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2018, A Big Island Year To Remember

The 2014 movie “Interstellar” was based on the theory of traveling through a blackhole, bending time, and experiencing intense gravity with strange outcomes.  Living in Hawai’i recently seems like our island spaceship cannot escape the intense gravity of world events, yet we are continually reminded of the paradox that Hawai’i is uniquely isolated, but globally connected.

Kīlauea’s summer vacation

This year began like any other, until the Kīlauea’s east rift zone erupted on May 3, 2018.  This latest eruption is believed to have been connected to the larger volcanic eruption that began on January 3, 1983, and blessed the Kona side of the island with smoggy (voggy) skies and poor visibility for the next 35 years.  The May 2018 eruption (considered to be the most destructive since the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980) took its toll on island residents, especially those residents previously living in the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions.

On the positive side, waking up one summer morning and suddenly discovering something missing was an understatement.  Without any fanfare from Kilauea, the volcano just decided that enough was a enough and it was time for things Sunset 1to quiet down for while – an unexpected gift and well received by the Island’s local residents.  Since 1984, it took a swift in the trade winds, or perhaps a heavy rainfall the night before to temporarily clear the sky of volcanic haze (vog aka volcanic smog).

But by early August this past year the eruption had almost completely subsided, and the lull in volcanic activity continues to keep the air mostly clean and clear for island sunsets that are unbelievably beautiful. For now at least, skies are crystal blue, and stunning ocean views are unobstructed to the horizon, and night skies now rival any planetarium show that even impresses lifelong residents.

At the peak 2018 eruption, it was estimated that 50,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and other poisonous gases were filling local island skies and beyond. Gas mask sales soared across Hawaii Island.  But since dropped to an average of 1,000 tons of SO2 gases a day, 1/50 the volume at peak eruption earlier this year.

The current “pause” in volcanic activity state has yielded only very minor signs of vog production wafting across Kona skies, with nothing much getting in the way of breathing deep and enjoying a wonderful and joyful sunset – for as long as it lasts…

The sun energizes most of life on Earth, and Hawai’i is no exception

(updated Jan. 17th, 2019)

Hawaii’s tropical location provides abundant sunshine, producing energy, abundant agriculture, deep suntans, sunsets and a night sky (away from city lights) that will take your breath away.

All this sunshine depends on a nearby star, our Sun, which serves as the ultimate (fusion) nuclear reactor, creating high temperatures through the  fusion of hydrogen at its core, and in turn, warming the Earth to livable temperatures from millions of miles away.   Most of Earth’s life depends on the sun, and we human are no different. In the history of human civilization, energy (in one form or another) has been basic to human survival, and sun plays a most important role in Earth’s energy matrix.

As modern civilization evolves, so has our modern day adoption and use of energy resources such as fossil fuels, nuclear fuel, or renewable energy.  In the 21st century, our planet economies are becoming increasingly electrified, along with a corresponding increase appetite for energy.  The emission by-products of these energy-dependent processes are now impacting Earth’s climate, ecosystems, and most life on Earth.

The last 150 (fossil-fueled) years has produced accumulative CO2 emissions in the Earth’s atmosphere and is now placing  life on Earth in 21st century into a death spiral for what scientists are calling the “6th great extinction event”.  Driven by many human factors, human-caused global temperature rise is creating disastrous impacts on ecosystems and the species dependent on them – Hawaii is no exception, with one the most notable impacts, coral bleaching and the death of near shore marine ecosystems.

There was a time in Earth’s history comparable to today’s climate crisis (minus humans) — that was 252 million years ago, when up to 96% of all marine species and more than two-thirds of terrestrial species perished. The mass extinction, known as the “great dying” marked the end of the Permian geologic period. The study of sediments and fossilized creatures show the event was the single greatest calamity ever to befall life on Earth, eclipsing even the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Scientists now believe the Earth has entered its 6th mass extinction event, a ‘biological annihilation’ of populations of animals that have been lost in recent decades. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/10/earths-sixth-mass-extinction-event-already-underway-scientists-warn

Unlike past mass extinctions, caused by events like asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions, and natural climate shifts, the current climate crisis is almost entirely caused by us — humans. In fact, 99 percent of currently threatened species are at risk from human activities, primarily those driving habitat loss, introduction of exotic species, and global warming. Because the rate of change in our biosphere is increasing, and because every species’ extinction potentially leads to the extinction of others bound to that species in a complex ecological web, numbers of extinctions are likely to snowball in the coming decades as ecosystems unravel.

