Its a 1,000-year-old idea we may finally be ready to understand.
Theres a place thats got more of everything there is on Earth.
Or there was until Westerners arrived.
Its called the Hawaiian Islands.
Just about any life-form on the planet could find its sweet spot there.
Dr. Sam Ohu Gon III, speaking as Senior Scientist and Cultural Advisor to The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, explains that theres something really important to learn about what happened when outsiders came in.
When Westerners arrived 300 years ago, there were hundreds of thousands of Hawaiians already having lived on these islands for a millennia, on their own, in the middle of the ocean.
The Hawaiians lived lightly off the islands whose resources they depended on. They used only about 15% of it, and, even so, they were still completely self-sufficient, with nothing they needed from the outside world.
The Hawaiians belief system was the key.
They saw the islands as having different realms.
Wao kanaka are the lowlands along the shores where people lived. Its where they grew and caught the food they needed.
Wao akua was the uplands above wao kanaka. It was an intensely sacred place where humans had no role in the native forests or the waters that flowed out of it. Its where their ancestor gods, aumakua, lived.
Theirs was a system based on love, not fear.
The Hawaiians believed aumakua could take the form of individual plants and animals, or kinolau. So all the life in wao akua wasnt just plants and animals. It was literallyfamily.
When your gods are also your family and the elements of nature are their physical presence, your relationship with nature is transformed. Sam Ohu Gon III
Hawaiians considered themselves actual kin to nature, a much richer way of thinking than viewing yourself of just a consumer.
They believed in aloha, which isnt just hello and goodbye, as it often seems. Its actually the word for empathetic compassion, and it extends beyond the people you care about, to aina, the place you live. Together, aloha aina is a deep appreciation of and love for the features of your land. Youre not whole without your place, and its fate is your fate.
To take from the land without thinking of what youre doing to it would be, as Gon says, a direct and conscious prostitution of not only a family member, but an elder. And what right-thinking person would do that?
And then Western civilization landed on Hawaiis shores.
A different idea came along with them. Nature to them was a set of resources to be exploited by property owners and purchased by human consumers. The human footprint on Hawaii expanded to 85%, and many of the islands natural resources were destroyed or used-up. This shows how things changed.
And now the traditional Hawaiian self-reliance is gone.
Modern Hawaiians are now so dependent on imports that if they stopped, its estimated thered be famine in just three weeks.
This story should change our attitude.
In it may be the key to us stepping back from the environmental ledge.
Our global climate challenges come from losing sight of our relationship to the ground we stand on, the air we breathe, and seas we sail. By combining aloha aina with modern technology, theres a chance we can set things right. Maybe aloha aina isnt just a saying, but instead a practical formula for how we survive on our own little island out in the middle of the ocean of space.