Updated on July 7, 2015
Nathan Blog Post #2: #WeAreMaunaKea
Back home in Hawaii, there is a very serious debate and controversy over the $1.4 billion TMT, or Thirty Meter Telescope, that is being constructed on the slopes of the million-year old Mauna Kea. It is a dormant volcano on the island of Hawaii, otherwise known as the “Big Island.” Mauna Kea stands 13,796 feet above sea level, and its summit is the highest peak above sea level in the Pacific Basin. When measuring the height from sea floor to the summit, Mauna Kea stands 4,000 feet taller than Mount Everest.
Mauna Kea is a special place for scientists; the location is ideal for telescopes and observatories to explore the stars and space of the night sky. The environmental conditions are so unique and unparalleled; the “average night” at this place is just as a good as the “best night” for many other locations around the world. The Thirty Meter Telescope will be three-times as wide as the largest existing visible-light telescope in the world. It would deliver sharper and deeper images that ground based telescopes can’t produce. I can’t deny that having Mauna Kea as the site for the Thirty Meter Telescope would prove to be beneficial and progressive for science and astronomy.
But Mauna Kea is more of a special place- on an even deeper level- to the native Hawaiian population and their supporters. The land is sacred to them, and defacing any part of the mountain for the construction of the largest visible-light telescope on Earth for any reason is beyond disrespectful to them. More than enough damage has been done to Hawaii (illegal annexation, gentrification, etc.), but even on the soil of Mauna Kea alone. It is already home to 13 international observatories. Mauna Kea is and always will be a spiritual place with immeasurable importance to the history and culture of the Hawaiian people. Building the telescope hurts their culture, pride, and environment.
On October 7, 2014, peaceful protesters and demonstrators congregated at the groundbreaking for the TMT. Demonstrators halted construction crews again in late March and early April. On April 2, 2015, about 300 protestors gathered on Mauna Kea, trying to block the access to the road leading to the summit. 23 arrests were made, sparking heavy controversy. Several hundred advocates for Hawaii’s community and culture let their voice be heard, and a trending topic labeled “#WeAreMaunaKea” gathered a strong following and passionate support on social media from around the country. A collective standpoint was made clear from a respectable, unified community. On April 7th, the governor of Hawaii, David Ige, halted the construction of TMT. He announced that the project was to be temporarily postponed, until at least April 20, 2015. But he allowed construction to resume on June 24th, despite hundreds of demonstrators gathering that day. Some protestors even camped near the access to the site. 11 more arrests were made following the most recent continuation of construction.
This issue highlights an enormous aspect of life that is overlooked; the over-fixation and emphasis on tangibility, science, numbers, and data lead many of us to forget how important the intangible, spiritual, and sacred aspects of people within a community.
Below is a link consisting of firsthand insight from Kealoha Pisciotta, a member of the Hawaiian community explaining her perspective of the sacredness of Mauna Kea:
In situations like this, it is imperative not only to consider the values and beliefs of a respectable community such as the Native Hawaiians, but also to act upon them. It wouldn’t be a horrible idea to prioritize solving our own problems here on Earth before investing $1.4 billion on exploring space. How about if somebody defaced your church, temple, or grave?
~ Nathan 7/1/2015