Watching the battle over the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea and now the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) on Haleakala has reached nearly comical proportions. Especially over on the Big Island, where native Hawaiian discontent over the big scope–they say it is an unwarranted desecration of the sacred Mauna Kea summit–has been building for years.
Has Governor David Ige never seen civil disobedience before? Can he not recognize a rapidly mobilizing population when he sees one?
It was early April of this year when protests on the Mauna Kea summit finally brought telescope construction to a halt. At the time, Ige put up his hands and called for healing–a “week” of healing.
“This will give us some time to engage in further conversations with the various stakeholders that have an interest in Mauna Kea and its sacredness and its importance in scientific research and discovery going forward,” Ige said at the time.
That was early April. If you haven’t noticed, there’s been no new telescope construction since then.
Then on June 23, Mike McCartney, Ige’s Chief of Staff, sent out a press release stating that TMT construction would resume the next day. “It is our belief that there will be mutual respect and aloha on Wednesday and in the days ahead as TMT restarts construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope,” McCartney said. “TMT has the approvals needed to proceed with construction. We respect those who oppose the project and their right to peaceably assemble and to protest in an orderly and civil manner.”
So just because one of Ige’s functionaries says the TMT construction is going forward, everything’s cool? And he worked all this out with the protestors?
Of course he didn’t. McCartney’s press release was just hubris. The next day, to no one’s surprise, hundreds of native Hawaiians appeared on the summit. They’d also placed big boulders on the road. Cops arrested nearly a dozen protesters, but there was no construction that day. McCartney’s press release on June 24 reeked of failure–mostly, a complete failure to imagine the mindset of the protesters when they heard construction would resume.
“We are disappointed and concerned that large boulders were found in the roadway leading to the summit of Mauna Kea,” stated McCartney. “This action is a serious and significant safety hazard and could put people at risk. Because of this, we are making an assessment to determine how to proceed. We will be working to clear the roadway tomorrow. Therefore, construction is on hold until further notice.”
Undoubtedly emboldened by the protesters’ victory on Mauna Kea, a large group of locals gathered late Wednesday at the Maui Baseyard, where a convoy of equipment and supplies was preparing to drive up to Haleakala for work on the new Solar Telescope. Officials cancelled the convoy, giving the much smaller anti-telescope forces on Maui their own victory.
On Friday, Ige himself finally deigned to make his own statement. His tone was hurt, sure, but also aggressive.
“We are a patient people in Hawai‘i,” Ige said. “We listen to and understand differing points of view, and we respect the many cultures of this land, especially that of the host culture. I have done my very best to follow this process in the case of Mauna Kea and set forth a way forward that I believe is reasonable.”
That was the hurt part. Now here’s the part where throws down the gauntlet:
“And then we saw more attempts to control the road,” Ige said. “That is not lawful or acceptable to the people of Hawai‘i. So let me be very direct: The roads belong to all the people of Hawai‘i and they will remain open. We will do whatever is necessary to ensure lawful access.”
Look, let’s really think this through: Hawaii is going to war over telescopes. If there’s a better expression of nerdom, I can’t think of it. Yes, it’s wonderful that the Hawaiian sovereignty movement is finding their voice. But their targets––tools of astronomical research–are the most benign and serene expressions of Western civilization.
Unlike, say, the Barking Sands missile test range on Kauai or the resorts that line the Ka‘anapali coast, the TMT and DKIST have no military or commercial uses. They are designed simply and solely to increase humanity’s knowledge of the universe.
Yes, native Hawaiians and their culture have long faced tragedy. Their anger is both reasonable and justifiable. But the loss of these two new telescopes will also be a tragedy–one the State of Hawaii seems unable to stop–at least until court challenges against the two scopes come to a conclusion.
Photo of proposed TMT complex: Wikipedia