First of all, I must apologize for my long absence from the page, especially at a time when so much is happening that is relevant to the topic of the intersection of faith and science. Health issues, a major surgery and a move into a new, more accessible home and all that goes with that, have not only kept me away from my work, but in the preparation for all of that happening at the same time, I literally feel like I have been asleep for a year. It seems that the world is changing quickly and I have had to allow some time for catch up. But I’m back and eager start the all important conversation once again.
Mauna Kea and the ongoing seemingly irreconcilable differences between the Indigenous protestors protecting their sacred mountain and the University of Hawaii and the Astronomy community hoping to begin construction of what will be the most powerful land-based telescope in the world was the obvious place to start. The restrictions of earlier days of the pandemic brought a natural slow down to the project. But now that things have returned to what passes as normal these days, there has been a significant development that offers some degree of hope but it’s going to be a long road ahead to finding a common ground that everyone can live with. But if and when ( I like to have faith so let’s say when ) that happens, how sweet an accomplishment that would be:)
Here is a recap of where things stand at the moment. The Astronomy community, represented primarily by the University of Hawaii, has been eager to begin construction of the famed Thirty Meter Telescope ( TMT) since first selecting the site in 2014 and the two “sides” have been at literal stand off since then. There have been repeated protests on the mountain as well as from sympathizers around the world and to say that the situation is complex would be an understatement. It seems that the issue is just as much about sovereignty as the intersection of science and faith: Just whose land it anyway? This brings it into the realms of politics which is another confounder. But in June 2022, the state of Hawaii passed a state law removing the stewardship of Mauna Kea, removing the stewardship from the University of Hawaii and replacing it with a “stewardship council” of educators, scientists and representatives of native communities and interests. A council where both “sides” must work together to determine what are the next steps and what the future hold for the TMT, a 34 thousand square foot telescope said to be capable of images 4 times the sharpness of the James Webb Telescope and 12 times the Hubble (my jaw is still sore from where it hit the floor when I read that) ! OH—the places we will go and the things we will see…
But that is a long way away yet. I firmly believe that that the new joint council is definitely a step in the right direction but oh my—there is a long road ahead!! Both sides are entrenched and although telescopes and observatories are an economic driver in Hawaii (there are currently 13 telescopes and observatories operating on the mountain since the 1960s), there is declining support for the construction among native people and even non-Indigenous people who are concerned about the environmental impact. Such a massive telescope would certainly not leave a small footprint and is the tradeoff of the incredible scientific knowledge that we would gain worth the trade off? I happen to be one of those who believe that it would be but only if it is done respectfully and with the support of the Indigenous people and their values. Is that even possible? Honestly, I don’t know but I believe that the establishment of the Joint Council is a good place to start. I would imagine that the first thing the members would want to do , aside from establishing a Mission Statement and a code of conduct, is to establish a common ground and then work from there. Sounds straightforward enough but you and I know it is not and it will be a long and difficult journey til both sides meet in the middle. But oh what an example it would set for the world if it could be done.
Stay tuned and if you want to read more about the 8 members of the Joint Council, check out the September 22nd article by Cassie Ordonio in the Honolulu Civil Beat for an introduction to the amazing folks who are going to make this happen.
Do you have any advice for them?