More on the Plans for an Observatory on Mauna Kea

From Salman Hameed of Irtiqa:

This is an update of the controversy over the presence of observatories on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Yesterday, the University of Hawaii Board of Regents unanimously approved the plans for the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, one of the largest planned telescopes for the next decade (it is expected to be operational by 2018). Some of the native Hawaiian and environmentalist groups are unhappy about it and still plan to challenge the approval in the courts. The TMT will now apply for a permit from the state; however, it is looking more and more likely that the TMT will indeed be located on Mauna Kea.
As an astronomer myself, I’m happy to see that this time astronomers have been more sensitive to the local concerns over Mauna Kea, and I really hope that relations improve between scientists and those opposing the new telescope. Perhaps the key is for us to recognize that there is a real loss of a sacred space for some native Hawaiians and be mindful of the fact even when in disagreement about the future telescope.
If you want to hear from the locals on both sides of the debate, here is a letter to the editor (on behalf of the Sierra Club?) in West Hawaii Today against the proposed telescope, and here is a letter in response in the same newspaper (also see this blog post). As you can see, this is a complicated issue with religion, politics, environmental concerns, economics, and U.S. history in Hawaii all mixed in together. While this case is different from the run-of-the-mill science and religion issues (such as evolution), it is still in the domain of science and religion. Instead of epistemology, the debate here is over identity. Tracy Leavelle of Creighton University and I are close to finishing a paper on the topic, and I hope to provide you with an update on it soon.

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3 Responses

  1. kamanakapu says:

    Every single thing the white man has ever done has been detrimental or distructive to the planet, to the planets enviroment, and to the other living things on the planet. From hunting, fishing, farming, logging and mining to shipping, flying, roading, and rockettry the white man has been the only beneficiary of everything he has discovered, invented, built or manufactured. All we other living things have been victimized by the white mans intransigence and greed.

    That oil spill in the gulf is only one of the thousands upon thousands of episodes that occured because the white man is obscenely selfish, arrogant and greedy. Before the coming of the white man to the north american continent there were clean drinking water everywhere. The first thing the white man did upon his arrival was to dump his trash and sewage into any nearby water resource so that the Hudson River, for example, which once was drinkable even out at sea, became polluted and undrinkable to the point that the natives had to travel inland to find drinkable water.
    In time, the white man went on to pollute all of the water resources throught the entire continent.

    Now the white man wants to build his phony telescope up on our mountain. Here we have another example of the white mans arrogant and intransigent attitude towards we natives of hawaii. What have you whites ever done for us? You’ve stolen our government, our independence, our sovereingty, our lan, and now you’ve stolen
    our mountains too. And as far as my use of term ‘stolen’ goes, every inch of land the white man now claims to own was stolen. This is so because natives would never sell, trade, give or gamble their land away. Our land, like the Native American land, was stolen by the white man who used the white mans laws to steal the land ‘legally’ from the we natives.

  2. bbay says:

    One Human Race…
    We have lost over 5 centuries of Technology in primacy & now is the time to work through differences; because just as no one civilization has all of the answers…A combined effort is formative, healing, and the only way to move forward…

    If one does not like where they are going, they will not like where they have been…

    -God Bless.

  3. Viewer says:

    I realize that I’m very late to this topic, but I discovered this page only now.

    Within any population of people, you will have a wide diversity of views, including within native Hawaiians. They are colored by their experiences and aspirations. It should be noted that those who are very vocal and hostile against certain developments do not represent all natives. I’m an environmentalist, but I often get very exasperated when an activist few refuse to acknowledge the significant benefits of certain projects, even when those projects already have a demonstrated track record of significant achievements such as with the observatories, and refuse to weigh the positives of further and limited developments against the negatives. They instead look mostly at the negatives.

    To the above poster who railed against the whites, I suggest that you get further education in history. King Kamehameha I was a visionary who saw the future. He believed that it was in the best interest of all Hawaiians to change and not get left behind as other cultures advanced. So after he united the islands, he began modernizing and began adopting western practices. Unless he did, he feared that his people will be vulnerable to being conquered by outsiders.

    To this end, he created an organized government, one that he hoped will secure legitimacy from other governments. He tried to incorporate new technical advancements. He hired advisors since he understood that he lacked the necessary skills and education. He built western-style buildings. His descendants were the first to install and use electrical lighting in a government building, which happened to be a royal palace. He was a type of leader that was unique among many natives the world over.

    Unfortunately, he was a man far ahead of his time and his fears were eventually realized. With the advancements he had made, the takeover of his government would not have occurred in today’s world. If the takeover had not occurred, his visions could have very well resulted in a Hawaii with prosperous inhabitants that is an envy of the world, like a Switzerland but of a different type, a far cry from the view expressed by the above poster. It could have been a Hawaii that could have shown everyone else how you can modernize and advance while showing great respect for the environment.

    Contrary to the statements made by the above poster, much of the Hawaiian land that is in private hands today was not stolen. They were originally owned by the Hawaiian royalty and the royalty either sold or gave them away. Among others, they include much of Kauai and the entire island of Niihau. Their provenance is well known and recorded. Ironically, the white owners of these lands have been among the most resistant to developments and these lands are still some of the most desolate in Hawaii.

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