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Think inclusive, avoid cynicism and plant a tree with aloha

January 3, 2014 - 2:59pm

By now, half the resolutions made for 2014 have gone by the wayside. A resolution we commit to practice every day can be more successful, because it is a process we take one step at a time.

The resolution I have been working on, and will continue to refine, is striving to think inclusively. A friend suggested that awareness of ourselves and others would be a better way to define the concept.

Humans seem to be hardwired to exclude. We tend to think of our team versus their team or our tribe is better than your tribe. We live in exclusive neighborhoods and go to exclusive schools or clubs and others don’t. We tend to think having lots of material things makes us better than someone with less. The recent movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” is a good example of materialism carried to the extreme. This kind of mindset makes us vulnerable to an “us versus them” way of thinking that affects our spiritual, political and cultural point of view. It can breed cynicism, fear and hate.

How do we diffuse the constant bombardment of negativity we experience? It’s not easy, but we can practice in our everyday life by being aware of what isolates us from one another. Prayer and meditation can help us find balance. When it comes to politics, to think inclusively is to respect the other person’s point of view even when it is different than ours. When it comes to humans in general, remember there is only one race: the human race.

Comedian Frank DeLima put in bluntly, and I will paraphrase: When every culture is reflected in your family tree, it’s hard to find anyone to hate. We are blessed in Hawaii where we have many cultures and religious philosophies coming together. It gives us an opportunity to practice inclusiveness. Our multicultural community is reflected in our landscapes.

Let’s look at how we can learn some lessons from our gardens, parks and forests. We can focus on the value of planting and protecting native trees, but recognize the value of plants that have been brought by Polynesians, folks from Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia and other regions. Our gardens reflect the cultural diversity of our people.

We can view plants we see as weeds in a broader sense by seeing they are really pioneer species trying to heal the wounds created by human or animal activity or natural disturbances such as flood, drought, lava flows and fires. If we find ourselves or our environment out of balance, we can approach the issue without fear or anger, but determine the role we can play to achieve connection, balance and aloha.

We know our planet is suffering from climate change and deforestation, but what can we do to reverse this trend? Parts of China, Africa and India are examples of vast areas that were deforested over the centuries. However, more damage has been done in the past 50 years than in the past several centuries. Untold numbers of species have been lost and climates altered.

How does thinking inclusively affect what we plant? We have a much broader palette of plants to use if we think outside the box. New reforestation projects often require drought hardy species such as eucalyptus and neem, or fast growing types such as bamboo. Whatever trees we use, we need to start soon. Much of the tropics could become desert if this deforestation and climate change continues. Imagine how our island appeared when the first Polynesians set foot on it. There were forests covering the Kohala Mountains, Mauna Kea, Hualalai and much of Mauna Loa. Dryland forests extended to Kawaihae. It is time to reverse the trend of deforestation. It would be difficult to replant these vast areas with only native trees since we can’t be certain what was here before the first humans. Besides, the climate has probably changed since those ecosystems were destroyed.

Some advantages to planting forests are reducing wind velocity and erosion; preserving forest watersheds, native ecosystems and recreation opportunities; and, of course, tying up some of the excess carbon in our atmosphere.

Forests and their effect on climate are nothing new, but as important as they are, they have not been put to use as much in Hawaii as they should be. A primary purpose of forests is to reduce wind velocities to a degree that will provide protection. Some secondary effects of reducing wind velocity are temperature modification, increased humidity and reduced evaporation in the protected area. This reduces dust problems and supplies shelter and food for wildlife. They also add beauty.

The Ka‘u District is an example of change in local climate. Thousands of trees have been planted there during the past 40 years. The region around Pahala has been reforested with macadamia trees and windbreaks. It was transformed from a dry, dusty region known for its incessant winds into a green and productive oasis. Lava flows of West Hawaii are being transformed by urban reforestation to create parks, gardens and golf courses. This means jobs for landscapers, gardeners and plant nurseries. Hamakua, Kohala, Waimea and Waikoloa also could benefit from this kind of long-range planning and planting. Unfortunately, trees take years to grow and we too often think in terms of short-term profits.

Around East Hawaii, forests of macadamia, banana, rambutan and other tropical fruit are sprouting up where sugarcane lands were abandoned. Giant timber bamboos could be grown as well. Many bamboos are easily maintained and extremely ornamental. Landscaping coastal lava fields to golf courses and homes planted with trees is not popular with some folks, but this too is urban forestry.

In many ways, we are on the track to create a better balanced environment, but it is important to continue to make a difference with cool heads and warm hearts. We can do this best by working together with respect and remembering we are all on this planet and need to treat it and each other in a consciously sustainable and inclusive manner.

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