Geothermal debate divides the community


By JAMES WEATHERFORD

Over the past year, as geothermal development in Puna has (again) become an issue, our community has become divided.

In the minority are residents who mostly live in close proximity to geothermal development activity, including several who have lived in that area for more than 20 years, as well as many who have arrived more recently.

There are also a few additional residents who do not live in close proximity to geothermal development activity and are sympathetic to the plight of those who do.

Then, there are residents concentrated primarily among those who have lived in Puna for fewer than 20 years and/or who do not live in close proximity to geothermal activity.

These residents are considerable in number, representing the rapid growth of population in the past 20 years in Puna subdivisions near and not-so-near to geothermal development activity. There are also a small number of residents with vested interests in geothermal activity.

The division in our community has come about as the safety of geothermal development activity in Puna has been passionately challenged by residents who live in close proximity to that geothermal development activity.

Among these people, there are clusters of documented diagnoses of health problems, and there are multiple ongoing anecdotal reports of symptoms associated with toxicity.

In response to the challenges by the residents who live in close proximity to geothermal activity, many newer residents, with encouragement by those with vested interests, have closed their minds to the troubled history of geothermal activity in Puna, including toxic releases that resulted in evacuations and sickness, unresolved major problems identified by the Environmental Protection Agency, current documented illnesses, and persistent reports of symptoms typically associated with toxicity.

No conscience. No compassion. Instead, these blind-faith supporters of geothermal have chosen denial and deflection of blame.

The possibility that geothermal activity in Puna is having any negative human health impact is dismissed out of hand. Accusations are leveled that the only motive of those challenging geothermal is to exploit the situation for their own personal monetary gain.

To see people close their minds is disappointing. Regrettably, this behavioral response is not uncommon, yet, fortunately, often only injures the person with the closed mind.

What has happened in our community is something I find more dangerous than disappointing: With cold prejudice, the accusers and dismissers have not only closed their minds, they have also closed their hearts to the well-being of their neighbors, labeling those who challenge the safety of geothermal activity as a “fringe element” undeserving of being heard.

As I have watched this prejudice being practiced, I have been reminded of the racist bigotry familiar to me from my childhood in Kentucky, and have thought about various so-labeled fringe elements — “queers,” “coloreds,” “women’s libbers” and others demanding and deserving equal rights and protection under the law — all so distant from the self-righteous and self-anointed center as to be expendable, if they dare stand up in their own defense and challenge the subjugating status quo.

All prejudice is ignorant. We must do better.

James Weatherford is a former candidate for the District 4 County Council seat representing Puna.

 

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