As for Hawaii’s energy sector, the nexus of energy and climate change-extinction is obvious to an increasing number of policy makers.  The state has begun to transition to locally produced and (for the most part) clean and emissions-free renewable energy, while capitalizing on Hawaii’s abundant solar energy options. Solar  power, within Hawaii represents he highest per capita growth rates in the United States.

Putting environmental, social, and climate change impacts aside from burning fossil fuels, Hawaii’s imported dirty energy represents the most costly for the importation of petroleum and coal — a cost factor that is three to four times higher than the mainland fuel prices.  Imported energy costs further mount with factoring in environmental, climate, and public health cost factors that are absorbed by the public from burning those fossil fuels.  In effect, Hawaii has both strong environmental and economic motivations to become a world class leader in energy self-sufficiency through solar and wind and energy storage as primary replacements of imported and costly, polluting fossil-fuels.   Solar Pv Sun Image

In 2015, Hawaii was the first state in the United States to reach grid parity for photovoltaics.  Previously, solar energy represented just 0.07% of Hawaii’s total electricity generation back in 2007. But by 2015, solar energy fulfilled 6% of Hawaii’s total electricity needs, and thermal solar (hot water systems) further reduced Hawaii’s energy demands.

Hawaii’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (HRS 269 -92) mandates 100 percent renewable energy in the electricity sector by  2045, and solar will continue to play key role fulfilling this goal.  In 2017, Hawaii’s energy mix for renewables stood at 27.6 percent, more than 12 percent ahead of the interim statutory 2015 target of 15 percent, with plenty of room for future growth of both rooftop residential and business installations, combined with utility-scale solar and solar-storage installations, all together, ending Hawaii’s dirty imported energy dependency.

New Arrivals to the Big Island discover a 21st century paradise, but not without challenges

Between 2012 and 2016, the Big Island lost an estimated 2,362 people annually to the other three counties in Hawaii, while adding just 1,654, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. Not in this past census data was the recent impacts of the 2018 Kilauea eruption and exodus of some long time residents who had enough health issues and uncertainties to overcome the joys of paradise.

For recent Mainland (move-in) arrivals to the Big Island, many quickly discover that island life has its challenges and rewards. 

Is there a doctor in the house?   Leaving “living the good life” descriptions to the state’s well-funded tourism brochures, daily Big Island life too often means living with a chronic shortage of doctors and essential medical services. The only real full service medical system on Hawai’i Island is Kaiser, and even the big K is feeling the pain of a chronic shortage of qualified medical practitioners, and as outer island populations grow, their legacy of a strategy for lowering operating costs by flying their members in need to Oahu for many medical services and labs, based on a big Island with small population is failing to meet demand.  Doctor Shortages

Forget our local hospitals, you may be better off taking a life-flight to Oahu or the mainland. The discovery of the absence of medical choices leaves newcomers to the island dumbfounded for what they took for granted – medical options that were easily and conveniently available on the mainland, are now a day trip or longer away and come at a higher cost.

Then there is Big Island living at the end of the state’s supply-chain, which too often requires being your own personal Costco in order to ensure that what you want is available when you need it.

All in all, it takes only one beautiful sunset, ocean swim, monarch butterfly, and fresh year-round produce to soon forget, at least for a moment, the challenges of island life.

Onward and i luna, next stop Mars?

The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation is an analog habitat for human spaceflight to Mars.   For the first time ever, the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) project, which tests how humans would endure the isolation of a Mars mission, will include participants from four different countries of origin.  HI-SEAS is located in an isolated position on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii.  Mauna Loa offers Mars-like features, and an elevation of approximately of 8,200 feet above sea level for the habitat to further the unearthly Earth bound experience.

Mars Habitat On MkThe first crewed Mars Mission plans sending astronauts to Mars, orbiting Mars, and a return to Earth, and it is scheduled for the 2030s.  One year after Elon Musk announced his big vision plan that expects to transport a million people to Mars via Space X, he expects Mars colonization to be in less than 25 years.

Sustainability is foremost in the minds of dreamers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and adventurers who plan to settle on Mars.  Basics like oxygen, water, a radiation shield, and no food are just some of the things we take for granted here on Earth, but absent on Mars. At recent scientific conference hosted by Mars colonization enthusiasts and advocates, the key speaker painted bleak picture for the future of human survival on Earth, but simple stating …‘extinction is the new norm,’ …which begs the question, really?

So some uber-rich billionaires are betting their riches on building their own lifeboats to escape Earth, as they see it as a sinking ship and look to a journey to Mars as humankind heads for extinction on planet Earth.

