Some people have said that the groups that support the Thirty Meter Telescope project and the groups opposed to it are talking past each other, making arguments that don’t consider each other’s valid points. I’d like to take a moment to respond to some criticism that the proponents of TMT aren’t listening to the concerns of the opposition or are disrespectful of Hawaiian culture.

My understanding is that Mauna Kea — like all of the mountains, valleys, plains and land of Hawaii — is sacred to the Hawaiian people. On a very basic level, all of the aina was and still is sacred. Starkly opposed to this mindset, European-based Western civilization is characterized by an arrogant disregard for the beauty of nature, and it is this mindset that has led to the desecration of much of the aina with thoughtless concrete monstrosities.

It is only recently that mainland culture has shifted to think about things like conservation and sustainability, concepts basic to the Hawaiian culture. Personally, I’m grateful for this shift and think we should be doing more on this front, but that’s a topic for another time.

Supporters of Mauna Kea sing and hold up their hands representing the ‘mauna’ after oral arguments presented at the Hawaii State Supreme Court, Aliiolani Hale. 27 aug 2015. photograph Cory Lum/ Civil Beat
Opponents of the TMT project sing and hold up their hands representing Mauna Kea after oral arguments regarding the telescope presented at the Hawaii Supreme Court last summer. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

While the TMT would be built with Western concrete and technology, I don’t think it follows that those things inherently make it incompatible with Hawaiian culture. It is not an elite condominium, a hydroelectric dam or a nuclear reactor. It is monument to a universal human desire to find out where we came from and where we are going.

If you were to build a single piece of technology that would embody the quest for knowledge, TMT would be it.

How does this quest oppose Hawaiian culture? My understanding is that the Hawaiian people also seek to answer the basic questions of life and nature, to find the greater truths behind the observed happenings in the earth and sky.

If you were to build a single piece of technology that would embody the quest for knowledge, TMT would be it.

So then, the basic question TMT attempts to answer is the same basic question the Hawaiian people want to have answered. Who are we? Where did we come from? What does our universe really look like? What else – and who else – is here?

I understand that the process has been frustrating for many, and I would have liked to have seen better collaboration from the beginning of the process. But I am frustrated by the arguments that any new construction or development on Mauna Kea is desecration, period, end of discussion.

If the goal is to achieve greater sustainability, we need to better understand our world. Natural science requires exploration and discovery, which is at the heart of the TMT project.

I would like to see TMT embraced as the culmination of Hawaiian culture, its history of exploration and colonization, its history of celestial navigation and its history of aloha. I wish the Hawaiian people would embrace the TMT as part of their own cultural future, and help shape it to better reflect harmony with its surroundings.

Instead of the descriptive (but boring) “Thirty Meter Telescope,” it should be named “Laniake’a” or something similar, making it a monument to the magnificent Hawaiian culture and its quest for knowledge and truth.

Astronomers at the TMT and the Hawaiian people want the same thing – to be closer to the skies in order to peer into the heavens. I believe we can achieve this together.

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About the Author

  • Henk Rogers
    Henk Rogers is the founder of the International MoonBase Alliance, the entity that developed the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, a prototype moonbase on Mauna Loa. HI-SEAS serves as a platform for developing the necessary technologies and standards for a sustainable human presence on the moon and beyond. Henk serves as chairman of the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, a nonprofit working to position Hawaii as a leader in space exploration. He is also a member on the Board of Governors of the National Space Society.