Fledgling community group event has paltry turnout

The credit crisis. Faltering world markets. Giant government bailouts.

The economic chaos is on everybody’s minds these days, and given that Kaua‘i’s economy is so heavily dependent on tourism — and on visitors showing up with money to spend — you would think a public agenda meeting on Kaua‘i’s economic future would fill a lot of seats.

It didn’t.

Two people showed up. Three, if you include temporary leader of the Lihu‘e Citizens’ Commission Barbara Elmore, who attributed the paltry turnout to the 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Saturday timeslot.

“We had a better turnout for our first two meetings,” Elmore said. “We’re still getting this off the ground.”  

Such a cozy group in the spacious “old building” hall of the Lihu‘e Neighborhood Center can make for an awkward couple of hours. But that didn’t keep the few participants from having a lively and informative discussion about Kaua‘i and the economic challenges it will likely face in the years ahead.

David Ward of Apollo Kaua‘i, an energy alternatives advocacy group, suggested that if Kaua‘i residents knew more about the underlying causes of the current downturn they might take more of an interest.

After reading The Long Emergency, a book about peak oil — the point at which global oil production plateaus and begins to decline — Ward said his economic views changed profoundly. He’d come to appreciate the extent to which all aspects of modern life, from fertilizer and food production to the pumps that bring water up from underground, depend on a steady supply of oil.

“We live in a petroleum-based economy,” said the Lihu‘e resident. “Airlines have already been cutting flights (due to rising fuel costs), and that means fewer tourists.”

According to Ward, Kaua‘i should be particularly concerned about its dependence on fossil fuels. “Kaua‘i’s at the end of the supply line. When oil supply gets low enough, we’ll be on our own.”

Elli Ward, who also spoke at the meeting, had a more personal take on the issue, saying that in addition to supporting visionary political leadership she has tried to gear her life more toward independence and sustainability.

“We had this dream when we came to Kaua‘i. We’ll retire, start a garden and grow our own food. We learned that it takes a lot of effort to keep a garden.”

The discussion produced some dire predictions, including the possibility that our country might be headed into what David Ward called “the greater depression, the one we won’t come out of.” However, it ended on an optimistic note.

Closing the meeting, Elmore praised the resourcefulness of people who know how to farm and take care of themselves.

“I don’t see it as all doom and gloom,” she said with an Atlanta, Ga., accent. “I think there’s a lot to be said for the strength of the human spirit.”

The meeting was videotaped for airing on Ho‘ike.

The next Public Agenda Kaua‘i meeting is currently slated for Nov. 22, 8:30-10:30 a.m. and will focus on the results and fallout from the coming elections.

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