Human extinction is not a scientific or social foregone conclusion.   But a prescription for extinction of life on Earth starts with unsustainable living, and the wasting and pollution of Earth’s life-sustaining assets: clean water, breathable air, and upsetting the balance of the atmosphere by loading massive amounts of  human-generated CO2 emissions, methane, and other greenhouse gases that all together are rapidly raises planetary temperatures.

When global changes occur in the Earth’s temperatures, natural, self-regulating systems, change as in climate change. Add in the wasteful absentee management of over-harvesting the Earth’s life-sustaining food chain, and humans soon find themselves on a path on of no return.

 

Earth Wind Fire And Water

Hawai’i – Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water

Volcano Update: Monday, Aug. 6th, 2018

Since this July 29th issue of Hawai’i Today was published, and beginning this past Saturday (Aug. 4th), field observations and drone overflights indicated “reduced output” from Fissure 8. By late Saturday afternoon, the lava river, which had once been a vigorous liquid flow moving over 30 mph, had become a very slow moving flow chunky hardened cooler lava.

The latest report, issued by Hawaii County Civil Defense (Sunday evening) stated the there was no lava moving in the lava river channel. At the heart of the eruption, the cone at Fissure 8, there is still some lava spattering, but the lava fountains of 200 feet high and more have stopped.

At the summit of Kilauea, the rhythm of the last couple months of 5.2 magnitude earthquakes every 36 hours has also stopped. There has not been a magnitude 5 or greater earthquake in over 3 and a half days, and the magnitude 2 earthquakes, which were numbering in the hundreds per hour, now happen at a rate of a few per hour.

What’s next is anyone’s guess.

BeyondKona’s July 29th issue of Hawai’i Today:  

KILAUEA – the volcano that keeps on giving

Reuters reported last week: “Hawaii eruption could last years, destroy new areas”.   The Reuters report went on to state: The current eruption could become the longest in the volcano’s recorded history”.   It’s noteworthy, these dire predictions are just that, predictions, and volcanic science is imprecise, even in the tech-weighted 21st century.

Here’s what we know.  A higher volume of molten rock is now flowing underground from Kilauea’s summit lava reservoir than in previous eruptions, with supply to a single giant crack — fissure 8 — and is showing no signs of waning, according to the study published last week.   The lava is now bursting from the same area (about 25 miles down Kilauea’s eastern side) as it did in major eruptions of 1840, 1955 and 1960. The longest of those eruptions was in 1955. It lasted 88 days, separated by pauses in activity.

If the ongoing eruption maintains its current high rate, Kilauea-based geologists believe it may take months to a year or two to wind down.

Geologists also believe previous eruptions may have stopped as underground lava pressure dropped due to multiple fissures opening up in this Lower East Rift Zone. The current eruption has coalesced around a single fissure (8), allowing lava pressure to remain high.

Hawai’i (Big) Island consists of an area representing nearly 63% of the entire state’s land mass, and is growing daily thanks to the current eruption activity.  With 4,000 plus square miles of land and multiple micro climates, Hawai’i Island is nature at its fullest, and the current eruption is producing consequences far beyond the island’s districts of Ka’u and Puna.  For example, here are some of the early eruption indicators and impacts on Hawai’i Island:

1- The number of voggy and overcast days now outnumbers clear air, sunny days in West Hawai’i

2- Respiratory health problems related to vog-smog (SO2) exposure have spiked with local residents

3- Nurseries, landscapers, and agricultural operations have reported increased yellowing and other signs of plant stress. Some good news as well, many Kona coffee growers are pleased with the unusual number and duration of overcast days (less the SO2), which is apparently good for growing coffee

4- The same (vog-related) overcast conditions pleasing some Kona coffee growers, has presented other problems for some of Hawai’i Island’s solar energy community who are experiencing a decrease in historic energy production

Overall, our Hawai’i Island community appears to be adapting to the current economic, environmental, and community changes, while gearing up for a possible long term increase in Kilauea’s volcanic activity.  If the aloha spirit and community, mean anything, it is that they are more than just words when practiced by our island residents …and now is the time. 

HAWAI’I ELECTIONS:  GOVERNOR and LT GOVERNOR RACES

It’s election time again in Hawai’i, and primary election cycles in Hawai’i generally decide the outcome of many races, including our next governor.

Hawai’i is currently at a crossroad, and BeyondKona has researched the backgrounds, qualifications, achievements, and energy policy agenda of the candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor, and who may well decide the state’s energy future: one towards sustainability or greater dependency on imported fossil fuels.

