Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT): Searching for answers

Students rally on Kahekili Highway to show their opposition to TMT.

Students rally on Kahekili Highway to show their opposition to TMT.

WCC students take part in a walk-out on April 13 to protest the construction of the Thirty Meter TelescopeProtests over the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea have sparked controversy and soul-searching among WCC students and faculty.

Some say the mountain is sacred, and the project should be stopped for cultural and environmental reasons; others argue that astronomy was respected by ancient Hawaiians and the telescope is following in that tradition.

Supporters also say TMT will have the ability to tell us more about the universe than ever before, create jobs and generate revenue for the state.

0P4A6059It’s difficult to find middle ground in this issue, but WCC students have begun searching for answers that may not be 13 billion light years away but rather right here on campus.

More than 80 students staged a walk-out from classes at noon on April 13. They met on the Great Lawn to oli (chant) and to support each other.

The group then walked down to Kahekili Highway to wave signs protesting the construction of TMT. Honking horns from passing motorists affirmed their support of the protest.

Earlier that morning as part of the protest, UH political science professor Keanu Sai related the whole issue of Mauna Kea to the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

0P4A6065He maintained the state lacks jurisdiction over the land and doesn’t have the authority to permit any kind of construction on Mauna Kea, Hawaiian Kingdom land.

Sai said on Nov. 28, 1843 the Hawaiian Kingdom, the first South Pacific nation, was recognized as an independent state and entered into the Family of Nations.

On Jan. 17, 1893, the U.S. illegally overthrew the government of the Hawaiian Kingdom, but not the Hawaiian state. On Dec. 18, 1893, President Cleveland reinstated Queen Lili’uokalani and her cabinet in a treaty recognized by international law.

Under the 1907 Hague Convention IV, the state government of Hawaii is in violation of international law because the Hawaiian Kingdom still exists and has jurisdiction over her lands, Sai said.

A model of the Thirty Meter Telescope to be built on Mauna Kea.

A model of the Thirty Meter Telescope to be built on Mauna Kea.

Kanoelehua Nakata, a WCC student who helped organize the peaceful walk-out said, “Mauna Kea is a sacred place, not just for Hawaiian culture but for the whole world as the tallest mountain on Earth.”

“Think of the Seven Wonders of the World,” Nakata explained. “You wouldn’t want a telescope developed on any of them because it would destroy the beauty of them.” She also said Mauna Kea connects Papa (Earth Mother) and Wākea (Sky Father). Poli’ahu (Goddess of Snow) also resides there and cultural practices still take place on the mountain. Mauna Kea is a sacred place of “peace and serenity.”

0P4A6123Student Dalton Duffield wants TMT built. He said the telescope will be capable of imaging planets outside of our solar system. “This means we will be able to check atmosphere coloration and density to determine the main elements present in a planet. This will be paramount in the discovery of extraterrestrial life and planets capable of human colonization,” he explained.

Dalton also said he hopes TMT will not fall to “rabid bandwagoning” in the guise of “culture.”

WCC astronomy professor Joseph Ciotti discussed the scientific and economic significance of the $1.4 billion TMT project. He said people have the right to protest for and against any issue.

“It’s part of the American way and that has to be respected.” However, he noted that TMT has gone through a detailed, seven-year process including all concerned groups.

0P4A6006In 2010, the final environmental impact statement was approved after a two-year study. TMT submitted all the legal documents for the permits and were in compliance.

“It’s people’s right to voice their dissatisfaction with the results of the process,” Ciotti said. However, he is concerned with the “unintended consequences” of a shut-down to the construction of TMT. Other businesses or organizations thinking about investing in Hawai‘i may look at the “backtrack” on the process and decide not to do business with the state.

“But our primary responsibility as educators is to enlighten people and give them the tools to make critical decisions,” Ciotti said.

0P4A6017He noted that Q and A sessions after the Imaginarium show “Maunakea: Between Earth and Sky” helped provide a venue for open discussion.

As for impacts to the water supply, he said hydrologists have determined that the aquifer is far below the 13,000-foot level at around 8,000-feet and is not affected by the observatories. TMT is designed as a “zero waste discharge facility,” and all waste will be transported off the mountain.

Ciotti explained why Mauna Kea is an ideal place to observe the stars. Mauna Kea is a shield volcano, which means the formation of the volcano is composed of fluid lava flowing over a period of time, creating a gentler terrain and slope. This allows tradewinds to move up the slope in a laminar (sheets of wind) flow that is not so turbulent, allowing scientists better, stable viewing.

0P4A6083Because Mauna Kea is near the equator, the entire northern and 80 percent of the southern hemisphere can be seen. Also, at that elevation, infrared light can be utilized to see as far as 13 billion light years away to possibly the beginning of time.

He added, “What better way to honor Wākea, the Sky Father, than to build an observatory to search the stars on the platform that honors him.”

If you’re wondering about how big 30 meters is, Ciotti said, “You can play the infield of a baseball game on a thirty meter telescope lens.” The TMT will be at least “10 times better” than any telescope currently in operation, he added.

Kumu Makanani Salā of Hawaiian Studies said, “There are two sides to every story.” She believes the TMT controversy allows students to form their own opinions.0P4A6080

She doesn’t want students to just “jump on the wagon” but to do the work involved in finding out the facts and then make a decision. “The classroom is a safe place to express your views,” she added.

Due to social media, the TMT issue has quickly garnered attention. “But for or against, what matters is people are talking about it,” Salā said.

“The Hawaiian people were scientifically inclined and they navigated by the stars. They might condone TMT but not on Mauna Kea, conservation and sacred lands.” Salā said she’s not sure what the answers are, but there needs to be a balance and that’s why she encourages an open dialogue among students.0P4A6087

Well over 200 students and community members came to Hale A’o on Thursday, April 23, to hear Joshua Mangauil and Kaho’okahi Kanuha speak. The two were among the 31 arrested as the “protectors of Mauna Kea,” trying to stop the construction of TMT.

Mangauil and Kanuha, both local boys from the Big Island and school teachers, said they didn’t plan an organized protest. They just felt like they had to be up there because it was the right thing to do. Now that social media has gotten them worldwide attention, they have become spokespersons for the movement.

0P4A6071Mangauil and Kanuha said they are always respectful and mindful of the issues. They are protesting the construction of TMT because they believe the project is in violation of the state’s desecration laws. They also want to contest the renewal of UH’s 65-year lease of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve.

Kanuha said, “We opposed one telescope and a compromise built another, another compromise and another was built. UH has shown us that they are not very good stewards of our sacred lands.”

They have already met with the governor and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. OHA heard testimony for and against the TMT construction and on April 30 rescinded its earlier support, but stopped short of formally opposing the project.

Mangauil and Kanuha said TMT has awakened the Hawaiian people and has brought them together to protest the desecration of sacred lands — not just on Mauna Kea but everywhere else in the Hawaiian Islands.

by Wayne Ricks, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter


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