POSTED: 6 DECEMBER 2006 - 9:30am HST

Introduction to Kauai - 2007 to 2050

Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki: this level of tourism industry development is unsustainable in Hawaii

Part One: Intro to Post Peak Oil Kauai
by Juan Wilson 6 December 2006
Revision 1.4-080308

The Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Task Force has sought vision statements to be incorporated into its planning efforts for Hawaii‘s future. The public’s opinions and desires on this issue are being sought by February 2007 for inclusion in the Task Force report and recommendations.

As an architect and planner, I was greatly impressed with the kickoff presentation of the Task Force at the Dole Center on Oahu, Saturday, 26 August, 2006. The presentation was supported by Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs (HIPA) and the University of Hawaii, and others.

Over the course of the day, using actors, sets and carefully crafted artifacts, four very carefully conceived future scenarios of Hawaii, in the year 2050, were presented to 500 attendees. Each of the four scenarios characterized what would happen if a single aspect of our current society became dominant by 2050. Those aspects were roughly represented by either Corporations, Scientists, Environmentalists, or the Military.

It was understood that the reality of the future would include other forces and would result in a complex mix of forces. The usefulness of simplifying and reducing the number of possible scenarios was that it dramatized the major trends that hinted at the blends. Elements that were common to all futures foreseen by the Task Force were expensive fuel, climate change, an end to tourism as we know it, and difficulties obtaining food.

Reasonable Action Now
Rather than try and paint a utopian picture of a far distant future in 2050, I have chosen to try and write about likely events on Kauai from today to 2050 from the vantage point of someone looking back at those times from the 50th anniversary of 911. I imagined that this person would be someone born on Kauai in September 2001. This future that I describe was created by reviewing recent history and projecting current trends forward.

Note that this saga starts with the troubles of today, goes through some worse times ahead, and ends up with what I think is a happy ending. It is twenty-three pages, so if you get tired of dragging through it, just skip forward to something that looks a bit more promising.

Much of the determination of what I think will unfold will be determined by the America’s response to its failure of policy in the Middle East and the economic consequences that follow. Obviously, predicting the future becomes increasingly vague further out, but I will try and outline enough detail to keep a likely narrative of major events plausible.

Since the mid 1970‘s America has ignored the writing on the wall. Back then we came out of the Vietnam War with our tails between our legs. Losing the war in Iraq had profound effects on the American psyche, with similarities to what happened when the US withdrew from Vietnam in failure, only even worse. Our sense of America‘s goodness and fairness was damaged then. We were perceived as an arrogant clumsy giant who bullied smaller nations. In 1973 we were bungling losers.

Not long after withdrawing from Southeast Asia we faced economic tough times.  OPEC was determined to extract a higher cost for its oil from those who used it most. Then, oil prices doubled overnight. Gas prices followed. It was not long before there were guns fired over places in long gas lines. The American entered into “stagflation”. It was a period of rising prices in a stagnating economy. It was something new and unpleasant for us. This will be worse after Iraq. Much worse.

American troops coming back from Iraq will face an economy on the downturn. Home buying has stalled. This will affect the purchase of all those Big Box Store items needed to fill them up. That will slow construction even further damping down income and job opportunities, particularly in the south and and southwest.

After Vietman, we faced the OPEC generated oil crisis that was a mere preview of the disaster we see looming ahead. Americans do not like being reminded we had thirty years to prepare for the storm and that we did nothing to prepare for what we now face, but it needs to be said. President Carter was up to facing the challenge in 1977. He put on a sweater, turned down the thermostat and cut the speed limit. He asked us to downsize our expectations to face the challenge of limited resources in the future. But the American public was not buying it. They swooned over Ronald Reagan’s promise that it was still “Morning in America”. It was as easy as selling Jimmy Dean sausages. The question is, what can we do at this late date to prepare?

After Iraq the USA is no longer a “Superpower”
The War on Terror is in many ways a War for American Consumerism. We were out to protect our supply of cheap oil that kept the SUV’s running and the cheap imports coming. Since the world oil supply has already peaked, we must admit we have lost that war. The fact is, we are also at the end of the War in Iraq. Unlike the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Iraq debacle will prove to be our Achilles heel. It will come to be seen as the event that unraveled our economy and shattered America's image of itself. Of course, it will not be the underlying cause in itself, but losing the War in Iraq will weigh heavily on the American psyche.

