I have been watching the protests over the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope with dismay. I could no longer stay silent when I saw social media posts by local nonprofit organizations jumping into the fray.

I would have no objection to this if these nonprofits’ missions aligned with those of the protectors/protesters but, from what I can see, they do not.

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, Surfrider Foundation, Zero Waste Oahu and Plastic Free Hawaii are some of the organizations that I support.

So, I was disappointed to see them take a stand on this contentious and emotionally charged issue based on a broad brushstroke of:

“The issue goes beyond a telescope. It’s about advance without consent from local peoples, without concern for the sacredness and beauty of untouched lands. It could just as easily be a coastline, a coral reef, a river that fell victim to the same rhetoric of using science to justify destruction. We are Maunakea because right now the mountain is both the metaphor and physical manifestation for protecting all our lands and seas from the engine of industry.”

If these organizations have a specific concern that is aligned with their mission, they could have addressed that in their public statement. They can also take specific concerns to the meeting on Aug. 30 at the University of Hawaii Manoa, which will address rules for Maunakea.

It is the metaphor logic that I take issue with. I’m very sympathetic to the historical grievances suffered by the Native Hawaiians but those issues are outside of the TMT.

Artist concept of the TMT primary mirror. TMT International Observatory

All of the above mentioned organizations should have stopped at helping with protector camps’ waste disposal, educated them on the harm of single use plastics and applauded the TMT for their efforts to be a zero waste facility.

If they saw specific issues proposed by the TMT that could harm our coastlines and the aina, they should address those specific issues. Instead, they chose to take a stand based on a metaphor and hypothetical scenarios and run the risk of alienating some of their supporters, volunteers and donors.

One thousand protectors and their spokespeople don’t necessarily represent the rest of Hawaii. The TMT went through a long process and was granted the legal right to build on Maunakea.

For Future Benefit

As a photographer and lover of Hawaii, I’m very passionate about protecting the beauty and natural resources of “untouched lands” in Hawaii. One of the main concerns about TMT is its size. However, it will be less than 45 feet taller than the existing Subaru Telescope.

Furthermore, TMT’s location was chosen to protect many view planes. The telescope will not be built anywhere near beautiful Lake Waiau and will not impact it in any way.

Three existing telescopes will be removed from the mauna if the TMT is constructed to compensate and balance the impact of the TMT. There is a website that addresses many of the concerns and rumors swirling around this issue. I urge everyone to educate themselves on the facts at maunakeaandtmt.org.

I believe in educating our keiki on the history and cultural practices of Hawaii. There is nothing more beautiful than a child who appreciates his or her land, culture and language.

“The TMT went through a long process and was granted the legal right to build on Maunakea.”

At the same time, I understand the importance of science, engineering and space exploration not only to bring amazing STEM educational opportunities and create good jobs for our keiki but also for humanity in general. We live in a world where climate change is dismissed as fake news even as its effects are creating wildfires in the Arctic, scorching heatwaves in Europe and Alaska and unprecedented storms in various parts of the world.

Scientific research and space exploration is more important than ever today. Culture and science are not binary issues; we can protect the beauty and sacredness of Maunakea, encourage cultural-religious practices and also advance scientific knowledge.

I believe that the sacredness of the mauna and the TMT can and should coexist in Hawaii. I pray for a quick and peaceful win-win resolution to this contentious issue that has divided our community for too long. We all love Maunakea and we want future generations to protect it and also to be able to benefit from it.

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