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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

HOW DO YOU JUSTIFY ANYTHING?

This morning, the headline on the front page of the Star-Advertiser blared:


In his State of the State Address, Hawaii Governor David Ige seemed to hit the right chord, for the general public was mostly acquiescent to  this statement.  

The reality?  Said Richard Borecca:
  • The goal is to cool 1,000 out of the 6,500 classrooms by the end of 2016.
  • However, air conditioning all of them will cost $1.7 billion.
  • Then you will need to supply the electricity.
  • Who will pay for all the above?
  • Of course, the taxpayers.
  • So, to quote:
    • we aren't air-conditioning all the schools
    • we are putting in lights, vents, pipes, repainted roofs and maybe fans
  • According to Governor Ige, this is not an air-condition-the-schools project, it is a heat abatement program.
Further, parents, and their parents, might be sympathetic to this minimal approach, for most of them once spent a dozen years or so in public school buildings, and they endured.

Governor Ige also indicated his support for the Thirty Meter Telescope, which will cost around $1.5 billion.  But this money will not come from local taxpayers.  The world is subsidizing this effort.  So why don't we build it?  The Hawaiians argue that Mauna Kea is sacred, enough is enough, so stop insulting their god or gods.  Hawaii is doing it to itself again.  TMT could well now never be built.  During the planning lifetime of TMT, it is now no longer to be the largest, for the bigger Giant Magellan Telescope is already being constructed in Chile.

Hawaii is famous for abandoning billion dollar initiatives.  A decade or so ago, the Hawaii Superferry sank mainly because of not in my backyard (NIMBY) protestors.     Thus, so far we have had justification by soft-shoe dancing (Ige), Hawaiians and NIMBY-ites to sell, terminate progress or maintain a desired status quo.

Back in the 70's, a coalition of rainforest supporters, illegal marijuana farmers, environmentalists, Hawaiians and the like effectively muffled the expansion of geothermal energy on the Big Island.  Geophysicists reported that there was the potential for 500 MW of geo-electrical production.  I was personally involved as the reservoir engineer for the first well and later assisted in gaining funding during the 1980's for Pirelli to build an undersea cable to connect the Big Island to Oahu.  There is a study that has gathered a lot of dust, unto which will be placed the latest billion dollar plus plan which appears to be going nowhere.  Hawaii would have been well on our way to electricity self-sufficiency if that cable was installed a quarter century ago.  On the other hand, who knows for sure if our geo-resources could ever support that kind of scale.

Part of the reason why this cable is currently stalled is because the people of Molokai and Lanai just do not want huge wind farms for a variety of reasons.  In any case, to attain any kind of renewable energy self-sufficiency, that sub-sea grid will someday no doubt be installed over the protests of the usual suspects.  Of course, the ratepayer will ultimately absorb the cost, but at this point, don't hold your breath for any kind of progress.

Then there is the $6 billion Honolulu Rail Transit project, mostly to be paid by local taxpayers.  The justification, of course, is to get bunches of people from point to point during rush hour, but also to serve as a planning tool for development.  Honolulu is ideally conformed as a linear city for this option.  Certainly, this system will run a deficit, but you don't expect money-making revenues from the Honolulu Police Department nor roads nor education.


In 1992 the City Council, because of the sudden vote reversal of Rene Mansho, killed the earlier effort, which was mostly to be paid by the Federal Government.  Not only would the total system, perhaps up to the University of Hawaii and maybe even Hawaii Kai, have been in full operation by now, but the switch from the Feds to Hawaii taxpayers amounted into several billion dollars, or a few thousand dollars/person.  While this latest version is expected to be operational by 2022, you can only excruciate at the idiocy of fumbling the first attempt.  The moral?  Minimize any opposition and do it now.

My first involvement with mass transit occurred around 1990 when I visited with Mayor JoAnn Yukimura of Kauai, who asked me to develop a traffic plan for the island.  A brand new transportation professor, Panos Prevedouros (he later went on to become anti-rail), had come to the University of Hawaii, so he and I produced a report suggesting that a magnetic levitation system from Japan could be used to link a few stations to be constructed by international consortia.

In 1979 a maglev train (right) at the Miyazaki (same place as the best beef in the world) test track went 321 MPH.  We talked to Japan Airlines about the train and some international interests to build the stations.  These partners would then gain tax free development rights around the stations.  Kauai would have paid almost nothing and become an international center.  The plan was so way ahead of its time that it was almost embarrassing, but I nevertheless blithely passed on the concept to the Honolulu Area Rapid Transit people who thought I was joking.  More recently, I resurrected this idea to justify Hawaii hosting the 2020 Sustainable World Expo, as quoted from one of my Huffington Post articles:

Honolulu is suffering through the pangs of planning a mass transit system. Funding crises will no doubt appear, again and again. Why not find a way to allow international teams to finance, design and manage these stations? Like in EPCOT Center around a lake, each site would feature a different region of the world interfacing, in principle, with the Pacific Ocean. A China village, with the architecture, restaurants and entertainment otions of that country. Maybe they'll bring and leave two pandas. Same for Japan, Korea, the European Community, South America, Africa...and more.

Multi-national corporations would be attracted by tax free development rights.  Each station could have a major hotel and a variety of restaurants and other attractions.  Thus, the rail would actually also be used during non-rush hour periods.

All my great ideas went nowhere, and, I guess more than anything else, I blame myself for not having the time to pursue them.  So how do you justify anything?

Take World War II.  The United States built and used the Atomic Bomb to survive.  If Hitler had first succeeded, life today for you would be a lot different.  I shudder at the thought. 

The same can be said for the Apollo Project which sent us to the Moon.  The world was at the height of the Cold War in the early 1960's when President John Kennedy made that fateful proposal.  Not only did we get there first, we bankrupted the Soviet Union trying to emulate us, which ultimately led to the end of the Cold War in the early 90's.  Amazingly enough, no one from the Soviet Union or Russia has ever walked on the Moon, although plans are to land a cosmonaut in 2030, a few years after Elon Musk begins to colonize Mars.  I avoided investing in electric cars, solar energy companies and space.  I'm poor and he is a multi-billionaire.

Sure, there was the adventure of exploration in NASA's heyday, but the motivation was all political.  You can dream about Mars, but I worry about individuals like Musk actually spending mega bucks on the attempt, for there are fearsome obstacles, and no real value in getting there.  The spectre of our premature maglev system for Kauai comes to mind.  Sometimes society or the technology is not ready for prime time.

So off I am chasing another multi-billion dollar adventure, the Blue Revolution.  Why?  The next economic frontier is the ocean, not space.  Why go to another planet when here on Planet Earth we have our next greatest challenge:  to sustainably develop the rich resources of our seas while enhancing the marine and atmospheric environment.  Next generation fisheries, hydrogen fuel, floating cities and even a Disney at Sea or two, while preventing the formation of hurricanes and remediating global warming.  If our society can spend $150 billion for the International Space Station, one of the most useless endeavors in Humanity's history, surely, only one percent of that sum, or $1.5 billion, can be justified to build the Pacific International Ocean Station.  Governments and industries won't.  We only need an enlightened billionaire or two seeking a rewarding legacy.

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