Hawaii's Recent Leap of Faith

February 4, 2016


At the southernmost point of the United States, a 20 something named Alex stands atop a 30 foot cliff of hardened lava. The Pacific Ocean slaps below against the black rock, as the young man's friends count down: 5-4-3-2-1...Jump! But he doesn't. He may hear them but he isn't listening. He is looking inward, summoning the courage to overcome his fears.


Hawai'i, or the Big Island, is by far the biggest island of the volcanic chain that makes up our nation's 50th and most recently added state (1959).  It is also the youngest volcano in the chain, and -- the only one still growing.  Lava flows daily from Kilawea in Volcanoes National Park, adding more mass to the already big island. 

With 8 of the 13 global climate zones present on the island, the Big Island is almost like a mini-earth squeezed into a 60ish by 30ish (by nearly 3ish high) miles of volcanic mass. It is also one of the most remote spots in the world, presenting an additional layer of similarity to being like Earth - an outpost of life in the sea of space. 

Like most islands, Hawai'i is very dependent upon and susceptible to external energy markets, as it needs to import a majority of its energy (91% in 2013) to this remote spot in the Pacific. 

But change is in the air.

Recently, Hawai'i set the bold goal of being powered by 100% renewable energy by 2045. At first blush, this sounds like a no-brainer: the sun is intense on much of the islands all year, the wind is highly present, and of the course the tides and the waves are permanent residents, too. But this is also true of many of the "lower 48".  But the greatest of goals amongst these states is Vermont’s goal of 75 percent renewable generation by 2032. Amongst larger states, only California’s goal of 50 percent renewables by 2030 targets even 50 percent renewable generation. Not so bold in comparison to the Aloha State. 


As I prepare to leave South Point Park, I turn from the lava cliffs and walk back to my rental car and toward the 14 wind turbines that line the green meadows leading down to the sea. They serve as a symbol, already present, that Hawai'i's leap of faith in reaching 100% renewables is inherently doable.

I buckle my 1 year-old into his carseat glance back to hear 5-4-3-2-1...and watch as Alex disappears over the cliff's edge into the saltwater. He has summoned the courage to take his leap of faith on the Big Island in the middle of the sea. The first amongst his peers.

Who's next?





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