Mission Statement of the Center for a Sustainable Future

The great challenge of the next millennium is to develop technologies that can accommodate the demands for food and energy resources during the next doubling of the world's population while maintaining an acceptable quality of life on the planet. The world's oil reserves peaked many years ago and will dwindle to nearly zero within the next 50 years. The means by which it is replaced has the most profound implications for the global environment. The previously steadily climbing global catch of fish began declining two years ago but no strategy exists for maintaining the catch of wild stock even at the present levels. Agricultural food supplies are presently adequate but are sensitively dependent on climatic variations known historically to be severe but from causes still only poorly understood.

Within another decade, 60% of the world's population will be living in the coastal zone. Preserving the ocean's biota and its clarity and beauty in the face of such population pressure, will require increasingly burdensome costs absent innovations in technologies for treatment and sequestering of wastes. Fresh water will need to be imported or converted from sea water because the watersheds will not be adequate to supply the population. Overfishing, coastal erosion and oversupply of nutrients from sewage are already serious threats to coral reef ecosystems.

The goal of sustainable development will require significant changes in our technologies and the infrastructure that supports them. Much more comprehensive planning and sophisticated modeling than we are accustomed to will be needed. A world in which, say, 50% of a new mix of energy requirements are produced from biomass will call for major transformations in agriculture, in the energy supply, and consumption infrastructure. Just as we have begun to learn how to deal with today's environmental problems, tomorrow will bring new technologies that will have unexpected environmental consequences of their own. Even now, there are few institutions, private or public, capable of conducting the long range scientific, technical, and economic research and modeling required.

University scholars aren't usually associated with such applied, long range efforts. They, like their counterparts in the national laboratories, are dependent on federal funds to support their research and that of their students. Federally funded programs, however, are at the mercy of shifting political winds. Funding for socio-economic studies of the potential impact of technological development is no longer in favor in Congress. Even if funds were to be restored in future years, long-term programs of research and development don't survive well in such a variable funding climate.

While there is considerable corporate interest in developing new technology for alternative energy, and for environmental monitoring and remediation, federal support needed for long term research and development is small and in decline. The requirement for profitability tends to narrow the focus of internally funded corporate research, favoring short term projects with a limited goal. With both Washington and industry abdicating the central task of leading us into a sustainable future, new institutions must be created, ones able to maintain the long term vision necessary. This is the purpose for which the Center for a Sustainable Future was founded.


The Center for a Sustainable Future is designed as a university-affiliated, private not-for-profit corporation institution with the goal of bringing together first-class scientists, engineers and economists to address long-range technological issues arising from the need to achieve sustainable development. Our focus will be on Hawaii, the tropical Pacific and the Pacific Rim.

Hawaii, blessed as it is, nevertheless is without natural resources. Its coastal fisheries are too depleted to feed its population and its terrestrial ecosystems already are irreparably damaged. There is, however, a long tradition of Hawaiians' living sustainably, within the resources locally available to them. Its air, its watersheds, reefs, and coastal oceans are still relatively unharmed and the public will to preserve the quality of Hawaii's environment is strong. In many respects, Hawaii may be able to serve as a model for sustainable development, the canary in the coal mine for the rest of the world.

Other Pacific islands have fared less well. Water shortages, overfishing, destruction by pollution of fringing reefs all are common by-products of their overpopulation. Technologies used in developed nations to treat or sequester wastes may be inappropriate or too costly for economically underprivileged islands. Loss of self-sustaining fisheries, while disrupting the socio-economic fabric of Pacific islands, has nevertheless been unaccompanied by measures designed to repair the loss. Appropriate technologies for waste treatment, for monitoring and remediation of their reef environment and preservation of their fisheries need development.

The economic growth rate in east Asia exceeds the rest of the world. China, already the third largest consumer of energy, will increase its usage by 4% per year for the next decade and the rest of East Asia by 6% per year. Repairing the environmental degradation accumulated during these recent years of non-sustainable growth has just begun. The need for technologies to avoid pollution, to assess, monitor and remedy the present pollution will call for major innovation. The market for such technologies, already a $500 billion global business is growing at 10% per year, will create attractive business opportunities for Hawaii.

The CSF will seek private funding to create endowments that will help bring scientists, engineers and economists to the University and CSF. The CSF will serve as a catalyst to bring together University faculty, East-West Center economists and, where appropriate, government policy makers and private concerns to help maintain focus on long term research and development issues. Support for post-graduate education will be provided where students are engaged in research on problems of sustainable development and the policy implications of their results. Seminars, conferences and workshops on the scientific, technological and socio-economic factors in long range issues for sustainability will need to be held frequently.

When environmental policy and regulations are the product of extended political and legal confrontations, the role of science and technology in resolving environmental issues is frequently either overlooked or misused. What scientists regard as self evident may be not at all obvious to the public, and the cloak of scientific objectivity is too often viewed with suspicion by both sides in the public debate. The need for better education and outreach to the public on marine environmental issues has been addressed in Hawaii only by the UH's Sea Grant Extension Program, rarely by the scientists responsible for the research. Education through enlisting middle school and high school students and teachers in certain long term research projects is an important step that CSF will help to sponsor. The CSF seminars and conferences will include frequent occasions where public participation will be invited.



School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology, University of Hawaii

For more information please contact

C. Barry Raleigh

Hawaii Natural Energy Institute

School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology

University of Hawaii at Manoa

POST 105A, Honolulu, HI 96822


phone (808) 956-9150

University of Hawaii Link