So why is energy so important?  Next to life’s fundamental need for food, water, housing; energy is the foundation and building block of our modern world.  Living in Hawai’i is expensive, as is the case for imported energy and its supply chain dependency from one of the most remote and populated locations on Earth.

Hawaii’s cost of living is the highest of any of the 50 states.  Hawaii, which along with Alaska belongs to the “Pacific Noncontiguous” region of the US, has by far the highest monthly utility bills.   For Hawai’i Island residents and businesses, energy represents half or more of the cost of water for DWS customers, and our island electric utility HELCO rates are the highest in the nation, and among the costliest of HECO’s four island utility service range.

The choice of governor in this current election year will likely determine the direction and outcome of Hawaii’s 2045 100% renewable energy objective, and the cost of energy in the future.  ”Although Hawaii’s energy policy is spelled out generally by statute, Hawaii’s governor plays a significant role in implementing the policy”, stated Rep. Chris Lee, chairman of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee.

For many voters, Governor Ige gets a gold star for both clean energy leadership, and another for protecting Hawaii’s unique and precious multi-island environment.

  • Ige’s leadership style is a refreshing contrast to many of today’s political leaders whose self-serving agenda is more media engagement than substance or achievement.  Ige has demonstrated quietly and thoughtfully honest leadership as Hawaii’s chief executive — addressing Hawaii’s growing homeless problems, supporting Hawai’i Island in its most recent major eruption and the corresponding disruption of communities and businesses.
  • The Governor’s highest visibility action to date was opposing the highly unpopular NextEra takeover of HECO. For any other governor it would have been an easy sell-out to NextEra and political gain that would have provided NextEra the support it badly needed, but Ige instead repeatedly placed the state’s interest ahead of any potential personal and political gain by standing up against the NextEra’s fossil-fueled political juggernaut by representing Hawaii’s interests first.  No2 Nextera
  • This election year’s Sierra Club endorsement of Ige stated…” Hawaii’s common-sense commitment to clean energy owes a lot to Gov. David Ige, who championed this vision at the Legislature and made it a core part of his leadership agenda”.  Ige’s leadership has produced more than twice as many people now working in Hawaii’s clean energy sector — these are well paying local jobs.

However, the elephant in the room that many politicians fail to acknowledge is the growing societal, environmental and economic costs of burning fossil fuels linked to global warming. An absence of leadership on this macro issue by Colleen Hanabusa could not be more obvious.

Hawai’i is now squarely in the cross hairs of climate change.  The impact and costs of climate change on island states like Hawai’i, continues to accelerate, with rising sea levels, super storms, and changing wind and weather patterns. Hawaii’s future is increasingly dependent on the energy choices we make today, and moving Hawai’i forward to self-sufficiency in energy and food are key to the state’s future and viability; no governor understands this better and has demonstrated leadership towards tackling climate change than Gov. David Ige.

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa… Hanabusa’s links to the fossil fuel industry go back to her family’s gas station.   She has previously served as a director of Hawaii Gas, and is a strong advocate of LNG (natural gas) for Hawaii’s future.

  • Hanabusa pushed hard for the NextEra takeover of HECO and its island operating utilities, and supported NextEra plans to slow Hawaii’s advancement of solar, wind, and other local clean energy options, substituting the importation of natural gas as a so-called “bridge” and dirty fuel replacement for Hawaii’s current dependency on other fossil fuels.
  • Also, in this current election cycle, a dark money PAC (fossil fuel funded) launched several TV attack ads against Ige that some considered crossed a line when it comes to Hawaii’s historic rules of political engagement.

⊗  – BeyondKona recommends the re-election of Governor David Ige

Hawaii Island continues to struggle in its development of adequate health resources and services for our island population – no one understands this issue better and is better qualified to address this problem than Dr. Josh Green.

Green is a practicing local Hawai’i Island doctor who has spent much of his life caring for Hawaii’s families.  As a State Senator, Green currently serves as the chair of the Committee on Human Services, and has been a leader on advancing Hawaii’s health care opportunities.  He is also a member of the Committee on Hawaiian Affairs and represents Hawai‘i’s 3rd Senatorial District.  Green has served in the Hawai‘i State Senate since 2008, and understands the issues facing Hawai’i today, especially the importance of the state’s transition to a clean energy economy.

⊗  – BeyondKona recommends the election of Dr. Josh Green to the position of Lt. Governor

BeyondKona has researched the candidates, their qualifications, voting records, legislative achievements in full consideration of its candidate recommendations.

We kindly urge our kama’aina friends to vote by mail or at the ballot box in this year’s important primary election, August 11, 2018.  Mahalo a nui loa.

