Sustainability Guru Weighs In

Ken Stokes

I recently had the pleasure of having coffee with sustainability guru and green economist Ken Stokes, and he passionately and adeptly weighed in on energy issues – both in general and regarding those facing our island.

Exuding a mix of old- and new-school ideology, Stokes makes sustainability seem attainable in this lifetime, even for those of us used to paying $3.81 a gallon to fill our 4x4s, by presenting those über-educated urban economist concepts such as “carbon sinks” and “systems thinking” in an approachable semi-narrative style and rhythm reminiscent of Kerouac’s On the Road.

The self-proclaimed “self-learner” has a DIY blog ( that has caught statewide and national attention of those trying to make a difference in the world, from kalo farmers to planners to the Hawaii Department of Transportation, which recently invited him to brainstorm a sustainable landscape master plan.

Stokes is quick to point out that returning to the way the island used to be is the way of the future.

“This preoccupation with uniquely American concepts like convenience, price, big box, fast food – that’s all a relatively new behavior for islanders,”

Stokes said. When I asked him about the challenge of people who may consider dealing with energy issues a luxury they don’t have the time or money to contemplate, Stokes said the essence of the sustainability challenge is knowing the only choice is to change our behavior.

“It’s not about what we can afford to do, it’s about what we cannot afford not to do,” he said. “We know in our bones we’re going to have to shift, and I think many of us are hoping someone else figures it out in time.”

Ku‘ulei Santos and Ken Stokes at the KIUC candidate forum

Referring to a visit to the Hindu monastery with Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. and other department heads, Stokes said this sort of shift in ideology was exemplified when he learned that the monks eat what grows easiest rather than letting what they want to eat determine what to plant.

I spoke with Stokes Feb. 17 after the well-attended

Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) forum, during which board candidates, such as Stokes, offered their insights and waxed practical about their philosophies on energy, the overall strategic plan and where that puts Kaua’i in terms of a sustainable future. Two issues ruled the forum: the accessibility and transparency of KIUC and its board of directors, and the search for alternative energy, in particular, hydroelectric proposals. All the candidates were quick to give a reality check to the proposal to dam Wailua River for hydroelectric power. Stokes said he didn’t think the idea to dam Wailua was realistic and he would likely vote against it, while current chairman Teofilio “Phil” Tacbian said simply”we cannot do that,” noting his confusion as to how the rumor got started.

Arguably the most eyebrow-raising proposal of the evening came from JoAnn Georgi, who offered nuclear energy as a viable energy source for the island. Noting nuclear has come a long way since the 3-Mile Island disaster, she didn’t address how to handle nuclear waste on a geologically unstable and biologically unique island. Residents wanting to take charge of their electricity consumption matters should mark their calendars for the KIUC election deadline March 19, and be sure to get your ballot mailed in ahead of time …

Rosa Silver installing her work

And speaking of sustainability, kudos to the Sustainability Action Team headed by Diane Zachary of Kaua’i Planning and Action Alliance and key members from the public and private sector, including Stacy Wong of Knudsen Trust, George Costa from the Office of Economic Development, and John Harder of Zero Waste Kaua’i. The group has been meeting monthly to keep abreast of current thinking in the field of sustainability, and is working on projects that will produce tangible results in line with the mission of determining the systems, policies and steps needed toward a more sustainable future for Kaua’i. Projects on the table include encouraging the Kaua’i Grown label (thanks to Kaua’i Farm Bureau and Office of Economic Development), sustainability practices in business, government and the public, and studying the proposed resource recovery park …

It’s always nice to give a nod to artful endeavors. Rosa Silver‘s installation at galerie 103 is the next step in a series that was on view at The Contemporary

Museum on Oahu.

The installation was intricate and complicated, involving drawing and painting directly on the gallery walls …

Highly biographical, the exhibit is about her last 10 years on Kaua’i, and will be broadcast live on the Web via the galerie 103 website ( The show runs through April 30, with an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. March 3 at galerie 103 in Kuku’iula Village, Po’ipu.

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