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Winter 2012 Issue

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Winter 2012 - Feature

The Pale Blue Dot

‘Iolani teachers Melanie Pfingsten, left, and John Bickel, far right, congratulate students Ben Chao ’13, Tiffany Yu ’13 and Evan Chinn ’12 on their winning APEC essays. Chao’s essay was named one of the top five, while Yu and Chinn wrote essays that were among ten selected as honorable mentions. Judges read more than submitted 500 essays.
(Editor’s Note: In November 2011, the world turned its attention to Hawai‘i as leaders and representatives of 21 nations gathered for seven days of economic discussion during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. This essay was one of the top five winners in the High School Essay Contest sponsored by the APEC 2011 Hawai‘i Host Committee, in partnership with the Hawai‘i Department of Education and the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools. More than 500 high school students submitted essays answering the question:“Why is sustainability important to you, Hawaii and APEC?” Each of the five top winners were then invited to attend the APEC CEO Summit when President Barack Obama, President Hu Jintao of China, and other world leaders and global CEOs spoke.)

by Ben Chao ’13, APEC Essay Contest Winner

In 1990, as Voyager I left the solar system six billion kilometers away, it took the famous photograph, ‘Pale Blue Dot.’ In the iconic photography, Earth is shown as a frail and insignificant speck in the vast, endless expanse of the cosmos. Yet on that pixel lay all the wonders that humans have ever known - wonders that are now threatened by human development. As global warming and climate change threaten the “pale blue dot,” the demand for sustainable development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” grows every greater. For the leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the leaders of Hawaii, the task ahead is daunting. Yet, sustainable practices promise a future where economic and environmental needs can coexist in harmony.

Despite education in sustainability since childhood, it was not until recently that I finally realized its importance. In December 2010, my family visited Kyoto and its historic Golden Pavilion. Though the gilded structure was indeed amazing, what made the scene truly breathtaking was the harmony between civilization and nature. I will never forget how one of humanity’s grandest accomplishments stood amidst nature’s tranquil lake and garden, not merely coexisting, but beautifying each other. The sight forced open eyes that had been shut for too long.

Earth has sustained civilization for millennia, and we have always taken that for granted. In return, we have irresponsibly exhausted the resources of our only home. Sustainability is not merely about preserving the environment. It is also about protecting the human legacy for future generations. To a history lover like me, there is nothing more important.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Schatz, left, and APEC Host Committee chair Peter Ho, right, congratulate ‘Iolani students during a recognition ceremony at the state capitol.

The global need for sustainability is reflected by Hawaii’s dependence on fossil fuels. Currently, 95% of Hawaii’s energy comes at great cost from imported fossil fuels. Every year, 47.2 million barrels of oil, or roughly 34 barrels per person in Hawaii, are imported, a number that continues to grow as a result of a developing economy. As the price for oil swells, the cost of importing oil increases drastically, affecting the costs of energy in Hawaii. However, Hawaii possesses resources that could wean the islands off of fossil fuels and create a sustainable economy. The stable climate with abundant sunlight and trade wins opens up possibilities of solar and wind power, as well as biofuel growth. Hawaii’s geographic location also opens up possibilities in exploiting hydroelectric and wave power. Most importantly, Hawaii's location over an active hot spot allows the possibility of geothermal and ocean thermal energy sources. Developing these various resources would create an energy-efficient Hawaii that no longer depends on fossil fuels. There is also a growing $500 billion global market for sustainable technologies, one that will create new business opportunities in Hawaii. Developing sustainability in Hawaii not only improves the environment, but the economy as well.

As 21 economies of APEC converge in Honolulu, the opportunity of a united movement for sustainable development is great. Among the members of APEC are the United States, China, and Japan, the world’s three largest economies, as well as some of the fastest-developing economies in the world. Together, the APEC economies have a GDP of $31.7 trillion, roughly 55 percent of the global GDP. In addition, the APEC economies account for 43 % of world trade, and a market of 2.7 billion consumers. As an economic region, APEC is the largest in the entire world, but it recognizes the need for “sustainable economic growth” in its own mission statement. In order for APEC to pursue its goal of “prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region,” the economies must be sustainable. Continued development using status quo methods would only exhaust resources and collapse the APEC economies. Sustainability allows development well into the future, preserving prosperity for all economies in APEC.

It is important to recognize that the future of human civilization is inextricably tied to that of the environment. The need to balance economic development with environmental preservation has never been greater. For Hawaii, sustainability promises not only new economic prospects, but also the conservation of its island paradise. APEC presents the unique opportunity of cooperation in creating a sustainable present for the future to its member economies.

As former President Kennedy stated in 1959, “When written in Chinese the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.” As the world confronts the global environmental crisis, it is important to recognize not only the risks, but the astonishing opportunities as well.