THE BLOG
09/23/2013 03:25 pm ET | Updated Nov 23, 2013

Molasses and Hawaii's Environmental Blind Spot

Two hundred thirty-three thousand gallons of molasses flowed into Honolulu Harbor. Thousands of sea creatures suffocated to death. It's a mess to be sure -- similar to oil spills, as many have pointed out. What has been done about preventing oil spills? Double-hulled tankers sometimes help, but then there are leaking oil pipelines, oil drills, oil on trucks, oil in underground tanks, and the list goes on.

Well, looking at the big picture it is abundantly clear that we need to get off foreign oil dependence. Presidents going back to Hoover have said as much.

But what does that have to do with a molasses spill, you might ask? Well, the molasses was to add to nutritionally deficient animal food to be fed to cows and pigs on the mainland, so we can have beef, pork, veal, milk, butter, cream, leather seats, shoes, and handbags, and of course the all-important Jell-O, to name just a few items.

Hawaii is a green state, both literally and figuratively. From plush tropical forests to legislatively set renewable energy goals, to creative financing for solar panels, and charging stations for electric cars. Those are a few green things in the state.

But there is a blind spot. It's a big one. It's a blind spot for Hawaii's green politicians, green advocacy groups, and many people who profess to be green -- possibly even up to, and including, Kermit the Frog himself (I was unable to reach Mr. Frog for comment by the time of publication).

It's an inconvenient truth that animal agriculture's annual share of total global greenhouse emissions is estimated at 51 percent or more. Can you hear the sound of the waves lapping over the ground floors of the Waikiki hotels when you eat that hamburger? When the grill is going can you smell the massive fires set to Brazilian rainforests to clear away land for cattle grazing that is killing off endangered species? My guess is, "no." But now you can think about molasses spills if you'd like. Closer to home.

I can go on about how many leading national environmental organizations, including the National Audubon Society, the Worldwatch Institute, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and even Al Gore's Live Earth -- have recognized that raising animals for food damages the environment more than just about anything else that we do, but let's stick to direct impacts on Hawaii, by Hawaii.

The state government recently spent $4.15 million to expand the state-owned slaughterhouse on the Big Island. Yes, citizens, you own slaughterhouses throughout the state that private businesses profit off of, but you pay for. Then there was the $750,000 for solar panels for a slaughterhouse on Oahu. Also, I recall the state cosigning loans for a slaughterhouse that then went bankrupt. Most recently the state decided to try "No GET tax for slaughterhouses. No need. You keep it." They also are trying to subsidize the animal feed, and who knows what else.

Why? Campaign contributions. Voter-owned elections, anyone? But the stated reason is "sustainability." Anyone who knows anything about raising animals can't keep a straight face for that one. There are more than 1.3 million people here in Hawaii. On average, that would mean that 130,000 cows and 434,000 pigs would be consumed each year by residents of the state -- not including tourists and other non-resident populations. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. And no, there isn't enough food waste to feed that many animals, especially if the ships stop coming, or the price of food goes through the roof. Not enough grassland, either, and pigs aren't ruminants. Nor do we have the 2,400 gallons of fresh water that it takes to produce each pound of meat.

The struggle is really between centralized private humungous global agri-business (read: Monsanto owns all the food and means to produce it, so people who cannot afford it starve) vs. decentralized plant-based production -- urban farms supplying 100 percent of the urban centers consumption needs with fruits and vegetables, while supplemented by urban backyards and lanai gardens. Think 6,000 pounds of food on a tenth of an acre. I think the choice is clear. Happy urban homesteading! Aloha!