a moral and ethical issue? Turns out, it means everything.

Says Brown, "if the world took climate change as a moral issue, it would radically change the way this is being negotiated."

Published by Ken on December 17th, 2010 tagged Island Ecosystems | Comments Off |

beyond sustainability: on systems evolving to absorb shocks

egg brittle

Jamais Cascio wonders how we can live within our means when those means can change beneath us, sometimes swiftly and unexpectedly (via foreignpolicy).

According to Cascio, sustainability is not enough if it is seen as "the right combination of behavior and technology that allows us some measure of stability".

"A sustainable world can avoid imminent disaster, but it will remain on the precipice until the next shock", says Cascio.

Cascio's solution? Shoot for resilience, instead, and "accept that change is inevitable and in many cases out of our hands, focusing instead on the need to be able to withstand the unexpected."

Published by Ken on May 17th, 2010 tagged Island Ecosystems | 1 Comment » |

the physics of sustainability: on zero entropy systems

max entropy

My 2002 book stressed “closing the loops”, and we’ve since learned much about how this can be done.

In one key moment, physicist Mae-Wan Ho half-accidentally discovered that “living organisms appear like a dynamic liquid-crystal-display”. This must mean, reasoned Ho, that living organisms are highly organized, and "coherent energy is being mobilized and transformed in the organisms”.

Ho set out to reformulate the thermodynamics for living systems, based on this core principle, which has “large implications for ecosystems, food, health and economies."

Most important, our "maximum entropy" model is precisely wrong. We need a "zero-entropy" model of sustainable systems.

Published by Ken on May 2nd, 2010 tagged Sustainability Science, Systems Thinking | Comments Off |

what Hawai`i deciders need to know about sustainability

sus juggle

We're seeing lots of programs and designs these days that boast "innovative sustainability features".

Pinch me! A few short years ago, the "S" word was still too "hot" for polite company.

Now, much of our conversation about sustainability leaves me cold. Why? Because we don't know what we're talking about.

Here are some quick tips for what we should be talking about: Sustainability is about wholes, not parts. It's about limits, not increments. It's about relationships, not things. It's about all three spheres. It's not what we think, it's how.

Published by Ken on March 19th, 2010 tagged Island Ecosystems | 1 Comment » |

another ooops story: of road salt and watersheds

road salt impacts

My grandots in snow country will love this one! It's a real howler about our "system blindness". And about how un-sustainability means doing all the wrong things.

Wudja believe all that road salt we spread for "safety" purposes actually ends up somewhere our groundwater and streams. (You mean there is no "away" place we can throw this stuff?) Duh!

Yet, it took these new studies from Toronto and Minneapolis to make us realize road salt is a huge mistake (via treehugger).

Nor is this just about the impacts on aquatic life and drinking water. It's also about destroying roads, shortening the life of cars, and killing vegetation. WTF?

Published by Ken on March 5th, 2010 tagged Best Practices, Ecosystems Research, Island Ecosystems, Systems Thinking | 1 Comment » |