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New program aims to find sustainable solutions for Maui

‘Hulihia’ seeks to engage community, eventually construct center at college

On Thursday morning at the University of Hawaii Maui College, Kamehameha Schools analyst Jonathan Stenger presents the mission of a two-year pilot project called Hulihia: A Maui Sustainability Systems Center, which aims to engage the community to create better-informed decisions throughout Maui that lead toward a more balanced relationship with the ‘aina. The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

KAHULUI — A new local initiative is seeking a “complete change” in traditional methods of thinking in order to achieve true sustainability in Maui County by 2040.

University of Hawaii Maui College partnered with Kamehameha Schools Maui, Moloka’i and Lana’i Community Strategies Team to create a two-year pilot project called “Hulihia: A Maui Sustainability Systems Center,” which seeks community knowledge in addressing the depletion of resources and building long-term solutions.

“If we can provide the community with sustainability modeling, that is rooted ‘ike kupuna, then the community will be empowered to make decisions that support a more balanced relationship with the island,” said Kamehameha Schools analyst Jonathan Stenger, who, with the help of UH-MC faculty and the Sustainable Science Management program, drafted a vision on how to achieve sustainability in Maui County.

The soft launch of Hulihia on Thursday morning included a blessing at the Kauluwehi Garden, a presentation on the vision of Hulihia and a workshop to collaborate with the 20 guests who represented different sectors in the community.

Hulihia, which translates as “complete change,” can be achieved through community engagement, reintegration of indigenous knowledge, systems modeling and sustainable solutions, organizers said.

Stenger, who was also UH-MC’s first Sustainable Science Management program graduate, said that efforts will be directed toward restoring the land for the next generations by finding a balance between meeting population needs without exhausting the island’s resources.

“Today we’re facing many critical issues that threaten the integrity of our whole ecosystem,” he said. “In two minutes, we could come up with 35 different issues that we face today — destruction of our natural forests and habitats, coral reef degradation, loss of the value of ‘ike kupuna, erosion, invasive species, the list goes on.”

A lot of time and energy is spent on addressing complex problems like climate change or overtourism impacts, but they are only symptoms of “our current culture of consumption,” he added.

“We have to get to the root of the issue and this is what Hulihia seeks to solve, is really understanding what is the root cause of this and what are the triggers that’s causing these issues today,” he said. “It sounds great, but it is difficult work.”

Step one of Hulihia was launching an online forum at hulihia.consider.it for all community members to provide input on how they are affected by unsustainable practices on Maui and listing which issues should be prioritized.

The website will be open for the next two to three months.

The next step is to conduct research and build a team of experts who can best tackle the high priority problems, and by winter, have a systems map created that will point toward holistic solutions.

The long-term goal and final step for Hulihia is to have a physical space on the UH-MC campus for the community to convene in, to share information about sustainability issues on Maui and to allow stakeholders to anticipate any unintended consequences through computer modeling.

Stenger said he hopes for a Hulihia Center for Sustainable Systems, which will be run by a director and staff, in about two years.

“What I’ve discovered over these years is that we really need a center, a space that can provide sustainability expertise that’s orientated toward community decision-making,” he said.

Sustainable Science Management Program Coordinator Tim Botkin said that Maui could become a “global model” on how to achieve clean energy and transportation, food security, sustainable tourism, a green economy, ocean water quality and protected ecosystems, waste reduction and more.

“I’ve probably been to at least 200 sustainability events in my life — every single one starts out with passion and fire and energy and wanting to save the world, and almost every single one has ultimately petered out,” Botkin said on Thursday. “Why? I think we just have to confront the fact that we’re just not sure what to do. And so that’s what we’ve been working on for all this time.”

While there are multiple definitions of sustainability, Botkin said the key component is being able to maintain a quality of life for the next generation and “avoid unforeseen consequences” that have resulted in exhausting the island’s resources.

“Look at where we are with our water use, our plastic in the ocean, with our failed recycling opportunities, you know, how are we going to deal with traffic in the future and deal with tourism?” he said. “What we see are the trends of unsustainability that help us understand that if we don’t do something, we’re going to have trouble.”

He added that sustainability science is going to take a different and “ambitious” approach on how to better understand, adapt and manage the system.

“We don’t know if we’ll get there, but we know we’re at a step where we can start to make a pretty big leap about how to move forward,” he said. “This movement is not about doing something in a different way, it’s about doing something different.”

Many of the questions and statements by participants on Thursday centered on the importance of building trust in the community and how to achieve that, addressing unsustainable practices by both residents and the visitor industry, what outreach strategies are in place to involve the younger and upcoming generation as well as rural communities and how to navigate any pushback.

“I appreciated the dialogue because it showed just how complex and interrelated these issues are. You know, there’s not just a rubber stamp solution, but really we have to be having these discussions with tourism and residents, both sides,” Stenger said. “Many of the questions and statements made are exactly why we need to do this.”

He said this is the first of many partnerships and conversations, and plans to hold virtual and in-person meetings in the future.

To contribute to the dialogue, visit Hulihia.consider.it.

To learn more about Hulihia, visit hulihiamaui.com.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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