My friend Cynthia Thielen is one politician who consistently gets it right. She has long been on the front lines in the fight to legalize industrial hemp cultivation, which is how I met her. But thinking outside the lines doesn't end with hemp for Cynthia.
As a US State Representative from Hawaii, she has proposed a plan to explore technologies to harness the power of ocean waves -- in infinite supply in her home state -- and covert it into electricity. If any of the proposed methods were to work, she says, as much as 90 percent of the island of Oahu could be powered without fossil fuels.
She's got an uphill fight; Hawaii's main utility is essentially a monopoly, and it runs entirely on fossil fuels.
She isn't the first to suggest wave-powered electricity generators; there's a plant right here in the UK already proving the viability of the idea. The Land Installed Marine Powered Energy Transformer (LIMPET), on the Scottish isle of Islay, can produce 500 kilowatts of energy, about enough to supply 400 homes.
This is hardly the first time Cynthia has found herself the object of skeptical looks and sniggers from her colleagues. She introduced a bill in 1999 to legalize cultivation of industrial hemp in her state. She even won the permission of the notoriously hemp-phobic US Drug Enforcement Administration to plant industrial hemp seeds in US soil for the first time since World War II, as an experiment into the viability of the crop. Sugar plantations in Hawaii have suffered huge economic hardships in recent years, and Cynthia thinks hemp could be a profitable and more environmentally friendly way to put vacant cropland back into rotation. But there are obvious other benefits too.
Cynthia sees her crusades -- green energy and industrial hemp -- as two prongs of the same rational energy philosophy. Hemp, after all, can replace petroleum-based ingredients in plastics, fiberglass, and other products. Less fossil fuel means less air-fouling, climate-changing emissions.
Cynthia told Wired News that, unlike her fellow Republican President Bush, she supports the Kyoto Protocol. "What I've been doing with wave energy and industrial hemp ties right in with (Kyoto)," she said.
I say, more power to you, Cynthia!
For more information and resources on industrial hemp, visit these Web sites:
Industrial Hemp: The Ultimate Web Resource
North American Hemp Council
Hemp Industries Association
For more information about wave-action power generation, check these out:
Ocean Wave Energy Conversion
British House of Commons report on tidal and wave energy -- April 2001
Hawaii Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion fact sheet
US Department of Energy Ocean Energy page
California Department of Energy Wave and Tidal Energy page