IT’S HOT AND GETTING HOTTER

This 2018 summer marks a global spike in the continuing trend of global temperature rise.  Weather stations around the world are logging record-high temperatures on the edge of the Sahara and above the Arctic Circle.

From the Arctic to Antarctic and places in between we are witnessing and experiencing the heat this summer, with massive fires in the mainland’s western states, super storms in the east, and rising global heat-related deaths that defy the current US Administration’s policy on climate and energy – one that appears deaf, dumb, and blind to the scientific facts, costs, and societal consequences of global warming.

The Arctic Circle this month is experiencing an unprecedented heat wave that has sent temperatures in the far north of Sweden as high as 86 F, and in parts of northern Siberia it reached 90 F degrees, 40 F degrees above normal.  After years of increasingly hot, dry summers, the great forests in the far north, and around the globe are starting to burn releasing large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and melting permafrost that is releasing huge quantities of methane – what scientists call a feed-back loop that is further accelerating global warming impacts. Japan was walloped by record triple-digit temperatures, killing at least 86 people in what its meteorological agency bluntly called a “disaster.”

So far, Hawai’i has escaped some of these climate change impacts, but that is now changing.  Sea-level rise, coral beaching and die-off, and changing weather and trade wind patterns that are now being experienced throughout the Hawaiian island chain.  It seems, no matter how remote Hawai’i may seem from the rest of the world, global warming is truly global.  For an in depth perspective on current and frightening climate change developments, visit the BeyondKona Climate section: https://www.beyondkona.com/climate/

Wh Real Estate Sale Chart

Will Vog-Shrouded West Hawai’i Real Estate Valuations be next on Kilauea’s Hit List?

As Q2 2018 closed in a volcanic haze that shrouded West Hawaii’s famous sunsets, so did sales data showing some worrisome indicators for the south Kohala and Kona area real estate market.  A developing sales trend may impact both potential buying and sellers, and Hawai’i County officials who are struggling to balance growing budget needs.

The direct and indirect economic and social impacts from the recent volcanic uptick are only just beginning to be fully understood. However, the impacts are real enough for lower Puna families who have suffered greatly, but have come together as a community in the best aspects of Hawaii’s unique aloha spirit.  At last count 700 homes have been destroyed and nearly $380 million in taxable real estate turned into fields of lava.

All this begs the question: Will vog-shrouded West Hawai’i real estate valuations be next on the Kilauea hit list?Vog Map

Perhaps the possibility of shrinking property valuations in the lucrative property tax-areas of south Kohala and the greater Kona will give Hawai’i County officials more to ponder?  These areas regularly covered by voggy views and the after-effects of laze and voggy haze, producing stinging eyes, coughing, and choking from the air both visitors and residents equally breathe.

The recent upsurge in Kilauea’s eruption activity has produced a consistent number of vog-shrouded days for south Kohala and Kona that have become the norm, rather than the exception.  West Hawaii’s tourist trade has already felt the impact of vog-covered skies, with area residents and businesses struggling to adjust to this new environmental reality.  While the local Costco now stocks gas masks, Guy Hagi (Hawaii News Now’s high profile weather guy) extols the virtues of “no worries”, proclaiming clear skies and helpful trade winds from his distant Oahu perch.

West Hawai’i real estate sales data at the close of the second quarter looked mostly normal, however, on closer examination there was a noticeable drop in sales closings at the end of June that does not bode well for an uncertain future governed by a restless volcano or the near term prospects for clear skies and the return of West Hawaii’s famous sunsets.

Second quarter 2018 data for home and condo sales consisted mostly of offers written in February and prior to the recent increase in Kilauea eruption activities and air-polluted views. While it’s too early tell, this recent trend indicates a potential link between the island’s recent uptick in volcanic activity and a late Q2 decline in area sales numbers.

The two year Kona area real estate sales chart (shown below) illustrates this developing economic trend in detail, with the chart’s blue line representing the “sales pending ratio”, which is the number of escrows per 100 listings for the Kona residential market.  Note, how the number of sales in escrow for late June 2018 that appear to have fallen off a cliff — a trend not normally associated with historic and seasonal sales data for the same period from recent years.  The last time a lower ratio sales for this period occurred was June 2011.

If this trend continues, experts predict “a prolonged decrease in units sold, lower sales values and prices will follow.”  And, when home and condo values drop, County property tax revenues follow.

The real estate market, like the stock market, goes up and down and each has its own market cycles, but only Hawai’i Island has a volcano and a fire goddess named Pele, who since 1983 never sleeps.

Wh Real Estate Sale Chart