A series of speakers exploring everything from climate change resilience to indigenous wisdom to healthcare equity helped launch the new United Nations-affiliated CIFAL Honolulu Centre at Chaminade University.
The events in April were aimed at underscoring the mission of the center, an exciting partnership between Chaminade and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. CIFAL Honolulu is designed to serve as a hub in Hawaii and the Pacific Region for leadership, training and education around key sustainable development goals—convening and empowering people to maximize their positive impact.
The Healthy & Sustainable Hawaii Speaker Series kicked off on April 12, with Lt. Governor Josh Green.
Green, a practicing physician, discussed his vision for bolstering the health and wellbeing of people in Hawaii and the Pacific, encouraging attendees to consider how a plethora of social issues—drug addiction, domestic violence, homelessness, poverty—are all connected to health metrics.
“Systems are complex and they require complex thought,” Green said, adding COVID has both complicated the state’s healthcare landscape and introduced new opportunities, like broadening the availability of telehealth services. “The consequences of health disparities are great. There’s no choice but to address them. What we now know is that your zip code matters more than your genetic code.”
In his speech, Green talked about how he came to the islands from Pennsylvania to serve as a rural doctor on Hawaii Island and then decided to run for office in hopes of bringing attention to healthcare disparities he was seeing first-hand. Fast forward to 2019 and he was in the lieutenant governor’s office and having a conversation with the government of Western Samoa about a huge measles outbreak.
They asked Green, “Could you come and vaccinate our entire country?”
Green wasn’t sure how he was going to accomplish it, but he corralled resources in lightning speed. Hundreds of Hawaii healthcare professionals volunteered to assist. Airlines donated travel. And vaccines were provided free of charge. Over just 48 hours, some 37,000 measles vaccinations were administered.
And just a few months after that ordeal, Green and his team started getting wind of a worrisome new coronavirus making people sick in China and spreading to U.S. cities. “There was a problem on the horizon and we just witnessed what a virus could do,” Green said. “I knew we better get ready.”
Within weeks, a pandemic was declared and the state was shut down.
Green said COVID-19 underscored the power of working together, especially in emergencies, to shepherd resources and keep people safe. He said that same approach is necessary to grapple with some of the biggest crises facing Hawaii, many of which have significant implications on health.
Also on April 12, the CIFAL Centre hosted Life Enhancement Institute of the Pacific Founder and President Ramsay Taum and Hōkūleʻa student navigator Lucy Lee ’23 for a conversation about cultural and historical connections across the Pacific that could guide the way for sustainable development.
In considering climate change resilience and sustainability, Taum told attendees we must begin by “considering the empty chair”—our ancestors, loved ones who have departed and relatives who have not yet been born but also those we are trying to protect. “Who is it that you are accountable to?” Taum said, adding that he writes a letter every night to the people who will become his great-great grandchildren to answer their question, “What did you do when you had the chance?”
Taum said it’s also important to understand our priorities as an island community. “When we take fertile lands that we grow food in, and grow cement in them instead, what we’ve suggested is that we’ve shifted a priority—we’re OK with shipping our food in rather than growing it,” he said.
“Imagine if we created policies on caring. Do you think the carrying capacities will follow? I think so.”
He added that it’s important to understand the difference between wisdom and knowledge and recognize the importance of each in creating resilient, sustainable communities. “Maybe our success living on this island called Earth could be supported by talking to islanders,” Taum said.
In her address, Lee also touched on the value of place-based solutions.
A solution for one community, she pointed out, might not work for another. She added that communication and dialogue are also central ingredients in making headway on some of society’s biggest obstacles. To underscore the point, Lee recalled her first navigation experience onboard the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa. She and other students were charged with finding Nihoa island.
At the time, the Environmental Studies major said, Polynesian Voyaging Society President and Master Navigator Nainoa Thompson told her that he didn’t care if she found the island in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.
What he cared about was whether she was leading her crew. “You can be the best navigator in the world. If no one wants to be on crew with you, you’ll be sailing solo for the rest of your life,” she said.
The final event in the speaker series, on April 18, was a panel discussion on climate resiliency and mitigation. The talk was moderated by Alexander & Baldwin CEO Chris Benjamin and included scientists, policy leaders and others discussing the stakes for Hawaii, the fight ahead, and how the Hawaii Executive Collaborative is seeking to drive change for the better with its Climate Coalition.
“We’re here today because our planet is in peril,” Benjamin told attendees. “Hawaii will experience climate change particularly acutely. This can’t just be a government solution or a nonprofit solution. It’s not just about educating people. It’s about all of these things. We’re trying to connect the dots.”
Dr. Charles “Chip” Fletcher, a panelist and dean of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said climate change is an immense problem with no easy solutions. But he’s optimistic about how Hawaii will tackle global warming’s many challenges.
“We have the cultural and economic and social framework with which we can thrive in this century,” Fletcher said. “Our community in Hawaii can by strongly unified. That is a community that can be prepared for the shocks and stresses of climate change. But we have a lot of work to do.”
Aimee Barnes, founder and CEO of Hua Nani Partners, said despair and doom are frequent and unfortunate themes in climate change circles. As she told attendees, however, there is an antidote: action. “The work that we’re doing really does matter. It’s going to help,” she said.
And, said Elemental Excelerator Policy Fellow and former city Resilience Officer Josh Stanbro, sustainable action also adds up—especially at the local level. “When we’re talking about turning these islands into a climate resilient place, I think we have a better shot than most,” he said.
Panelist Scott Glenn, the state’s chief energy officer, agreed and said fighting climate change and mitigating its impacts shouldn’t be seen simply as good for the environment or for communities but should be considered the right thing to do. “For all of us, it comes down to the opportunities we have to be a good person, to be a decent human. Fighting poverty, planting a tree is about making life better.”
For more details on the speaker series and on CIFAL Honolulu, click here.