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Hawaii to host World Conservation Congress: Ancient Hawaiian Farmers Offer Lessons in Sustainability

The Hawaii botanist says he hopes that by coming to Limahuli, visitors will learn some valuable lessons from the ancient Hawaiians who worked this land

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Limahuli Garden and Preserve is set in a verdant tropical valley on the north shore of the Hawaiian Island of Kaua`i. Against a backdrop of majestic Makana Mountain, the garden overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Image source: VOA

Hawaii is hosting the World Conservation Congress. Thousands of government officials, environmental activists, business leaders and other delegates from nearly 200 countries are in Honolulu for 10 days to shape the direction of global conservation and sustainable development. This is the first time the Eco-summit is being held in the U.S. Organizers say one of the reasons the Aloha state was chosen to host the quadrennial conference is because it’s been a model for incorporating indigenous culture into its conservation initiatives.

A shining example of this is Limahuli Garden and Preserve, on the island of Kauai.

Its director, Kawika Winter, points to the evidence of successful, sustainable farming in the verdant tropical valley. “You see all these terraces that are remnants of the ancient agricultural complex that dates back almost a thousand years. So the original inhabitants of this valley built these walls and left them to be able to grow taro on the land.”

Kawika Winter gives a tour of the garden to a group of environmental journalists.
Kawika Winter gives a tour of the garden to a group of environmental journalists. Image source: VOA

Winter notes while most of Hawaii’s food is now imported, once upon a time, valleys like this one nourished the whole community.

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“If you’re to take the time to walk through the jungle over here, you’d find terrace after terrace after terrace, all the way down to the ocean. So this valley was definitely feeding a lot of people in the old days.” In fact, its name – Limahuli – in Hawaiian, means turning hands, and Winter says it might refer to the people who once turned their hands here to work the earth.

Ancient land management system

Limahuli Garden and Preserve is one of four gardens in Hawaii run by the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Winter says it’s also one of the few places in the state where people can learn how to manage resources based on the ancient Hawaiian ahupua`a system. He explains, “An ahupua’a is basically a land section that extends from the top of the mountains, out into the ocean and it’s within the borders of an ahupua’a that Hawaiian communities were developed and managed.”

Artist's depiction of what the area around Limahuli might have looked like many years ago.
Artist’s depiction of what the area around Limahuli might have looked like many years ago. Image source: VOA

Limahuli’s approach gives it a leading role in saving native species. Hawaii is the endangered species capital of the U.S., if not the world. There are more endangered species per square kilometer on these islands than any other place on the planet, and Winter says nearly 40 of them are in 400 protected hectares of Limahuli’s garden and nature preserve.

“We’re working to do ecological restoration to prevent extinction of this precious biodiversity that exists in this valley,” Winter says. “Some of the species are only existing in this valley, and some of them are down to a few individuals in the wild.”

Lessons for sustainability

The Hawaii botanist says he hopes that by coming to Limahuli, visitors will learn some valuable lessons from the ancient Hawaiians who worked this land: whatever you do on the land affects the life and ecosystem of the ocean, and that fresh water is the secret to everything. One of the last pristine waterways left in the Islands runs through the garden.

Limahuli Stream is one of the few pristine waterways left in the Hawaiian Islands.
Limahuli Stream is one of the few pristine waterways left in the Hawaiian Islands. Image source: VOA

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At more than 1,000 workshops and panel discussions, delegates to the World Conservation Congress are focusing on the theme of our planet at the crossroads, with topics ranging from species recovery and eco-tourism to indigenous peoples and megacities and watersheds.

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Kawika Winter believes Limahuli Garden and Preserve can show the world how to care for the planet. “From our perspective, instead of reinventing the wheel, all we need to do is look back to a system that worked in Hawaii for at least a millennium and quite possibly more. And our hope is that we can be a model of sustainability and we can show that the ahupua’a system can offer viable solutions to our contemporary issues regarding sustainability in Hawaii and the globe.” (VOA)

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Italy to Make Climate Change and Sustainable Development Study Compulsory for School Children

Many traditional subjects, such as geography, mathematics and physics, would also be studied from the perspective of sustainable development

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Italy, Climate Change, Sustainable Development
Italy's Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti gestures during an interview with Reuters in Rome, Italy, November 4, 2019. VOA

Italy will next year become the world’s first country to make it compulsory for schoolchildren to study climate change and sustainable development, Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti said.

Fioramonti, from the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, is the government’s most vocal supporter of green policies and was criticized by the opposition in September for encouraging students to skip school and take part in climate protests.

In an interview in his Rome office on Monday, Fioramonti said all state schools would dedicate 33 hours per year, almost one hour per school week, to climate change issues from the start of the next academic year in September.

Many traditional subjects, such as geography, mathematics and physics, would also be studied from the perspective of sustainable development, said the minister, a former economics professor at South Africa’s Pretoria University.

Italy, Climate Change, Sustainable Development
Fioramonti, from the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, is the government’s most vocal supporter of green policies and was criticized by the opposition in September. Pixabay

“The entire ministry is being changed to make sustainability and climate the center of the education model,” Fioramonti told Reuters in the interview conducted in fluent English.

“I want to make the Italian education system the first education system that puts the environment and society at the core of everything we learn in school.”

Fioramonti, 42, the author of several books arguing gross domestic product should no longer be used as the main measure of countries’ economic success, has been a target of the right-wing opposition since becoming a minister in the two-month-old government of 5-Star and the center-left Democratic Party.

His proposals for new taxes on airline tickets, plastic and sugary foods to raise funds for education were strongly attacked by critics who said Italians were already over-taxed.

 

He then sparked fury from conservatives when he suggested crucifixes should be removed from Italian classrooms to create a more inclusive environment for non-Christians.

Despite the criticism, the government’s 2020 budget presented to parliament this week included both the plastic tax and a new tax on sugary drinks.

“I was ridiculed by everyone and treated like a village idiot, and now a few months later the government is using two of those proposals and it seems to me more and more people are convinced it is the way to go,” Fioramonti said.

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Italy, Climate Change, Sustainable Development
In an interview in his Rome office on Monday, Fioramonti said all state schools would dedicate 33 hours per year, almost one hour per school week, to climate change issues from the start. Pixabay

Surveys showed 70-80% of Italians backed taxing sugar and flights, he said, adding that coalition lawmakers had told him they would table budget amendments to introduce his proposal to hike air ticket prices before the budget is approved by end-year.

Fioramonti said targeted taxes of this kind were a way of discouraging types of consumption which were harmful to the environment or individuals, while generating resources for schools, welfare or lowering income tax.

In this vein, he suggested other levies on various types of gambling and on profits from oil drilling.

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His progressive positions on the economy and the environment are the antithesis of Matteo Salvini’s hard-right League, which has overtaken 5-Star to become easily Italy’s most popular party, with more than 30% of voter support. (VOA)