Craven came to Hawai‘i at the invitation of then-Governor John Burns, another man Craven admired “for his forward-thinking leadership.” He served as Burns’ marine affairs coordinator and later ran marine programs at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and the Law of the Sea Institute. He even ran for Congress, in the 1976 Democratic primary but lost to businessman Cec Heftel.
In Hawai‘i, Craven again worked on futuristic projects. He experimented with an 85-ton model for a floating city (which was tested in Kane‘ohe Bay with Navy and Air Force support). He was linked to the Glomar Project, a platform ship to be used for deep-sea drilling, and he helped found the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii in 1974. The lab was established just north of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island, with the goal of developing ocean thermal energy conversion, or OTEC, which creates energy by drawing cold water from the bottom of the sea.
The Natural Energy Lab has been a controversial facility, and today Craven expresses frustration that it has not lived up to its promise. The idea was not flawed, he says, just the way it was executed—the promise, he believes, was never truly explored. Failure—system failure—is something that Craven is fascinated and haunted by. He is always looking for it. The hull of an American submarine that imploded in 1963, for example, may well have collapsed, he says, because it had received too much shock testing before deployment. And John F. Kennedy, another Craven hero (they once played bridge together), was ultimately assassinated, Craven believes, because the security guard at the Texas School Book Depository failed to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from getting to the sixth floor.
What of system failures in the world today? Craven is blunt: “We are doing everything wrong.” That includes over-reliance on fossil fuels, probably the largest single reason Craven himself is still a huge believer in using deep-ocean water to create fresh water, irrigate crops, generate electrical energy and air-condition buildings. Very cold and salty water is found deep below the surface, and it comprises most of the volume of the ocean, which covers two-thirds of Earth. Fresh water comes from the condensation created when the cold water travels through pipes in humid climates. That temperature differential can be harnessed to create energy. Air conditioning is fueled by pumping the cold water directly into the systems.
Craven founded the Common Heritage Corp. in 1991 at an age when most people begin settling into retirement. Craven the businessman has not quite had the success of Craven the inventor and oceanographer. But he is as passionate about deep ocean water as he was about submarines. On a four-minute video on YouTube, he explains that water below 600 feet has little biological activity because sunlight cannot reach it. Craven calls this water “an élan vital.” All that humankind needs to harness this inexhaustible life force, he says, is a pipe, a pump and a pond.