It can be expected that each additional month we stay in Iraq before quitting will be at an increasing cost to our future. It has been pointed out that Americans have made themselves hostages in a civil war that is now controlled by Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and others players in the Middle East. Everyday we stay in Iraq we are poorer, have more enemies, and less world influence.

When we finally load the last helicopter on a roof in the Green Zone, we will be punched out in more ways than one. The overarching debt incurred in fighting the war will be due like a bad hangover. 

Oil for transportation, food production and manufacturing will still be available. "Peak Oil" only means that humans have only burned half of fossil fuel hat exists. The problem will be that the first half of the oil economy game was based on the crude that was the easiest and cheapest to get. In the second half of the game that won't be so, and we will have much more competition. As despised losers, our access to oil in the Middle East will be reduced as China, India, Europe and others closer to the oil fields demand and get their share.

View of what was recently open space to the ocean as seen from Kauai Village Plaza

Failure of the Suburban Dream
The sourness of the underlying US economy will be tasted for the first time by many who thought they were immune; they were living in the “non-negotiable life style” of America. But an economy with a foundation of building suburban sprawl and filling it with cheap plastic crap will soon seem quaint and naive.

Our efforts to forestall economic disaster with lower interest rates and taking on more debt will fail. The dollar will further erode as the Chinese and Japanese look at our economic death spiral and decide that it’s time to stop enabling us.

Bottom line: America is heading for an economic collapse worse that the crash of 1929. Many of the same elements of speculation and economic risk taking will be at play but the underlying failure of growth based economy in a world of finite resources will be clearer. There won‘t be an easy way out. Epochal change will be at hand.

The signs of the economic collapse of our growth economy are inescapable. The housing market is tanking. People are stretched too thin with too much debt. There will be mortgage failures. Credit cards bills will go unpaid. Chevy Suburbans will not be sold. Plasma HDTVs will never make it past the demo floor.

The crap could really hit the fan as early as the first half of 2007. It could coincide with the beginning of our exit from Iraq. And that does not mean we should stay there. The alternative to leaving Iraq and dealing with the aftermath is worse for America and the world.

If America, feeling cornered and hungering for a sense of power, chose to be lead by a charismatic fascist the damage would be incalculable. Self delusion might drive us to seek past glory. That leader is likely preach “It’s Not Twilight for America”. The hidden message being it is time to grab what we can from the world and bunker down for the end times.

But the world won‘t put up with that solution for long. Even as the only “superpower”, we had been fairly ineffective fighting people hand to hand in their own neighborhoods. Being in a bigger more widespread war with the world won’t save our idea of civilization.

Sustainable Self-Reliance Can Save Us

Let me say, before we begin, it is my opinion that many negative effects on the future could be controlled or modified by reasonable action today. These actions include increasing energy independence and greatly reducing consumption, achieving a moratorium on speculative development, reforesting mountain foothills, and becoming self sustaining on local food production.

But without a compelling reason (like economics) people are unlikely to make the changes in lifestyle necessary to avoid future trouble. Thus this cautionary tale may even be too optimistic.

In any case, with or without a fascist political sidetrack, America will face what much of the world already faces - at best dealing with self sufficiency and diminishing expectations - and at worst dealing with starvation and barbaric conditions. We can only hope that the effort to obtain sustainable self reliance reaches a level that preserves a fair amount of knowledge, culture, and civilization.

For Part Two and Three of this series see below:

Island Breath: Part 2 - Kauai 2007 to 2029
Island Breath: Part 3 - Kauai 2030 to 2050

A PDF version is available at:
Island Breath: 2007-2050 PDF

for info about Hawaii 2050 and your vision statement contact:

or contact:

Carol Taniguchi
Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs
ASB Tower, Suite 1132
1001 Bishop Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
Telephone: (808) 585-7931 (ext. 101)
Fax: (808) 585-7932

check out:
Island Breath: Kauai 2050 Meeting
Island Breath: Hawaii 2050 Background

Island Breath: Hawaii 2050 Conference
Island Breath: No growth feasible
Island Breath: Cuba shows how

see also: