This is an opinion piece by Kirk Caldwell, the mayor of the City and County of Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. The city is a member of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network.
When your house is on fire, you don’t move to another room and hope for the best. Rather, you do whatever it takes to extinguish the flames. As the mayor of Honolulu, the country’s thirteenth largest municipality, we’ve seen the impacts of climate change gradually transform our island, and with the recent devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico and the fires sweeping across California, we knew this is no longer the time for half-measures. That’s why I joined every mayor in the state of Hawaiʻi to commit to something unprecedented: eliminating fossil fuels from all public and private ground transportation across our island state by 2045.
This is a big deal, and we don’t take this commitment lightly. Like every city and every state, our economy and infrastructure is built around the internal combustion engine and the fossil fuels that they currently rely on. But over the past decade a new future for Hawaiʻi’s economy has come into view. Our state was the first in the nation to adopt a mandate to move our electrical grid to 100 percent renewable energy, and we have seen success—moving from 9 percent renewable in 2007 to over 25 percent today and climbing. That progress helps address climate change, certainly, but it also means more money in our residents’ pockets. Instead of paying for someone else’s foreign oil we’re now paying our neighbors to install solar panels and wind generation to the tune of about $300 million per year and growing.
"Our state was the first in the nation to adopt a mandate to move our electrical grid to 100 percent renewable energy, and we have seen success—moving from 9 percent renewable in 2007 to over 25 percent today and climbing."
We see the same future for transportation, and we want to position Honolulu and the state of Hawaiʻi squarely in the middle of the transition to a clean transportation future. To that end, we are building an automated rail system that will deliver tens of thousands of passengers efficiently and be powered by 100 percent renewable electricity by 2045. We recently launched a bike sharing network that has provided nearly 200,000 rides in the first six months of operation and continues to grow in popularity as we expand bike lanes within our urban core. And, with our historic announcement, we are committed to lead by example through the conversion of our entire city fleet, including nearly 600 busses, to electric and renewable fuel by 2035.
We believe this transition needs to happen not only for the planet but for our people. The auto and trucking industry is already signaling a move toward electric, and with the cost curve going down on battery technology by 80 percent since 2010, we do a disservice to our island citizens if we don’t start building the infrastructure now that enables them to tap into the most economic means of transportation in the not-too-distant future. We also know that a majority of automated vehicles will be electric over the next decade, and this will likely flip the transportation industry on its head.
By setting this clear goal to eliminate fossil fuels and tackle climate change head-on, we are sending a signal to the market and to the world that Hawai‘i is open for business. Bring your green, clean, and renewable transportation technologies to us and we’ll make it happen.
People have always come to Hawaiʻi for our beaches and palm trees, but in the near future you may be visiting to see how a dynamic 100 percent clean energy economy actually works. There has always been more to our islands than sun and sand. Over a thousand years ago our islands were settled by Polynesian voyagers who navigated by the stars with pinpoint accuracy and traversed thousands of miles across the world’s largest ocean with renewable wind energy. That tradition remains alive today with the recent return of the voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa from a three-year sail that circled the globe and called on all of us to embark upon a new era of sustainability as climate leaders. Hawaiʻi’s mayors signed our commitment to a renewable ground transportation future on the captain’s deck of the Hōkūleʻa surrounded by young students from a local school who are counting on us to make this positive change happen. As the most isolated group of islands from any landmass on the planet, do we really have a choice? And for the rest of you on island earth, do you?