Magma Carta

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

(from An Essay on Man, a poem by Alexander Pope)

Puna — a word that, as I understand it, means something like the English word spring.

One imagines Puna as springing with the copious water that precipitates to this land. With the clarity of 20/20 hindsight, it now seems obvious that indeed she also springs — and has sprung from the recesses of prehistory to this very day — with molten earth. Looking at the various maps, one seldom thinks “How could this have occurred?”

It has occurred just as it has so many times before.

Nonetheless, to those of us who were lucky to spend time in and around the waters of Kapoho, seeing it vanish under a cover of lava within a few days painfully reminds us of what a beautiful place it was.

Many of us on Hawai’i Island are mourning the transformation of 5,000 acres of productive and beautiful land into barren lava. The fact that this very process created the entire island is of little consolation to the former residents of the hundreds of homes that have been destroyed. Their neighborhoods — the very foundation of community connections — have been obliterated. This profound disruption of normalcy has been accompanied by people’s equally profound desire to contribute to community health in whatever ways available — aloha by any other word. For myself and others, our everyday lives have been literally shaken. However, our human penchant to help others has awoken us to the fact of our connectedness and of the necessary work that this time demands.

A FB friend’s post thoughtfully analogized this lava flow to the “greater lava flow” portending of yet more destruction — that of global warming. Like the Big Island’s current flow, the degree to which climate change will disrupt our biggest island, Earth, is unknown. However, there is no denying that there will be more to come. On a global scale, the nexus of energy and capitalism is what fuels the warming. Long before and throughout this emergency, the Puna Geothermal Venture’s placement in the very midst of the Lower East Rift Zone has been a very contentious and troubling situation. Removal of large quantities of liquified pentane gas from the property has mitigated potential for deadly explosion. Uncontrolled release of deadly hydrogen sulfide appears to be unlikely, although that too remains unclear.

And make no mistake about it, geothermal powered approximately one-third of our grid-connected refrigerators, air conditioners, pumped one-third of our water, and one-third of all the rest of the stuff we take great comfort in.

I’m pretty sure that using less stuff and slowing down are sensible approaches. However, it’s a hell of a lot easier option on an off-grid jungle homestead, and with the monstrous caveat that I continue to purchase jet-fueled energy to see my loved ones. Staying warm in very cold places? Reducing our incessant need to drive, and fly, and flow our Netflix and the rest — well, that’s one where the devil is surely in the details.

Ivan Illich criticized industrial technologies as not serving everyday people, but rather serving the machines and the commodity makers themselves. He observed that high quanta of energy degrade social relations just as inevitably as they destroy the physical environment. The higher our consumption of energy, the more complicated and interlaced the whole paradigm becomes. Acceleration beyond a certain threshold becomes problematic.

There are a lot of issues and realities coming to the fore in this remarkable June of 2018. Several years ago I had the opportunity to talk to Noam Chomsky on the telephone. In this audio clip I got to ask Chomsky what he thinks of Illich’s ideas. Although at the time I was a little disappointed that he steered his response towards global warming, I think his exposition of the Magna Carta and capitalism’s disregard of public health is worth listening to:


“Corruptio optimi quae est pessima”
The depth to which we have fallen is the measure of the height to which we were called.

Who knows? Alongside this covering of land in Puna, there is new perspective before us. Old ways run their destined course. Veils lift, uncovering what’s broken and needs fixing, as we navigate the river — its shape more clearly defined.

Big Island Learning