This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Maui Vision Magazine.
Democracy is not a spectator sport. – Thom Hartmann
Have you noticed the string of environmental victories that have been grabbing headlines these past few weeks? Just in the past couple of months: Shell pulled the plug on drilling for oil in the Arctic; New York’s Attorney General announced that he would issue subpoenas to Exxon after leakers disclosed the company knew of climate change for 30 years; President Obama canceled the Keystone pipeline!; and the Governor of the Bank of England warned insurance companies of “huge risks” from “unburnable carbon” that would become “stranded assets” (lost investments).
On the GMO front: Monsanto’s stock value plunges as farmers flee high-priced poisons, and the company announces it will lay off 2,600 workers; 19 of 28 EU countries choose to keep GMOs out of their countries; Mexican judge upholds ban on planting GM maize; U.S. court rules in favor of the bees against Dow’s neonicotinoid pesticides.
Closer to home: Hawaiian activists have delayed construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea; Maui activists have slowed the telescope project atop Haleakala; 10,000 attended the Aloha Aina Unity March in Honolulu, and half that number marched two months later in Lahaina; and Stop Cane Burning filed a lawsuit against the Hawaii Department of Health and Maui sugar company, HC&S.
Might all of the activism and informed knowledge be making a difference? Let’s take a closer look at challenges to the Keystone XL pipeline.
First, thanks to the hundreds of thousands of people who kept showing up for seven years demanding a halt to an insane project to deliver thick tar sand sludge to ports on the Gulf Coast for export to Europe and China.
Three cheers for Bill McKibben, the fearless leader of 350.org who organized the demonstrations at the White House. He credits three factors to Obama’s decision to cancel the project: multiplying everywhere and in-your-face activism; the “relentless spread of a new logic about the planet – that we have five times as much carbon in our reserves as we can safely burn”; and the dramatic decrease in the price of solar panels – down 80 percent in six years.
Yes, the Koch Brothers, Exxon, Shell and the gang will continue to misinform the public and pay legislators to do their bidding, but in truth, political power has shifted and “people power” is on the rise.
The Kochs will put close to a billion dollars into the 2016 races; but, 750,000 people have donated to the Sanders presidential campaign and the election is still one year away. Hurray for better informed activists and donors!
At the same time, activism in Hawaii has never been stronger. Sovereignty issues have grown stronger as the next generation takes up the cause. It seems that the SHAKA Movement put a shock into the collective psyche when over 23,000 demanded Monsanto prove their experiments are safe. Our corporate-sponsored government couldn’t catch a break, as that was followed by demonstrations against the telescopes, followed by the Stop Cane Burning uprising.
It was the lawsuit that Stop Cane Burning forces filed, however, that has gotten the attention of the honchos at A&B headquarters. On November 6, The Maui News had a long report about lost profits and a discussion of alternate crops by the plantation that hopes to hang on to water rights and land. Apparently, the company plans to make an announcement soon about those plans that have been in development for decades; and this time, the COO allowed that changes “could include a decision that we’re transitioning out of sugar to a new business model.”
It’s true that nothing gets the attention of the executive suite as fast as a lawsuit. After all, A&B offices in Honolulu are far away from their cane-burning harvest process which causes pesticide-laden ash and smoke to drift into nearby Kihei neighborhoods.
So stand up and take a bow – it is you and your continued attention to the issues, and your willingness to keep showing up, demonstrating, testifying and sharing knowledge, that makes the difference.
Without doubt, there has been a profound shift in consciousness around the earth, all over our state, and in this county. We are on the brink of disaster and breakthrough. For now, savor the victory, and then get ready for the next push to protect paradise.
Mark Sheehan is Maui’s activist realtor who guides clients towards healthy choices. Call 808.283.2158 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.