My daughter and I disagree, cordially, on the Thirty Meter Telescope. She feels that it should not be built. I feel that the discoveries that it will make possible are worth the sacrifice of the footprint and the view-plane.

My daughter is 13. We live on our family ranch in Kaʻu on the slopes of Mauna Loa, but she goes to school at the Kamehameha campus in Keaʻau. She looks up at Mauna Kea every day.

My daughter comes out to help me feed the orphaned calf that I am caring for. She says: “Letʻs call him Kū, because he was born in the time that we stood up for Mauna Kea.”

Women from Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka under the direction of Kumu Hula Napua Greig from Maui gesture in support of Mauna Kea. 10 april 2015. photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Dancers on Mauna Kea gesture in support of efforts to stop the Thirty Mile Telescope.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

My daughterʻs opinion on this issue is extremely important to me. Her generation will face some of the most difficult challenges that any generation has faced — global climate change, resource depletion, the high point of our exponential population growth.

The minds, hearts, and spirits of her generation are among the most critical resources on the planet. If we allow that spirit to be crushed in this debate over TMT, we will lose something infinitely more precious than knowledge of the origins of the universe, the nature of dark matter, or the habitability of distant planets.   

The TMT, from what I understand, will be highly visible from the whole north side of the island. The presence of the telescopes unquestionably impacts the natural beauty of Mauna Kea and puts the stamp of humanity, and specifically of Western civilization and science, on the heights of the mountain.

The telescopes represent, arguably, the best aspects of Western civilization and science — a passion for knowledge that transcends the merely useful or profitable. The telescopes also, arguably, represent the worst in Western civilization and science — the arrogant disregard for native value systems in the name of “progress.”

I visited Taos, New Mexico, a few years ago and was entranced by the beauty of Taos Mountain, which stands above Taos Pueblo much as Mauna Kea stands above Hawaii Island. The people of Taos Pueblo fought for decades to get their mountain back from the federal government. The mountain itself is a powerful presence and the fact that it is pristine and inviolate is immeasurably important to the people of Taos, to the strength of their community and cultural integrity. Mauna Kea is like that. 

Yet it is also important that we have a regulatory process by which projects such as the TMT are considered, approved or rejected, and that we honor that process. Failing to honor our own process — unwinding the clock — sets a precedent that can cut both ways. If we can unwind one decision, then any and all decisions can be unwound at any time. This is dangerous territory to traverse.

That does not mean there is no room for discussion at this point. The  very opposite is true. How do we honor and encourage this widespread engagement with land use issues in our young people so that they will be empowered to steward our islands and our planet in the years to come? How do we ensure that our local people have a decent standard of living? What is our long-term vision for Mauna Kea? For all of Hawaii Island?  For our state?

What kind of civilization, what kind of culture, what kind of lives do we want to have and how do we get there?  Does the science, technology and tradition of human inquiry and invention that the TMT represents have a place in our future here on Hawaii Island? Can we reconcile the best aspects in the native traditions with the best aspects of Western civilization?

I asked my daughter: “Well, what would you think if there was a promise to remove all of the telescopes by 2050?”  She said: “I would feel better about it but some people would still not like the TMT to be built. Also, it would be better if it was sooner than 2050. I’ll be really old by then, even older than you are right now.” 

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