Over 111 lives have been lost in the tragic Maui fires that wiped the historic township of Lahaina off the map and have left authorities searching for another possible 1,000 victims.
Like clockwork, corporate newsrooms have concluded that a climate apocalypse is to blame. “The explanation is as straightforward as it is sobering,” the New York Times opined; “As the planet heats up, no place is protected from disasters.”
No matter that most of the experts the Times quoted said Hawaii’s dry conditions relate to El Niño — a phenomenon stretching back thousands of years — not global warming.
What the press has been slow to report is the bureaucratic bungling surrounding this disaster.
First, there are President Joe Biden’s multiple, tone-deaf “no comment” replies that he managed to mutter at journalists between a visit to his Delaware beach home and a weeklong vacation in Arizona.
Then there’s the bizarre behaviour of Maui’s chief emergency management officer, Herman Andaya. Andaya expressed “no regret” for refusing to activate Lahaina’s emergency sirens as the flames spread — sirens the locals say would have saved countless lives — but then resigned the next day, citing health reasons.
It is now clear that Andaya had no expertise in disaster management. Instead, he was a lawyer whose only apparent qualifications were a prior stint as Maui’s mayor and watching some “online FEMA trainings and workshops”.
Now there are reports that Hawaiian Electric knew its power lines posed a fire hazard, but spent next to nothing on wildfire prevention while obsessing over — and spending big on — so-called renewable energy.
If that weren’t woke enough, consider the case of M. Kaleo Manuel, the Department of Land and Natural Resource’s deputy director for water resource management. According to the Honolulu Civil Beat, Manuel refused to release water for fighting fires in West Maui until it was too late.
Manuel, who has a college degree in Hawaiian studies and is a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, has faced severe criticism on social media for his environmental philosophy, which critics suggest guided his decision-making earlier this month.
“Native Hawaiians treated water as one of the earthly manifestations of a god,” Manuel said during a Zoom interview uploaded to YouTube last year. He lamented that “we’ve become used to looking at water as something that we use, and not something that we revere,” and added that water requires “true conversations about equity”.
Here is M. Kaleo Manuel, the Hawaii water official who refused to release water resources and let landowners fight the Maui fire, explaining his "philosophy" about water:
"Native Hawaiians treated water as one of the earthly manifestations of a god…We've become used to looking… pic.twitter.com/hjsWqdVtxf
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) August 17, 2023
While the battle over traditional water use in Hawaii has been around longer than wokeness, it is a stream that now feeds the woke river.
Presidential Republican candidate Vivek Ramaswamy seems to think so. He wrote on X, formerly Twitter:
As wildfires raged, desperate residents petitioned state officials to send more water for firefighting & to help protect their properties from fire. That request went unanswered for hours, withholding critical aid to islanders. Now we’re learning that the official who delayed the approval is an Obama Foundation “Asia Pacific Leader” & a climate activist who believes water should be “revered” first and foremost. The DEI agenda is literally costing people their lives. Hawaii’s Democrat governor, Josh Green, says there are people “fighting against the release of water to fight fires” & that it needs to be explored further.
From the other side of the political aisle Michael Shellenberger, a passionate environmentalist, argued this week that, as his headline puts it, Renewables Mania And Woke Dogma Behind Hawaii Fire, Not Climate Change.
Pre-modern cultures, like the one M. Kaleo Manuel would resurrect, were a double-edged sword. Animistic people’s reverence for nature meant they left their environment largely untouched, and for that, we admire them. But it came at a cost.
When the trees and the mountains and the rivers are worshipped, they can hardly be investigated, managed or utilised. For all its benefits, the pre-modern mindset stood in the way of scientific and technological developments — including something as essential as firefighting.
Wokeness has a price. We cannot sow a crop of primitive beliefs and pre-modern values without reaping their harvest. We cannot eschew the glories and triumphs of the Western world without losing what makes the West so free and prosperous and safe.
As Hawaii picks up the pieces, more answers are sure to surface about what went wrong and how it can be avoided next time.
But one thing seems sure: less hot air about climate change, DEI and wokeness would be a welcome first step.
This article was originally published on Mercator under a Creative Commons license.
Image credit: Pexels