Dwarfed by the thunderous roar of the elevated freeway, I felt an urge to jump on a return flight. A busy metropolis, Honolulu instantly overwhelmed me with its overcrowded, unending expanse of concrete and construction juxtaposed against an innocent sky, sea, and smattering of proud peaks. Houses, stacked one just above and behind the other, tightly lined every hillside. High risers dotted the stuffed lowlands.
“Little Boxes” – The 1963 Pete Seeger hit – played in my head:
“Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same,
There’s a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.”
But now, it’s ever more toxic ticky tacky and they don’t all look just the same. Unlike the Daly City, California sprawl,which inspired “Little Boxes”, many Honolulu homes are large, unique, and upscale.
Trapped in minutely moving traffic, I wondered, “What did this island look like 100 years ago?” Coming from the Big Island of Hawai’i, I could easily imagine a tropical green expanse. Is this human progress or human travesty?
Density is the nature of large cities. I’ve enjoyed living in San Francisco and have spent long stretches of time on the magical isle of Manhattan. Why was it bothering me now? In fact, city living is said to be more ecologically conscious.
Nevertheless, my heart hurt for the the land.
In this moment, Honolulu embodied – in my mind – the danger of short-term thinking, self-interest, greed, and ignorance. Like the blob from outer space, humans seem intent on possessing every inch of beautiful earth no matter how harmful their impact.
Although Honolulu has it’s unique and charming characteristics too, a frightening panorama of unsustainable living had captured my heart and mind.
Perfect People, Perfect Fruit
After snaking through the city for an interminable length of time, we headed out of Honolulu up around the southern tip of the island catching only fleeting moments of spacious relief before more home-packed valleys and hillsides appeared. We intended to take refuge at Lanikai Beach, on the windward coast of Oahu. Consistently rated as one of the top beaches in the world, this white strip of sand, we discovered, runs adjacent to a neighborhood of tightly crammed upper class homes. Even on the beach, everyone looked so perfect, pretty, and wrinkle-free.
Following our dose of sun, wind, and water, we stopped for lunch at Whole Foods, a gigantic natural foods super market. A vast array of unblemished fruit and vegetables, gourmet meats and cheese, premier wines, and packaged goods lined an incalculable number of isles, promising to satisfy any culinary proclivity or possible taste desire. Given my mood, the sheer abundance struck me as gluttonous.
Our return route took us through a tunnel conveniently carved through a small mountain, theoretically making access to Honolulu quick and easy. But, the horrendous amount of traffic limited movement once again to a snail’s pace as we traveled past more rows of “little boxes”. Ironically, the lion’s share of my time in paradise was spent in traffic.
What is Sustainability?
I didn’t have a chance to travel around the whole island of Oahu, and can only wonder if there is any green, open space to be found. This visit to the big city shook me up, making me question whether the world is on a sustainable path.
What is sustainability? Simply said, it’s not consuming more than our total resources can provide. It means not just taking into account one’s own needs, but the needs of the world, and the needs of the future. It’s logical, common sense. Yet our everyday desires and actions seem to constantly override the need for sustainable living, threatening our very survival.
Sustainable development requires that we see the world as a system in which our actions impact one another, near and far, through space and time.
“Modern science speaks to us of an extraordinary range of interrelations. Ecologists know that a tree burning in the Amazon rain forest alters in some way the air breathed by a citizen of Paris, and that the trembling of a butterfly’s wing in Yucantán affects the life of a fern in the Hebrides.” – The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
Our Actions Have An Impact
A spiritual person doesn’t think of their own benefit alone or go for immediate gratification. They have a vast vision for the world at large. They think beyond this life alone, considering the impact of their thoughts, words, and actions in every sphere, and on people everywhere.
Taking responsibility for our actions lies at the core of spirituality as well as the ecology of the planet.
Sometimes I wonder if we can ever repay our sins against the earth, the sky, and the seas. But, even if the whole world is unconscious, isn’t it our personal responsibility to do our best and act with integrity?
The organizers of Earth Day 2013 tells us:
“The environment faces a multitude of challenges today. From climate change to species extinction, our planet and its inhabitants are continually facing man-made threats that must be averted. Lend your voice to a campaign, and help us work toward a sustainable future.”
Here are some steps you can take if you too are concerned about the future of this planet:
- Take part in Earth Day – today, April 22 – and gradually integrate sustainable actions into your everyday life.
- Learn how to reduce your plastic consumption.
- Experiment with these 11 ways to reduce your oil consumption.
- Stay tuned in and keep learning how to live in a greener way.
- Read about the environmental challenges we face, and how to respond to them with mindfulness and awareness
You don’t have to be a perfect environmentalist. Just start with one step. Then take the next. Let’s see how far we can go together.
What are your thoughts about Earth Day? Are you taking any special steps toward a more sustainable future?
Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious! Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always. With love, Sandra