by James Kunstler on 26 March 2007 in www.kunstler.com
For all of you out there disposed to twang on me for riding a jet airplane all the way to Maui, please consider that United flight 35 would have flown from San Francisco to Maui with or without me on it. Here's the deal: I had to go to San Fran to give a talk at the Commonwealth Club. From there, I had a lecture gig on Maui. I stayed three extra days and nights -- since I'd come all that way. So, sue me. Now, to the business at hand, which is my impressions of Maui.
Beautiful as much of it may be, it is hard not to view it through a tragic lens. Most of the damage on Maui has been inflicted over the past 30-odd years -- that is, since the Pepsi Generation got their mitts on the island. Certainly, there were massive prior insults, starting with the first landings of the Haole (foreigners, in particular caucasians) in the late 18th century, the introduction of cattle, eucalyptus trees, the mongoose, the monoculture of sugar cane, and
other intrusions that upset the island's ecology. But the boomer-hippies really iced it.
Those who managed to stop smoking marijuana long enough to string two consecutive thoughts together grokked the related notions of tropical paradise and land development with predictable results. That is, they turned the place into just an annex of California. The flatlands were allowed to develop along the lines of Fresno or Lodi, while the uplands became Pacific Palisades Lite. The longest stretch of the best beaches in the place with the least rainfall was converted
into a strip of jive-plastic supersized resort hotels. The automobile was given first dibs in all civic design matters.
The island's beauty has not been entirely defeated, but the usual complaints are heard for the usual reasons -- mainly, that the overwhelming majority of buildings, both residential and commercial (including the big hotels), are graceless industrial sheds, deployed artlessly on over-engineered streets, which has conditioned the public to believe that all man-made things are worthless pieces of shit. This in turn conditions the public to believe that nothing man-made can
be ultimately beneficial, which makes it impossible for us to imagine coexistence with the rest of nature, and so on into the usual swamps of suburban dialectic.
The terrain, of course, has largely determined the situation with the car. Maui is mostly composed of two rugged mountains, and cars have made it possible for people other than farmers to settle the slopes. Without motor vehicles, a person living up in Makawao, maybe two or three thousand feet above sea level, would be lucky to get down to the main trading town once a month, let alone to a job every day. But work-a-day Maui operates just like work-a-day California, and
all the associated norms of behavior are in place. You drive everywhere for everything.
As far as I could tell, even the educated locals out in Maui today are consumed with the same trivialities about traffic and "density" that you'd hear back in any mainland town. They are not thinking beyond the usual NIMBY issues. But it seems perfectly obvious that Maui life will change drastically in a future of oil-and-gas scarcity. The commercial airlines are the "canaries in the coal mine" of advanced industrial civilization, and they are very
sick canaries right now -- even with the price of oil relatively stable the past six months.
The airlines have pared down their employee ranks about as far as possible. The scene at the Maui airport this Sunday was a clusterfuck -- largely due to the fact that United Airlines had only one person manning the ticket counter, and 98 percent of the visitors have to check through luggage. A couple more rounds of oil price spikes and the airlines are going to be lying tits up with glazed eyes.
Perhaps aviation will then reorganize itself on a smaller scale serving only the elite, for a while, anyway. In any case, that will be the end of the mass middle class consumer phase of commercial aviation -- and also of mass middle class type tourism.
Few people on Maui I spoke to were mentally prepared for the implications of this. But it's perfectly obvious that the Hawaiian Islands will become much more isolated again, and that the way of life that has developed there since 1970 will have to change drastically. I'm glad I went. I don't know if I'll ever go back. Beautiful as it was, I got tired of being in the car all the time and there was really no place to walk.